The Method

the problem and solutionAs I stared at the blank whiteboard in my office, my thoughts slowly came together.

It seemed to me that the mind has needs and the primary one is to make sense of things; to impose mental order.  This need is true both for the writer and the reader. The writer has to choose something to write about and this something or topic is what has to be on his mind as a kind of mental anchor throughout the writing process from beginning to end. In doing this, the writer has to find the words that identify and highlight different aspects of the topic.  This can include concrete aspects such as: the description of an animal’s body or its habitat; or more abstract ones such as the rank in importance of a person or country.

It seems logical therefore to say that if the writer has to follow this internally driven need or rule when writing, then the reader’s job is to dive in and find the topic and identify the words that provide information about different aspects of the topic.

This led me to pronounce the following three principles:

  1. All language has to be by necessity about a topic.
  2. The information words of a particular text all are relatable to the topic and in fact inform the reader about that topic.
  3. The reader’s primary challenge is to find these informative words and relate or declare their relationship to the topic.

This was the essence of the ideas that I had distilled from my original research and discoveries.  They have so far proven to be irrefutable. Once I accepted the truth of these principles, I was led to formalize a set series of actions that could be guided by them.

The four-step model of this strategy is captured in the picture below:

word-mapping-graphic-organiser2

The steps can be described as follows:

Step 1: Scan For The Subject

How do you do this?  Well, the easiest way is to scan the text and look for the word that repeats most frequently.  This will typically be either a noun or a pronoun.

Step 2: Confirm Your Choice

The easiest way to do this is to read a sentence and ask a question that has the topic of the text in it, for example, What was the lifespan of Winston Churchill?  What was his rank as Prime Minister? And so on.  If you have correctly chosen the topic, the answer will be a word in a sentence of the text.

Continue creating these word-mapping questions until you have convinced yourself that you have chosen the true topic of the text.  You will find that if the question-making process is too laborious, you have probably chosen the wrong topic.  Give yourself up to four sentences before reconsidering your original choice of topic.

Step 3: Make Notes

Make notes all the way to the end of the targeted section.  This is a wonderfully simple process once you establish a rhythm.  You choose an informative word in the sentence and declare its relationship to the topic.

Step 4:  Study Your Notes

This is a critical step because it formally establishes the mental connections you have made between the information and the topic.  You will find that the note usually gets tightened or slightly adjusted in this last step.

This process is the core essence of the word-mapping strategy.  It is an information processing strategy that can be applied with success to any type of text: Period.  It is also repeatable by automated means such as software applications and apps.

The only real challenge you will face in applying this strategy is the one to your belief system.

By this I mean that your confidence in the strategy may be very strong when you apply it to something like a simple article about an animal or a straight-forward topic. However, when you turn your attention to more intricate topics like cells and molecules, or even geography, you will discover that it is more difficult to find and hold the topic in your mind as you search through a thicket of words.

You will also find that some writers are more skilled, both at clearly writing about a topic, and formulating their sentences in such a way where the relationship between the informative words and the topics are easy to discover.

This is just a reality of the reading experience.

All I can say is at those moments when you face these challenges, stick with it and push through the doubts.  I have used word-mapping enough times over many years to have seen that if you stick to the core ideas of making up questions about a topic that are answered by specific words in the sentences, you can’t go wrong.