Brainstorming Techniques for Writing using Text Networks

Most brainstorming techniques have one thing in common: they are about connecting ideas. The next step is to put those ideas to writing. In this article, we will demonstrate a new approach to brainstorming using text network analysis. We will be using the InfraNodus brainstorming tool, which converts plain text into a mind map and then proposes the new connections between them. Watch the video below for a short introduction or read more to learn how it works.

A short introduction to brainstorming using networks made using InfraNodus.

Step 1: Generating Ideas

The first step in any brainstorming process is to generate ideas. Most of the brainstorming templates and tools propose to start from building a mind map or simply adding post-it-like notes on a whiteboard.

While mind maps can be very useful for organizing your thoughts, it may be not easy to start building one as they are hierarchical at their core. You need to start with a central idea and have the subcategories more or less figured out.

An alternative is to build a rhizomatic mind map using text networks, where you let your ideas be connected based on their natural co-occurrence.

An example of a text network

The basic workflow is:

  1. start writing your ideas
  2. they will be visualized as a network graph
  3. your words are the nodes; their co-occurrences are the connections
  4. gradually you will start seeing patterns forming on the network graph
  5. you can use the network to identify the main topical clusters and the most influential terms
  6. you can also use the network to identify the structural gaps: the clusters of ideas that should be connected but are not yet
  7. based on 5 and 6, make new connections by writing more text and generating the new ideas
  8. remove a few influential nodes from the graph to see what’s hiding behind them
  9. make new connections, get the removed nodes back into the graph
  10. reiterate 4 to 9

The process above can be done with the InfraNodus brainstorming app. Its recommendation system will guide you through the workflow above and recommend the new connections for your ideas.

For instance, if I am to write a text about variability (and the related phenomena), I will start by writing a few sentences related to the topic. Once I write them in, I’ll have the graph visualized, and the main topics (2) identified based on text network analysis:

The brainstorming app in InfraNodus shows the graph visualization of the text, the analytics, and the recommendation for the next recommended action.

I can then use this information to think of the new connections and to add some more ideas. I can also use the recommendation (3) to help me advance further.

Try InfraNodus Text Network Visualization Tool developed by Nodus Labs. You can use it to make sense of disjointed bits and pieces of information, get visual summaries for text documents, and generate insight for your research process:

Step 2: Turning the Ideas into Writing

Once we have added a sufficient number of ideas, it is time to turn them into a coherent narrative.

The first thing that can be done is to review the most influential topics in the Analytics panel and to check the “Essential Statements” tab. These will form the core of the narrative:

Check if the essential statements cover the whole graph and all the important topics.

These essential statements will also be highlighted in the graph, and at this point, it can be useful to check if they cover the whole graph and all the pertinent topics. If not, you can add some more ideas.

If the essential statements are identified correctly, we can create the main opening statement, which should be concise and encompass the text’s main idea. The best is if it’s structured as a loop. This will be the starting sentence, and it will then unfold throughout the text with more and more detail at every time.

To represent this approach with a graph: we start by touching upon the main topics and the most influential terms at the beginning, to provide an overview of the subject, and then start expanding the narrative towards the periphery passing through the topical clusters that we created. This way, the narrative will be clear, and the intended idea will be communicated. This is how it’s going to look:

the buildup of the narrative represented as a network

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