The foundations of good structure are laid at the planning stage, but it is important to check that you have followed your plan. Alternatively, if you are the kind of writer who uses writing to work out your ideas before taking that early draft apart for structuring, you could use these strategies to help you organise your material; they mirror the techniques that you might use for planning early in the process. Each one can help you to check a slightly different aspect of structure, for example, the overall organisation, the logical flow or avoiding repetition.
- Bullet points: Read over your essay, and see if you can reduce each paragraph to a keyword or phrase. If it is difficult to summarise it to a single word or phrase, then your paragraph may be too long, dealing with more than one point. It might be helpful to note down your list of paragraph keywords on a separate piece of paper, to reconstruct the plan. This might help you think about the ordering of your points and the links between them. It might be helpful to combine this technique with using colour (see below)
- Q&A: Read over each paragraph of your draft and identify: what question does this paragraph answer? Note the question in the margin next to the paragraph. Check the resulting list of questions to see if they make sense as a logical dialogue in this order. You could also check to see if the question is answered in the first couple of lines, with the rest of the paragraph developing that answer in more depth.
- Mindmapping: Take a sheet of paper (or use mindmapping software) and write the title of your essay in the middle. Reading through your essay, a paragraph at a time, try and reconstruct it as a mindmap. You will need to analyse it carefully to break the text down as individual 'nodes' or 'branches', helping you establish the sections and subsections of your argument and how your points relate to one another, rather than an unstructured flow of ideas.
- Diagrams: Having read the whole of your draft, put it to one side and try and represent it in the form of a diagram. This will help you to see the overall structure - sections and subsections - so that you are able to move material if necessary and articulate it clearly to your reader.
- Connectives: When reading through your draft, pay particular attention to places in which you could insert connective phrases, particularly between paragraphs, but also between sentences. Each of your ideas should be connected to the one before it and the one after it in some way. See if you can articulate this link clearly and accurately, or reorganise sections where you seem to be going in circles, simply adding points, or where it is difficult to find a connective phrase that would fit. At this stage, inserting connective phrases is a structuring and editing tool; some of these might be left in to help to clarify your final version, but without overdoing the signposting.
- Colour: Having reread your essay and extracted your main points, assign each one a colour. Go through each sentence of your draft, marking each sentence with the appropriate colour. When you have finished, you should find that each paragraph is a block of the same colour (although you may also revisit a central idea each time), rather than colour being scattered throughout the text. This will help you to check whether you have grouped similar points together and avoided repetition.
- Answering the overall question: You should also check that your essay answers the overall question posed in the title. You could apply the guidance given in the section on Precise, exam-style essay titles in the resource How might I Interpret an Essay Title? to ensure that your essay addresses the title.