Composition Plan

What if I told you there is a simple way to make your writing more efficient and more effective?

There’s no way around it–writing is hard. But there are strategies that can make it easier and faster, and making a composition plan is one of those strategies.

You’ve probably had to make a composition plan before, even if you didn’t know it. If you’ve ever made an outline, that’s a kind of plan. If you’ve ever used an idea map, that’s a sort of plan. The reason I’m using the term composition plan instead of outline or idea map is simple: I don’t really care what shape your plan takes. I want you to figure out for yourself what works for you.

Probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself is to think critically about your own writing process. What do you do when you write? What helps you? What slows you down? Think broadly–does it matter where you are when you write? Does it help to have music or total silence? Do you write in short bursts or with sustained attention? Understanding your own process can help you to use that process more effectively and make your writing more efficient.

Part of figuring out your process means figuring out how you get your ideas from your brilliant mind into a communicable form. Some people free-write, some people outline, some people idea-map, and some people do other things I haven’t thought of. But at some point, effective writers make a plan of some kind for how they are going to achieve their writing goal.

I want to encourage you to think of writing in terms of goals and strategies. It can help you to clarify for yourself what you are doing, and therefore make the task of writing both more efficient and more effective.

So how do you make a composition plan?

The plan you make will mostly be determined by you, but here are some general guidelines, with examples based on the Captain America panel we discussed in class today:

  • Write out your goal. Be specific. Think about the genre and rhetorical situation of your composition.

So, this paper is a visual analysis. It’s an academic essay, written to an audience of my peers. I have two goals. First, I want to explore a question through analysis. For my selected panel, I’m asking what the image says about patriotism, so my first goal is to explore that answer. My second goal is to persuade an audience of my peers that my panel sends the message that moral dissent is patriotic.

[Note: you might select your panel[s] or page by finding one you think is evocative and trying to figure out what it communicates. Alternatively, you might start with a concept or issue you want to explore and look for an image that communicates about it.]

  • Make a plan for how you are going to achieve your goal.

My first step is to explore my question and determine what topics will help my audience see what I see in the panel. Because I tend to be a graphic thinker, I usually like to make an idea map (like the one we made on the board in class today). That helps me to explore my thoughts about the image while also identifying topics I can use to structure my essay.

  • Part of your plan should include what kinds of evidence you will use to support your claim.

My idea map left me with three major topics: words, Captain America, and arrangement (which I was initially calling positioning). In the map I also began to marshal evidence from the image to support these categories. That’s what I’ll use as evidence.

  • And your plan should indicate some sense of how you will organize your ideas.

At some point, I need to determine how to organize my ideas in a way that will be most convincing for my audience. How can I present my ideas in a way that makes the most logical argument? For my image, it makes sense to me to write about the words first because that’s a pretty important part of my understanding of the image. Next I’ll write about Cap and his costume, and after that I’ll write about the arrangement of the panel. I usually prefer to have some organization in mind before I do much writing.

As I said previously, your plan can take whatever shape you want. The main thing I want to see is that you have identified a specific goal and made a specific plan for how you are going to achieve that goal.