Throwback Thursday: Creating visual maps, diagrams and models

This post by Dr Lyn Lavery, Director of Academic Consulting, first appeared on Thesislink in June 2014.

A recent post on the NVivo blog reminded me of how useful I find models, diagrams, and visual maps in my research and writing. They assist my planning and thinking, and are great presentation tools for research data. To read the original NVivo blog post, click here.

mindmap1The NVivo modeller is a useful tool, and the above blog post has some good suggestions for how to use it in a qualitative project. If you’re not planning on using NVivo for your data analysis however, it’s probably not worth learning it just for the purposes of using the modeller. So, what other options are available to you for creating visual maps, diagrams, and models?

My personal choice is Inspiration–I’ve been using this for years, and have just started using the iPad version also. Inspiration has tools for concept mapping, mind mapping, and outlining–all of which are useful at various stages of the research process.  It is incredibly intuitive and easy to learn, and is relatively cheap for a package of this type–there is also a free trial available. Over the years I’ve used Inspiration for a number of tasks including:

  • Brainstorming ideas with colleagues or students–it’s a great way to end up with a quick action plan to take away from a meeting.
  • Planning a presentation or seminar–once I’ve visually mapped this out, there is a Presentation Manager to help me take this quickly across to PowerPoint and have slide content automatically created.
  • Planning my writing–I used Inspiration to map out the chapters of my PhD and then created a written outline that could be automatically transferred to Microsoft Word for writing purposes.
  • Making notes on journal articles and books that I read–I’m quite a visual learner, so I find this is a much more efficient means for note taking compared with linear notes.

Inspiration certainly isn’t the only option, there are a host of other packages available. If you’d prefer a freebie option, I’ve seen some excellent maps recently which were created via XMind. Other paid versions that I’ve heard good things about include MindManager and MindView, while Mac users may like the look of OmniGraffle.

MohioMap is relatively new in this area, but it seems like a powerful tool to visually map your Evernote and Dropbox accounts. This is incredibly useful for exploring relationships and connections between files, and it’s free to sign up for an account.

If the above suggestions have whet your appetite, then click on one of the links above and try them out for yourself. There’s not necessarily any right or wrong way to use visual maps, models, and diagrams–what’s important is that you find a way of adapting it to suit your own working style.

mindmap3If you have a suggestion of your own for a visual mapping package, leave a comment below – we’d love to hear about it!

For more research tips, follow Lyn on Twitter: @laverylyn

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