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Information Literacy Session 1: Search Tools and Strategies: Brainstorming

ENG 102 Embedded Librarian Session: Keywords, Boolean Operators, & Search Strategies


Some people do not write a research question right away. Instead, they use brainstorming activities to help understand and explore their topics. One way to organize your thinking about a topic is to create a mind map or concept map. Brainstorming and visually mapping your ideas will help you discover interesting connections and new keywords.

Research papers are exercises in investigation and critical analysis. You are expected to be literate about your topic, and your paper is one way of communicating what you've learned, and also joining in the larger conversation about your topic.

After devising a research question or concept map, you need to turn your concepts into searchable keywords. Please go to the next page to learn more.

Mind mapping

Mind Mapping is a way for you to visually brainstorm on your topic. It also helps you identify what you already know about your topic, narrow or expand your topic, and think about your topic in new ways.

To use a mind map, place your topic or theme in the center of a page, then place main ideas about your theme on “branches” that extend from the center of the page. Then place sub-sets of your main ideas on “twigs” that extend from your “branches.” 

The example below addresses the theme “Should we have a separate system of justice for juveniles?” Click on the image to get a closer look.


Concept Mapping

Concept Mapping is similar to Mind Mapping as a brainstorming technique, except that it uses larger themes and structures. 

Click on the image below to get a closer look, or use the worksheet linked below for more information and to create your own Concept Map.


Use the KWQ Exercise to form a research question. This exercise can be used as a continuous cycle throughout your research process. As you learn more information about your topic, it should raise new questions that you can seek answers for. Some researchers continue to focus on the same topic their entire careers in this way. Obviously, you will need to pick when you have reached a finish point acceptable to you to write your paper. Ask yourself:  

  1. What do you Know about your topic? Write those things down. 
  2. What do you Want to know about your topic? Write these down as well. 
  3. Now, take one or more of your "want to know" ideas and turn it into an open-ended Question using one of the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, why) or How. An open-ended question can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no," but requires some explanation or analysis.