Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful. Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.
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Concept maps (sometimes referred to as "mind maps") are visual representations of how ideas and topics are connected. Concept maps can be used for college research and writing to organize a structure around a topic, identifying key subtopics and issues. The process often identifies different perspectives and approaches you can take when researching your topic. It can also help you begin structuring an outline.
Concept maps can be created through online tools (examples provided below) or on paper. Place your big topic in the center, and then begin to develop subtopics around your main topic. As you explore, you will identify issues that you can place beside the appropriate subtopic. Often, research projects develop around the issues of your initial topic.
Online concept mapping tools:
Depending on the extent of the concept map, you may need to limit your focus points somewhat before jumping into the research process. Using the brainstorming techniques below, weed out the ideas that are least exciting to you and hone the points that stand out the most.
Talk it out: Speak with a classmate or peer to explain the ideas you have brainstormed so far. Through your discussion, see if any themes jump out to you or if questions from your peer lead you in another direction.
Review course material: Skimming through class notes may help remind you of material connected to your topic. This material could highlight a specific idea or lead to the formation of another.
Let the ideas marinate: Be sure to give yourself enough time to think thoroughly about the topic and your areas to expand before immediately beginning. Ideas will become more concrete as you allow yourself to think them through.
Using an outline in the early stages of the research process can help you to see the emerging themes and subtopics you will want to use in your paper. You may also preliminarily trace the connections between these pieces.
The tree, web, or square outlines can be used similarly to a concept map but more specifically. You may want to take one section of your map to elaborate and tie in new discussion points of material you pulled from class notes. This is also a helpful tool to use as you begin researching. You can note new concepts and details you will include in your research.
We will discuss more specific outlining once you have gathered all of your research, but an outline used for prewriting allows for free-form thinking and compartmentalizing aspects of your topic.