Organizing an essay is a cumbersome process. We need to show an understanding of our progression of thought, but also need to effectively convey those thoughts to others in a logical manner. We often try to alleviate some of the issues with organization through outlining or notetaking, but as the ideas in a paper evolve, so does the need to reorganization. Here are some helpful hints to better organize your research essay:
1. Cutting and reorganizing outline or paragraphs. This is a useful strategy that can be done at either the outline stage of writing and essay, or during the drafting process itself. The strategy is simple: print out a copy of the outline/essay, and cut it up – for outline, according to letter (or even number), and for the essay, according to paragraph. Once you have your text in pieces, put it back together according to idea. Which ideas seem to go with which? Focus less on the original order of the ideas, and more on the flow of ideas you want to create. This strategy allows you to see your ideas from a more objective stand point, as opposed to try to reorganize the entire paper.
2. Highlighting ideas in-text. This is similar to point 1, except that you keep the essay together, and highlight the ideas in-text. Go through the paper, and highlight each time you see yourself coming up with an idea. Once you go through the entire essay, make a list of your ideas on a separate sheet of paper, in the order you found them. What do you think of the order of your ideas as they currently stand? Would they work better in a different order? Highlighting your ideas can help you better see the organization of your essay, and understand how your points may work better in different arrangements.
3. Choose a narrative structure for your essay. Because essays can ask us to include a variety of voices and sources, it is often best to organize your essay around a structure. You might choose to look at your research and points chronologically, or by idea, but any structure you choose needs to be consistent throughout the paper.