Many academic papers follow the same organizational structure or outline, but keep in mind that this format may not always be suitable for your document. No matter the assignment, a great first step in revising your paper for organization is to re-read it. As you read, ask yourself these questions:
Do you need to:
- Reorganize sections of the paper?
- Revise main points for clarity?
- Use headings and sub-headings for clarification?
- Delete material?
- Add material?
- Insert transitions to connect sections of the paper to the thesis?
After you have re-read your paper while keeping the above questions in mind, you might think you have sufficiently reorganized your paper. However, if you still are unsure about the document and think you could make further revisions, here are a few techniques to try out that may help you reorganize.
One of the beginning steps in the writing process is to create an outline. However, creating an outline can be useful even after you have already written your paper. To create the reverse outline, first, read the paper and write short descriptions that describe each paragraph in the margins next to each paragraph. Next, transfer these short descriptions onto a new sheet of paper, making sure to list them in the original order of your paper. Then you can step back and decide if the paragraphs move in a logical order, or rearrange them until you are satisfied. See Reverse Outlines: A Writer’s Technique for Examining Organization (UW-Madison) for an example.
You can also take a printed copy of your paper, cut apart all of the paragraphs, and mix them up. Next, put them in the order that sounds the most fluid or logical to you. If you find that the new order does not match up with the order of the original document, you should consider changing the order of your paragraphs. If you are not sure where a paragraph goes, consider revising or removing it. This activity should provide you better insight into whether you need to move or delete a paragraph, or if you need to add sentences to ensure you have strong paragraphs.
Revise for coherence
Read the first and last sentences only of each paragraph. Here you are looking to see that all the parts fit together logically in a sensible and pleasing way. Ask yourself if each sentence moves smoothly from one to the next. Sentences in the body of your paper should alternate between providing a strong introduction of the topic of the paragraph and a subsequent summary of the paragraph, with transitional phrases included when appropriate. If not, revise them or add sentences to accomplish that goal.