Organising your thoughts – a topic map!

I attended a surprisingly motivating and useful “starting your PhD” type course a couple of weeks ago, one of the optional courses at uni available to any graduate student who signs up on time.

I was excited by the idea of “topic maps” – writing out key words, as back-to-basics as possible, starting off from my core PhD topic in the centre and then branching off into sub-categories. This method can apparently help develop good search terms for databases (such as journals, library catalogues, thesis collections), as well as primarily being useful to organise your thoughts. Currently my topics are “mapped” only by my reading list, and what I occasionally write up as literature reviews of sorts.

So, keen to organise the many interconnected yet still disparate strands of my research I started by writing as many topics as I could think of on post-it notes, so I could shuffle them around into a “map” and connect the dots.

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Oh dear…

Then I took a deep breath and thought it’d help to “write up” this, uh, “map”.

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But writing it up made it worse, I felt like I’d put everything in the wrong place. When I went to connect each topic by line I found EVERY topic connected with (almost) every other topic!

I think at this stage – when I’ve done a bit of reading, but not enough – I am not ready to sketch out a topic map. There are probably still areas I haven’t considered. There are too many overlapping, interconnecting jumbles of wires that I haven’t unpicked.

Or maybe a topic map is not for me?!

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2 thoughts on “Organising your thoughts – a topic map!

  1. Get a big pin board! at least then you can move them around…you may find clusters emerge as your research progresses, some topics may overlap more than others, you can add more, bin others etc etc. Ooh! Doing a Phd almost sounds fun!

    • This is a fab idea. We’re starting at a different combined workhub/nursery soon where I can book access to a fancy meeting room with huge whiteboard, so I might give myself some time to do this!

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