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Introduction to library research in the arts: Forming a structure

An introduction to research concepts and techniques for University of Redlands students in fine, literary and performing arts, developed as an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Learning objective

  • Structure your ideas through an outline or concept map.

Finding a structure

As you find sources and learn more about your topic, you will become aware of the relationships between these ideas and you will need to find a way to express that structure.

Organizing your ideas helps you in several ways:

  • You can recognize gaps in your understanding where you need to learn more.
  • You can revise your original research question or identify smaller "sub-questions" to answer.
  • You can start to think about how you would explain what you have learned to your audience, setting your ideas into a logical flow.

At this stage of the research process, you are starting to create the shape of your research "product" (a paper, presentation, etc.)

Concept mapping

Illustration for article titled How to Use Mind Maps to Unleash Your Brains Creativity and Potential

Concept mapping is a way to record and generate ideas by setting down the connections and associations between your thoughts in a map.

Here's an example of a concept map created in Coggle ( for a hypothetical research paper asking how effective C.P.E. Bach was as a music teacher. The concept map includes information drawn from several secondary sources.


Outlining helps you find a logical sequence for your ideas. For example, you may begin by introducing basic concepts, lead readers through your evidence, and sum up what you have taught them about your topic. Outlining also establishes a hierarchical order of concepts, with major claims appearing above lesser claims and evidence.

You may have had teachers in high school that talked about writing five paragraph papers following the "claim - data - warrant" structure. While not all topics lend themselves to the kind of evidentiary argument implied by the five paragraph structure, it is still a good idea to think about your research topic in terms of formal symmetry and make a plan for how you will lead readers from one point to the next.

Mapping tools

Key point

  • Use a concept map or outline to visually structure your ideas and prepare to communicate what you have learned.