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Using colour to work with a draft is a simple technique that works well later in the process, with a near-finished piece of writing, especially if you use free writing to develop your ideas. It is a way of checking whether you have grouped similar points together or whether they are scattered and repeated. It is sometimes hard to work with a draft on the computer screen; cut-and-past editing can result in a loss of structure, and it may be useful to have a way of thinking through your changes before you start moving material around.

List all the different points you make in your writing, and assign each strand a different colour using highlighters or coloured pens (you could also do this electronically). Then go through a printout of your essay, highlighting each sentence with a colour that corresponds to one of the points you intend to structure the essay around. You could also do this the other way around; go through the draft first, highlighting different points in different colours, and then see what overall strands emerge.

Ideally, you will find that you end up with paragraphs and sections of a single colour, rather than colour appearing randomly scattered throughout. Using colour in this way may indicate a number of issues with your structure:

  • You may sometimes find it difficult to assign a single colour to a sentence- either no colour seems to apply, or more than one colour might. This might indicate that your point is muddled, or is actually two separate but related points, or simply not relevant.
  • Sometimes you will find a particular colour repeated in a sentence in each paragraph. This may mean that you are repeating yourself, or that you are 'signposting' well, that you are touching on the central argument and relating it back to the title.
  • First or last lines of paragraphs might likewise be represented by two colours, indicating that you are making a link between the two related points as you transition between them. Make sure this link is articulated in your writing.

Click here for an example of using colour to order your ideas, which can then be used to check the draft essay (essay title: Discuss the power of the eye in Frankenstein). You could analyse this essay to see if you agree with its structuring in the way it uses colour.