Disorganized First Draft? Color-coding as a Tool to Reorganize and Restructure

Often, as we write our first draft, new ideas will spring into our heads and onto our papers. Even if we are working from a detailed and well-organized outline, there is something about writing the first draft that puts our thinking into overdrive. Oftentimes, we will write a paragraph thinking that we are writing about idea X, only to end that paragraph writing about idea Y without realizing it. This is why revising the first draft with an eye toward Structure and organization is so important. There are several ways to reorganize and restructure paragraphs and sections to build a logical and strong Argument. This entry focuses on the method of color-coding, which is a strategy you can adapt to notice all sorts of things about your draft. For example, you can color-code to help you determine the balance between your evidence and its analysis and whether you have included enough evidence or if you have done enough analysis. You can also color-code to determine if your text is organized with each paragraphs addressing a specific building block of your argument.

Step 1: After you finish your rough draft, put it away for (at least) 24 hours.

Step 2: When you return, assign a color to each building block of your argument. Then, read through your text, highlighting each of the building blocks with its appropriate color.

Step 3: In addition, use the same color to highlight the evidence and analysis that supports or leads to each building block. We recommend using a slightly lighter shade of the color to highlight the supporting evidence and a slightly darker shade of the color to highlight the analysis/analytical moves that support the building block.

Step 4: Now take a look at your text, and ask yourself, “Are the same colors appearing together, or are they spread out? Does one paragraph feature multiple building blocks, each of which needs its own paragraph?” The idea here is to reorganize your paragraphs to get information grouped by color (i.e. building block).

Caveat: Always make sure that the new grouping will enhance the clarity of your writing. For example, the beginning of a paragraph might be about building block X, which is not the subject of the paragraph, but it might be wise to keep the text there because it is acting as a transition. Likewise, remember that paragraphs can have more than one function and that evidence can have multiple analytical points. The beauty of color-coding is that you will be able to determine what building block(s) the evidence and/or paragraph supports. From here, you can determine if you want to make revisions.

Even if your ideas are organized logically, this color-coding method can help pinpoint areas that need more supporting evidence and analysis. Hence why we asked you to use different shades to indicate your evidence and analysis.

If you find revision strategies that focus on tactile and/or color coding techniques particularly useful see: “Lost Your Work’s Narrative: Reverse Outlining and Storyboarding as a Method of Reordering Your Work’s Structure” for more help on structure and “Evidentiary Disconnect—Thinking Through the Vacuum.”