In Part Two of my new blog series ‘Diary of a Research Fellow’, I reflect on the use of mind mapping as a way of organising research ideas, focusing ideas and visualising them in a non-linear way.
I have nearly reached the end of my first month as a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds – how time flies! This month, alongside planning and organising a data sharing workshop in preparation for conducting qualitative secondary analysis on two of the Timescapes datasets (more reflection to come on this soon!), I have also been really busy doing a lot of critical reading. I have been taking full advantage of the time during these early stages of the research, to read and revise existing literature in relation to men’s care practices and to broaden my own knowledge in this area. To help me do this I have created annotated bibliographies in Word relating to the key themes of my study (see also Post One). In these documents I have been producing short critical summaries of each reading. These documents are helpful in so many ways; they are a record of what I have read, they are a list of key thinkers and relevant authors in my areas of interest, they summarise the key points and arguments of everything I have read and in writing them, they encourage me to develop my own ideas, to jot down notes, ideas and questions and help me to commit the main ideas to memory. As such, my critical reading is an active process in which I can digest information, find out how particular research questions or concepts have been addressed, and keep a record for future writing projects. So far, I have produced one on men and masculinities, one on care and ethics of care, one on parenting and one on social policy.
There are of course a lot of overlaps between each bibliography and while they are useful in the ways I identify above, they are presented in a very linear style and as discrete documents. As such they do not allow me to make explicit connections between all of the themes listed above. I decided that to remedy this, I also needed to do a mind map in order to make clearer connections between these ideas and to begin to identify gaps in knowledge. So, this is what the space above my desk at home now looks like:
While it looks very sparse at the minute, I expect that the gaps will soon diminish, more post-its will be added and existing ones will be shifted and moved as I make new connections and see things from new angles, such is the beauty of social research!
According to Macademise, mind mapping is a great tool for social researchers and can be used at any stage of research. It can be used for:
- Reviewing literature,
- Analysing data,
- Taking meeting notes,
- Taking notes during lectures or presentations,
- Brainstorming ideas for new writing projects,
- Creating outlines for writing projects.
For the purposes of reviewing the literature, I have chosen to use post-its because they are flexible, they won’t ruin my decor and I can scribble all over them. Macademise also uses iThoughtHD on her iPad as a way of keeping her ideas portable.
At this early stage, I have found this a useful exercise for thinking about the interconnections between each research theme, for focusing me on the topic and for helping me to represent and visualise my knowledge in a non-linear way. It also feels more productive, despite the amount of work that goes into searching for literature, reading it with a critical lens and then keeping notes and summaries. It will be fascinating to see what this looks like in a year’s time!