Brainstorming can be done on your own or within a group. It could be a useful exercise to conduct with your supervisor. The process is as follows.
Starting with a single word or concept connected to your research topic, record (write down, tape, video) anything and everything that you associate with this word or concept. There are four practical rules for classical brainstorming (B822, Technique Library).
- No criticism: the idea is to defer judgment until after you have gathered all the ideas.
- Freewheel: ideas should be uninhibited, anything goes.
- Quantity is important: the more ideas the better.
- Hitch-hike: build on other people’s ideas as this fosters collaboration and idea improvement.
The list above is also available as a print out, ‘Summary of creative thinking techniques’.
When you have run out of ideas you can try to create a relationship diagram for the subject. The Enchanted Learning website provides a summary of the various types of organisational diagram that you might find useful.
Brainstorming example 1
- Ask members of the brainstorming group to individually write their ideas on Post-it notes or cards.
- Make sure you write only one concept on each card or Post-it.
- Do not spend more than 5–10 minutes on this task.
- At the end of this time, gather the cards/Post-its together to examine the groupings or trends.
As a group you could then vote for your ‘top’ concepts by putting coloured dots on your top three themes. You could rank the themes according to the number of dots: for example, 1st = 3 dots, 2nd = 2 dots and 3rd = 1 dot. This system will help you to focus your research and set priorities.
Brainstorming example 2
Using a random word or a random image as a stimulus during brainstorming can be a good way of generating new ideas.
- Choose a random word or image; for example an animal or object.
- Ask participants to brainstorm around the word or image and record their ideas.
- From this initial brainstorm, try to relate the words and ideas to your topic. This type of brainstorming may sound strange, but it is surprising how well it works, as it makes you think about the subject in a new light and helps foster innovation.