Week 3

  • Community Agreement
    • We’ll collectively edit this document to establish some ground rules for what we expect from one another during class meetings this semester
  • Reading discussion

Exercise: Create a Topic Map

  • Using the printed out copy of your Literature Review as raw material, first draw a box around all the terms within that correspond to subjects, questions, or problems then cut those pieces of text out of the page.
  • Arrange the pieces of text using an 11×17" sheet as a canvas. Spread them out enough to occupy most of the empty space, but cluster them such that ideas that are conceptually related are nearer one another on the page than those that have less in common
  • Once the arrangement seems sensible to you, start looking at the empty space on the page between the pieces of paper and start writing in additional terms—again making sure that you place them in the proper location such that they make sense nestled amongst their neighbors
  • Now start drawing lines between all the words on the page (both printed and handwritten) to make clearer what is related to what. Consider using the thickness of the line, its dashed- or solidness, the color of the ink, whether it ends with an arrowhead, etc. to identify qualities of the connection. Consider the ‘strength’ of connections, whether their relationship is hierarachical, whether they concern a ‘pure’ or ‘applied’ problem, or whether there is a directional or cause-and-effect link between them.
    • In one corner of the page, draw a Key to explain the encoding you’ve employed in drawing these connections
  • On a separate sheet of paper, start writing a numbered list of Research Questions that involve one or more of the items on your topic map. Once you have at least six of these (but ideally more), add markers with the corresponding numbers to the map. As before, make sure they are placed such that they are closest to the topics they are most related to. Draw lines connecting these question markers to the topics that inspired them
  • Before a draft blows your map away, take a photo of it in its current state. Use some sticky tape to fix the terms to the page if you want to save it for later.
  • Meet in pairs and spend a few minutes looking over each other’s maps and question lists. Read them in silence at first and try to come up with your own impression of where your peer’s research is heading.
  • After you feel like you’ve gotten a sense of things, take turns presenting to one another where you’re currently thinking and hearing what your partner’s impression was from the map, and what feedback they have


  • Reading
    • Read chapters 7–10 from The Craft of Research in the section “Making an Argument”
    • Use the tag “R2” for your write-up and be sure to publish it before the start of class next week.
  • Identifying a topic
    • Based on the feedback you received in class, select up to three (but ideally one) ‘Subjects’ to explore for your project.
    • Working within each subject area, use the ‘3 step’ formula to identify potential combinations of Topic + Question + Significance. Within each subject, the ‘topic’ portion of the formula will likely be very similar but don’t just repeat yourself. Each time consider whether your description of the Topic is at the right level of specificity: make it as general or as focused as needed to match well with the Question you pose.
    • Propose at least 5 of these per Topic and for each question identify the nature of the data that you would need to start making headway. If you can find preexisting data sources all the better, but most important is identifying the kind and structure of the data you’d need and the feasibility of acquiring it.
    • For each Topic, look on the web for three precedents—these may be data visualizations but could also be research projects, articles, books, etc. that took an entirely different approach to exploring and synthesizing information with the field.
    • Create a text document in your students subdirectory called questions.md in which you write out the Topic + Question + Significance formula for each of your ideas, followed by a list of links to the precedents and sources you found.
    • Prepare a brief slide presentation (10 minutes or so) describing your subject area(s) and some potential research questions. You should spend about half of that time getting us up to speed on the world you’ll be researching, and the rest talking about potential projects engaging with it.
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