Creating research maps is something I find very daunting. The options are endless, so it can be difficult to know which route to take. Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind when starting the process:
- Plan ahead. Ideally you'll be considering what you want to deliver before you've even started your research. Knowing your end goal will inform all the key decisions as you conduct your research. Getting this in place early will prove very helpful when you finally come to mapping.
- Know your audience. Always keep your stakeholders in mind and how you'll be delivering the map to them. Ensure that what you're creating will not only meet their expectations but also their capacity. There's no point preparing a 20 page report if you'll only get 10 minutes to present your findings.
- Keep an eye on the time. This can be the greatest challenge. It's very easy to get carried away and bite off more than you can chew. Keep things simple—focus on the critical findings first. Once you're communicating them effectively you can consider what other information you think important.
- Collaborate. All mapping exercises contain an element of interpretation. Make sure you avoid subjective analysis by working with at least one other person. Get them to listen, read or study all pertinent research before you begin. This way, you can stop your own assumptions and prejudices effecting your findings.
- Follow the data. While it's great to plan ahead, always be prepared to change your focus if the data says so. You need to be flexible. Try to start with sketching pen on paper. This can help keep things loose while you work through visualising your findings without getting too enamoured with one approach.
Finally, don't try it alone. So much of research relies on interpretation, it's essential to collaborate with colleagues. If you've been working on this research for weeks it can be very hard to see the wood for the trees. Involving the help of a few people will help to ensure you remain objective throughout.