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SSI2-114: Humans, Nature, and the Environment (Prof. Woods)

Concept Mapping Exercise

To craft a good research question, you'll want to think about scope (not so broad that you can't cover what you need to in the time you have, but not so narrow that there's nothing interesting to say) and answerability (is your question actually...answerable? with evidence?). While doing that, keep in mind that you need to have a strong sense of how you define your terms...what is the context for this question? Are you acknowledging all the stakeholders? 

Then you can use a concept map like the one to the left to help you refine your research question: continue to figure out what aspects of your question you'll be focusing on (scope!), and what evidence you want to gather (answerability!) and then take the next step of thinking about where you might go to find that evidence. 

What is a concept map?

A concept map is:

  • a visual tool for generating and organizing ideas
  • a way to explore different aspects of a topic
  • a method for triggering word associations

Use a concept map to:

  • aid thinking at the beginning of the research process
  • create a visual overview of a topic
  • develop questions on a topic
  • reveal patterns, themes, and associations between ideas
  • generate search terms to conduct research

Concept Mapping

Concept maps are a tool to help you:

  • explore your topic;
  • discover possible lines of inquiry;
  • consider search terms;
  • brainstorm resources to investigate.

Ask yourself: what do I already know about my topic? what am I curious about? what kind of data do I need, and where am I likely to find that data?

From a disciplinary perspective, think about what kind of questions scholars and experts in that discipline are interested in, and how they would ask those questions or measure their findings. What types of measurements will they be taking? 

Finally, consider what you know about the resources available to you, and the types of sources that would be most helpful for you, and where might be most fruitful for you to begin your search. Are you looking for primary sources, such as newspaper articles? Do you need contemporary news articles or historical ones? If you're following up on the scholarly conversation around your topic, do you need to look for work by historians? Scientists? Sociologists? 

The process is simple: start with a subject in the center, then:

  • In the space around the central concept, write words or phrases for any relevant subtopics.
  • For each of your focus subtopics, add related terms/concepts to your map.
  • Continue to fill out your branches with ideas or questions about your topic, or about the types of resources you may wish to start with.