Because generating ideas is messy, untidy and all over the place, we need to use tools and techniques that can sort our ideas, help us to make connections between them, and find the ‘gaps’ we need to fill. Writing the thesis is all about identifying key relationships between the thinking and the doing of research, and between previous research ideas and our own. We can do this through mind maps and other forms of graphic representation and use a range of online tools. We can also begin a thesis document right at the start to help in organising our writing. Here’s a collection of the most common ways of organising our ideas.
- Mind maps
A matrix is a useful table to capture the literature and help you to analyse and synthesise existing research. You can use them in many ways; check out this tip sheet to give you some ideas. This synthesis matrix below seeks to find connections between three studies on Metaphors, specifically, how metaphors are mapped in the mind.
- Working with the thesis/dissertation document
Think of your Confirmation of Candidature research proposal as the beginning of your thesis. You will already have content for the introduction, literature review and methodology, and you can build on this throughout your candidature, adding content as you go. Although there can be danger in not seeing other possibilities when you set up chapters too early, if you keep in mind that they may need to change as you add more information, setting up the thesis document early can be a sensible way of capturing and collating content. Here is more information about how to go about it.
- Graphic ‘illustrations’Free form drawing
Sometimes when our ideas don’t hold together, drawing the problem can help. As Barrett and Hussey (2015, p.60)* argue, “visualisations can act as a meta-cognitive tool that enables doctoral students to: depict their thinking, weave and map the different strands of a thesis together, and highlight the significance of their concepts and arguments.” Click on this freeform visualisation to see an illustration of a creative writing research project that produced the metaphor of the writer-researcher as an explorer of the dim past.
*Barrett, T. & Hussey. J.
- Conceptual relationship map
Here’s a diagram used in a thesis to illustrate the relationship between three case studies and their analyses using Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice (1972/1977):Maxwell, J. (2009). Conteting the culture of the doctoral degree: Candidates’ experiences of three doctoral degrees in the School of Education RMIT University. Unpublished doctoral thesis. Retrieved from: http://researchbank.rmit.edu.au/eserv/rmit:6738/Maxwell.pdfIdeas can be organised and photographed or recorded in sound files.
- Lists, labels or categories
The Contents page of your thesis or dissertation draft document gives you the ‘storyline’ of your research work. It’s an excellent idea to keep a contents page up to date from the beginning of your writing process. By reading it, you should be able to see what’s missing, what doesn’t belong, or a section that is not named correctly. Here’s an example of a contents page in process, getting close to submission: Creative project contents queriesHere are some other examples:
a. Place articles and notes in folders labelled according to: themes, key words, theories, methodologies
b. Use lists as a way of analysing your ideas: five features; seven operating conditions, six options; four approaches, etc.
c. Look for ideas that are ‘odd’: ones that don’t fit into categories – they may be irrelevant, or they may be highly significant!
- Online toolsEndNote (citation manager)
EndNote helps you manage bibliographic data and related research materials, saving sources from the RMIT library and using the data to create citations and a reference list. It is supported by the RMIT Library through workshops and works with Windows and MacOS. Find out about it here.
Zotero (note-making and citation manager)Zotero is an alternative to EndNote. It works with Windows, MacOS and Linux operating systems. Find more information from: https://www.zotero.org/
Mendeley is owned by Elsevier,a significant publisher of technical, scientific and medical information. It is directly linked to Elsevier databases and journals. It works with Windows, MacOS and Linux operating systems. Find more information from: https://www.mendeley.com/Scrivener (manuscript drafting, note-making)
Scrivener is a word processing program that helps you create outlines for your text. It’s also a management system for documents and notes. It’s a very useful tool for organising your whole thesis, and you can export the text to Word for final formatting. You can get it here: https://scrivener-beta.en.softonic.com/
* For more tools and ideas, check out Nick Blackbourn’s website*