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Postgraduate study skills: Problem solving

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Thinking creatively is a great way to solve a problem, such as working out how to design a project, or examine a question you need to answer. If you 'think around' the subject you can generate the answer or more easily understand the topic. Here are some ways of thinking creatively that may help you make decisions on what evidence you might need to collect.

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a way of generating ideas. It is a good method to try if you are attacking a specific problem, whether alone or as part of a group.

  • You need to think freely about the subject at hand. If you were brainstorming the pros and cons of 'green thinking' for example, you would jot down ideas as you or the group thought of them. There would be no judgement of the ideas at this stage
  • You then work with the ideas: can any be improved? Do they lead you to another idea? If working in a group, a moderator would lead this discussion
  • Once several ideas have been generated, you sift through them to see which work and which don't.

This short YouTube video shows you exactly what NOT to do when brainstorming in a group.

Idea-generating questions

Here you would ask questions about the subject at hand. Namely

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

These questions would then lead on to other questions, or a wider examination of the subject.

Shifting perspective

Here you try and look at things from another point of view.

  • If you are female, what might a male perspective be? Would it be different? Why?
  • If you are looking at a conservative argument, what might a liberal view be?
  • If you were examining something scientifically, how would a social scientist approach the situation? What methodology would they use? What theory would they engage with?
  • If you are looking at something in detail, try to step back and see it from a broader perspective, and vice versa.

This is a good method to use where you want to see both sides of a theory or find out more about something. It also helps you to move away from your own opinion, which could be biased or lacking in information.

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