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Library Research Basics: Brainstorm

This guide will help you to use the library's resources for your research. Learn to find books and articles, evaluate resources, use specific databases, choose a topic, etc. Access documentation and video tutorials to help with the research process


Brainstorming is an important part of the research process.  Take the time to reflect on your topic and the various avenues, perspectives, slants, and themes that you are likely to encounter along the way.  It is very helpful to write your musing out on paper as you think of them, as you may want to refer back to your brainstorming session whenever you get stuck.  There are several ways to brainstorm, including freewriting, word connecting, listing, outlines, and mind mapping, to name a few.  Pick a strategy that works best for you. 

Mind Mapping

Create a Mind map

Mind maps help you to organize your thoughts in a visual way.  Create a diagram by placing a single word or phrase in the middle of the page, and continue to add associated words that branch out from the middle, branching out again from this level, and so forth. A mind map may look something like this:

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, author Nicoguaro, June 2011.

This can be drawn on paper or use mind mapping software like Mindmeister, Xmind,

Brainstorm for Concepts and Terms

Break down your topic into concepts

Databases have difficulty searching for sentences and plain language text. Search by using the most important terms in your topic. For instance, your topic or research question may be "How would the legalization of marijuana effect our legal system?"  Many of the words in this sentence would confuse a database search, by ignoring articles, pronouns, prepositions, and other unimportant words, you will be left with the key words to use in your search.  Concept terms -

How would the legalization of marijuana effect our legal system?
When searching for articles on this topic in a database, simply use the terms:
"legal system" (use quotation marks to search this as a phrase)


Brainstorm for synonyms related to your concepts

Now that you've broken down your research question into the specific concepts, think about all the other words an author might use to talk about these concepts.  In other words, find synonyms or related words for each concept term/phrase.  Hint: use a thesaurus if you get stuck. 

Legalization marijuana legal system
laws drugs courts
legislation pot "judicial system"
policies grass "war on drugs"
decriminalize dope "justice system"


Use the document linked below to help you stay organized when breaking down concepts and brainstorming for synonyms.

Sonoma State Univesity Library Brainstorming Video