Teaching visual maps of research manuscripts

Visually mapping helps us bring order from chaos–especially when we draft a research article. Teaching visual maps of research manuscripts came to me out of desperation one day. . .

“How will I ever get my ideas into an article?” When a bewildered undergraduate first posed this question, I realized just how complicated the path must seem. Inside her head, a bunch of unrelated ideas whirled around, and she could not organize her ideas into the parts of the manuscript she wanted to write.

Eager to reassure her, I grabbed every sticky note in my office and invited her to write the headings of an article we’d just read. Little did I know this would lead to a wall of fluorescent paper and a wave of relief for my novice researchers.  Here’s how it works.

  1. Give students a research article you’ve discussed [See our blog, “Wow! I never know the back story of research articles.”]
  2. Show students the major headings for the article, adding Introduction, which APA style does not include as a heading.
  3. Invite students to write out each major heading on a large sticky note and and place the notes in order along a wall, on a dry erase board, on a planner page, or on a table. A trifold poster makes a great visual planning space for outlining poster presentations.
  4. Now invite students to jot down any ideas they want to include in the paper. Examples could be concepts, statistics, measures they are considering, references, quotes, or participant descriptions.  When they begin, a jumble of ideas may be spinning around in their minds. Invite students to get all their ideas out of their heads and onto their display during this step.
  5. Time to post! Invite the students to place these “idea” notes under the large heading sticky notes.  Through this organization process, new researchers begin to visualize where each of their ideas could fit. Citations?  In the Introduction.  Measures and ideas about participants?  Under Methods. Gradually, each colorful tidbit finds its rightful space in the visual outline.

My students even photograph “their wall” or make a small facsimile in their planners. Keeping these visual displays available allows students to add to them, and they can see how they are “filling in the spaces” as their thinking progresses.