Visual planning techniques

I’m a huge fan of sketching out a plan. I find it helps me structure things and clarify what I’m doing.

Here are some examples. Thanks to all the students who allowed me to take pictures of their plans!

  1. Don’t plan to do lots of little things, just a couple of bigger things.

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2. I use this all the time to make sure my arguments flow–a flow chart forces me to think about where my arguments are leading, and I can always tell when something is a distraction from the main argument!

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3. Use a huge whiteboard, or some butchers paper and try to make it all work. Different kinds of writing might need different kinds of mapping out. And you’ll probably need more than one go. Just go for it!

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4. I don’t have a white board in my current office, so we just wrote out the texts on bits of paper (index cards might be prettier) and shuffled them around until we could get the thesis to flow. The candidate went home and kept reshuffling the texts as she wrote up her outline and plan, until it worked.

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These are all really rough looking–because planning is. I thought about tidying it up, but that seemed counterproductive. A plan isn’t fixed, it’s a rough sketch of where you think you’ll be going, it’s a back of the envelope calculation, it’s a compass and a goal.

As you progress through your research and writing, you’ll find your plan will need constant tweaking, adjusting, reworking. That’s okay. A good plan gave you a way to get started and made sure that most of what you did was relevant. Having no plan is a recipe for inertia or a scatter-gun approach, neither of which is helpful getting your thesis written.

Even a plan that totally didn’t work is super helpful. ‘The literature would lead us to expect that X would be the case in this situation, and so I set out to prove that. However my research shows that this is not the case here, and here is how and why,’ is a fantastic way to write a chapter, journal article or book.

Go make that plan, go write that thesis. And share your visual planning strategies! I know other people use apps, sketches and storyboards, I’d love to have examples. 

This is a companion piece to the post on narrative outlines. There are lots of ways to write a plan, and you probably need more than one of them, and different techniques at different stages. 

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