I use the color coding method to organize my outline before drafting a paper to make sure that my related topics flow together, to keep my argument and organization easy to follow. Grouping my points by their overall theme keeps me from jumping around between topics too much, which would affect the flow of my writing and ultimately weaken my argument. Below is a step by step process on how to outline using the color coding method.
First, write an outline for your paper using whatever method you’re most comfortable with. I tend to use the 1, A, i, a format (it’s built-in on Google Docs and Word when you choose the numbered list option), and I combine full sentences with short phrases and quotes from sources.
Once you’re done with your outline, pick a few different colors from the highlighter tool on Word/Google Docs/etc. Each color will correspond to a different theme throughout your paper. For example, I used this method to highlight topics in a paper something like this:
- History/research about the War on Drugs
- Info/quotes/citations about the book I’ll be connecting to historical events
- Answers to specific questions within the rubric (separated by question within rubric)
- How the War on Drugs has affected people of color
- The current state of Baltimore regarding drug use and overdose deaths
Try not to get too specific with your themes; connecting them by their general themes will help you organize them more easily. However, you want them to be specific enough that you can highlight everything (or almost everything) in your paper without missing any sections. If one or two sections seem like they don’t fit within your main themes, it might indicate that they’re a little off topic, and you might want to consider changing or getting rid of them.
Once almost all your sentences have been highlighted, you can zoom out to 50-75% on your word processor to more easily see how your themes are spread throughout your paper. It’ll probably be a little disorganized, but that’s okay. For example, mine looked something like this:
Now, drag and drop the highlighted sections so the themes flow together in a way that makes sense for your argument. The organization is totally up to you, but keeping similar topics together for the most part will keep your paper on topic and prevent any information from seeming random or tangential.
After that step, my paper looked more like this:
Your order and organization will depend on your individual assignment and writing voice, but this visual aid will help you organize your paper without getting overwhelmed by 5-10 pages of bullet points/notes.
Now that your outline is organized, you’re ready to start drafting your paper. Good luck!
Read more great writing tips here: https://umbcwritingcorner.wordpress.com/author/umbcwritingcenter2017/