Mind-maps for organising the layout of a chapter, article or dissertation 1

This is a part of the series, diary of a doctoral student with stories on politics, emotions and other things that determine our research beyond the research methods.

One challenge that I faced while writing my dissertation was that every time I started a new chapter, I had to deal with multiple ways of organising it. For example, there were times when I could have narrated my story village by village. Alternatively, I could have organized the layout based on themes or chronology of events that would cut across each village. There was merit in organising the chapter in each of these methods. This is a challenge that a writer would face no matter what one writes: be it a story, a journal article, a movie script, a dissertation or any book for that matter.

If organising a chapter or a journal article is challenging, planning an entire book or a dissertation can be absolutely daunting. Sometimes, the author is forced to stick to some broad outlines that are enforced by the publisher or by the University that forces the decision on us. Most dissertations have an introduction wherein we are asked to describe the issue we’re working on, provide literature review, argue that this work is distinguished, discuss the research methods, et cetera. Such guidelines are certainly helpful in expediting our work, by making the decision of organising on our behalf. But even these broad outlines will never leave us without a choice of different ways of organising that which we are writing, at least in the two or three chapters that are left to us.

While the challenge of organising the layout cannot be wished away or mechanically solved, I found it useful to try out different possible layouts by putting each on a mind map. To continue with the previous example, I would start a mind map with three nodes: chronological, thematic and village-by-village. Under each of these nodes, I would attempt to narrate the story by putting the basic arguments together as a tree.

This process forces us to think about how exactly we would narrate the story, and in the process we would be able to identify the merits and pitfalls of each of these layouts. In the process of doing it, we also create a detailed outline that can be extremely helpful during the process of writing. Visualising arguments in different ways can also help us discover a new form of organising that is more logical and effective.

One unanticipated way in this process helped me was that the mind map presented me with a broken down set of topics that I had to write on, and I could focus on one little task at a time when I wrote, instead of trying to relate to the entire book or dissertation or a chapter at any given point of time. Thinking of the dissertation on the whole can be daunting, and the demotivation that comes with it makes us postpone the writing work. Tools like these can help us by putting us back on the track by breaking the daunting giant into manageable little parts.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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One thought on “Mind-maps for organising the layout of a chapter, article or dissertation

  • prassie

    I did start out with Mind mapping for breaking down tasks for solutions i design. but very quickly it became a visual distraction, than enabling cohesive thought process.
    Then i found this tool – ToDoList by AbstractSpoon – http://www.abstractspoon.com/tdl_resources.html.

    I was initially in love with it’s feature to export and import FreeMind files. But very soon i completely switched to TDL.
    With excellent short cuts keys for arranging the topics/nodes and easy switching to add notes for a node, am very much happy with this tool for my mind mapping needs.

    With other usual planning attributes like expected data, estimates this helps a lot for me in software projects.

    But related to writing/documents, i prefer wikis, though TDL, with Tags, can help on that.

    However i haven’t found a tool, which uses Tags with heirarchy to organize ‘thoughts’.
    Am pondering on developing one myself, unless i get pointed to a tool which does that.

    Would like to hear more on your tooling set.