The Wise Way to Write an Essay is Not Writing from the Introduction Till the End

This is another post on strategies other than linguistic ones. This is more about the writing planning & practice, the actual practice my PhD supervisor recommended when writing journal articles and my thesis:

Advice #5: Write body content first, introduction next, and conclusion last

At the very least, this works for me and I can justify how it is practical. It may or may not work for you; try it, and change my mind.

A common perception has it: writing goes in a straight line, i.e. we’re used to reading from the top. Don’t spoil the ending by reading it first. Read every single word lest we would miss anything.

That’s how we were taught to write, too: start your story with “once upon a time”; come up with an essay title first; write an introduction first.

But what concerns me the most is “speed“: writing an introduction requires a baseline argument about the object of study, a broader context to justify the point of writing the topic, and a preview of the rest of the text. That’s too much cognitive load to start writing.

What are the easiest to write after brainstorming ideas and reading references?

  • Definitions: If your topic involves a few technical terms and concepts, why not spend some time writing definitions for them as precursors of your literature review?
  • Arguments & Support: Read your mind maps. Your arguments are typically more developed than the other parts, with ideas and concrete examples. Beef up these points and get a “feel” of your overall stance (supportive/dismissive; commending/condemning, etc.) towards the topic.

What about writing dissertations/theses and research articles? While the previous two points apply, you would also want to consider these below:

  • Research Methods: you know the best what your study is about, i.e. the data, collection and analysis methods, etc. You may start your first 1,000 words here.
  • Findings: you cannot even write an abstract without finishing your analysis with some baseline findings. And you should have drafted how you should present your findings, as to what they mean according to your theoretical/analytical framework.

A student argued, “without an introduction to ‘limit’ the scope of the essay, the body content will be disorganised.” I applaud his critical mind.

He’s not wrong, but do note the differences between a “draft” and a complete essay. Perhaps we need to lay down a few points about what to write in the first place, but this doesn’t mean we must nail the introduction first.

If you use Evernote, you know it shouldn’t matter where you start your papers: when there’s an idea coming across, you just start a new note, and then rearrange the order of these notes when preparing the final draft.

My whole point is to start writing whatever one has in mind. Don’t let anything drag your feet, like getting stuck when you cannot find sources supporting that one point you raise — write another point first; or like not knowing what the broader context of the study should be — write down your main argument and objectives first. And so on.

Just keep writing. Do the thing.


  1. I’ve been writing for a long time now, but it never occurred to me to do things out of order. I’ve been meaning to experiment with it, and just never got to it. Will definitely give it a try. Thanks for this tip!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seasoned writers usually have a mental brain map, organising random points orderly when writing. So it appears that whenever you write, you can carefully consider how ideas should be arranged before going through (painful) drafting processes. I had to open a new file for a section when I was writing papers just to keep myself sane, or I’d get distracted by unnecessary formatting. Thanks for sharing your view!


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