Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Thesis planning – Moving from research to delivery

Last year we featured an article on Mind Mapping Software and PhD Research. Peter Roberts who has been working for the last 6 years on his PhD into the meaning of 2 Greek words, outlined how he was using MindGenius mind mapping software for his research.

MindGenius helped Peter to overcome the complexity of the research he was undertaking. Peter is now in the final write up stage of his thesis project. Not only is he using MindGenius to help him with the write up but he is also using it to plan the final stages and keep on top of everything he needs to do. Here Peter discusses how he has moved from research into the delivery stages of his PhD and how MindGenius helped:

“On researching and writing up or delivery: A don at Oxford told me years ago: “learn by writing.” So as I’ve been researching, I’ve been writing various parts of the thesis, but not in any particular order. For instance, my thesis is based on two word studies. I had to do the research for these first because my conclusions would depend on them. Having researched and written up my findings, I then had to research the subjects which the word studies suggested (i.e. Roman patronage and the situation in the church at Corinth which Paul was trying to sort out, partly by his use of the two words I’ve been studying). I wrote further sections to cover these areas. All the time I was scribbling down possible outlines for my conclusion. (As a preliminary to all this, it’s a matter of deciding on a broad research field and then, by reading and writing, narrowing it down until you have a manageable subject. On the way you often find other subjects which you try to remember so you can work on them when you’ve finished the PhD.

Fig. 1 Initial Research Map - click for full screen view

Fig. 2 Categorised Research map - click for full screen view

From the outset I had an outline of the structure of the thesis, which we revised continually throughout the project as my supervisor and I recognized extra material required or information I could omit. When we felt I had collected sufficient material and had a viable argument with a sound conclusion, we decided to change the emphasis from researching to writing. (Of course the final deadline looming also affects this decision). The aim was to revise the whole thesis in strict sequence using the various chapters I had already written so that we could see that the argument flowed and fitted together logically.

The final stage is then to revise the complete thesis chapter by chapter until we are satisfied that everything is in that needs to be in, and no more, and that it all makes sense (examiners don’t like to be puzzled). This is the stage I’m at now. It’s when you realize what a pedant your supervisor is and how vast her knowledge of the subject is and you wonder why she is not writing the thesis instead of you!! But in fact you are grateful because she picks up all the stupid mistakes or inconsistencies which could make the end result a real mess.

The Gantt view in MindGenius helps because firstly it forces you to analyze the job and break it down in terms of specific tasks as well as in terms of specific periods of time. The project is really just in two phases now: completing the chapters revision, and topping and tailing – abbreviations, bibliography, title page, preface, printing and binding.

The division of time is very important for me with a project this size. I’ve never written something 70,000 words long before over so long a period. So it’s essential to have a timetable, which enables me to focus on one chapter a week in my case. The first two chapters on the chart took the whole week allocated to each of them. The chapter I revised this week only took me a day because things went smoothly. This has given me more time to work on the following chapter which is lucky because it is going to need a lot revision even down to changing the basic structure (a “now she tells me” situation!) of one whole section of it (I stopped myself panicking about that by, of course, producing a mind map of the new structure: a sort of researcher’s/writer’s valium). The chart is working well. I’ve printed it out and pinned it up next to my desk. At the moment I’m ahead of schedule which for me is a miracle: I’m a deadline man: I work best when I’m up against a deadline. Take the deadline away and I drift. The Gantt chart gives me a whole series of manageable deadlines.

The division of the tasks is important as well: which order to revise in, for instance, so that I can concentrate on the chapter in hand rather than flit about from chapter to chapter as the panic takes me. But then there are the peripheral tasks which must not be forgotten, like abbreviation lists, bibliographies, checking and rechecking, printing and binding.

Every time I look at the chart, I’m reminded these essential tasks have to be completed so they don’t slip below the radar. These are things I can do piecemeal when I don’t feel like anything more demanding. But they have to be done. And the Gantt chart helps with that.

It’s also good to be able to go into a task and raise the completion level, especially to 100 %. It gives my mind a chance to move on to the next chapter or task.

Fig. 3 Thesis Planning Map

Fig. 4 Thesis Planning map as MindGenius Gantt view - click for full screen view

Using the Gantt chart facility is useful for keeping track of what needs doing and by when, an absolute necessity for me, and it doesn't allow you to forget anything.”

Download Thesis Planning Map


Hugo Minney said...

This is excellent and you always need a structure for any piece of research writing. I was working on something much simpler (I did a hand sketch of the mind map) and used EndNote to pull together the information. You might like the blog in three parts: http://minney.org/writing-literature-review-using-endnote-part-1-pubmed (note part 1 is the science part, parts 2 & 3 are more relevant to a humanities thesis)

MindGenius said...

Thanks Hugo, glad you found the article useful and it's always interesting to hear different ways people are using mind mapping.

Unknown said...

Interesante el trabajo realizado, creo lo que impulsa es el desarrollo de la Infotecnologia con la Cognotecnologia y ojala que tambien puedan publicar trabajos en idioma español ... que ayudaria a muchos docentes de America Latina, pues en mucha Universidades ha ingresado muy bien el Mind Genius

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