Color-Coded Writing

Group member Katherine has been teaching with me in MCC’s English Department for years, but I’d really only known her as a teaching acquaintance. But at the end of this past spring semester, she came into my office to chat about writing (the kind of chat I am always in the mood for) and told me she’d finished the first draft of a memoir centered around her first pregnancy and subsequent miscarriage. She wanted to keep working on the manuscript and figure out what next steps to take toward publishing, so I thought she’d be a perfect fit for our group — and clearly she is! Here is Katherine’s method of organizing her thoughts and her revisions.

This is a guest post from Katherine Grant, a member of this summer’s Online Writing Group:

Well, currently I reread my work in its entirety (currently 85+ pages) about once every two weeks, but for smaller attempts at revision and improvement, I color-code my writing. This is something that I began doing when I was working on my master’s thesis in an attempt to keep track of what I felt like was completely finished, what still needed some attention, and what still needed to be started.

All of my text is black when I start, but when my memoir got past thirty pages, I used this strategy to keep track of where I thought I had made progress and where I needed to focus my attention.

A red color coded to-do

Color-Coded Writing

The color red has always served as my to-do list or for things that are nowhere near ready or not even started. I currently have a to-do list at the end of the memoir with anecdotes that still need to be written. For my students, I encourage a to-do list with their writing as well. I often refer to that to-do list as their road map to where they want to go on their next writing trip (what claims still need to be proven). Color-coding my writing helps me to keep the ideas in my head straight, even if I don’t have time to write them entirely just yet. I see RED and realize that work must be done.

The color blue means things are close and that I am pretty happy with this draft, but things aren’t quite polished or are not quite in the best location.

Black text means that the writing is done, polished, and in the correct location. Sometimes black text will still receive a minor revision to correct a typo or change a word choice, but major revisions are complete.


There is a lot written by and for teachers about using color-coding to help students differentiate supporting points and ideas as they develop academic essays, and it’s something I use in my classroom, too. But Katherine’s approach to using it within a document for revision is new to me and it’s something I’m interested in trying. Thanks, Katherine, for sharing your process!




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