Frustrated Female Student

If you’ve ever been a student, you will be all-too-familiar with that panicked, blank mind feeling when you have to begin a project. Suddenly, everything you have ever learned is wiped from your mind, or in a complete jumble, so how do you choose where to start?

When we conducted a study on students from Canada, the US, and New Zealand, the highest-ranking points of frustration where finding information, knowing where to start, and refining the research topic.

Sound familiar? If so, here is how to get over that initial hurdle.

Step 1: Lay out what you know

Before you start worrying about the details of your methodology and thesis statement, start with the very basics of what you already know. Using nouns and simple sentences, lay out a huge blank canvas (e.g. piece of paper or mind mapping software are great for this) and get your thoughts down. Be as creative as you like here, using diagrams and images if it helps you to remember or express your thoughts.

Which areas do your strengths lie in? What do you know most about?

You may find that the more notes you create, the more ideas begin to generate. The important part of this stage is not to think ahead, but just let your brain ease into the exercise.

Step 2: Inquire

When you have finished step 1, take a look at your canvas. If you haven’t already, you should be able to narrow your information down to a definite topic. Then, take away anything that isn’t relevant and add to anything that is. Scribble down extra information that pops into your head or that you discover through searching the Internet or talking with others about your project.

Now, do you notice any gaps? Do you have questions and potential areas for extra research?

This step allows you to both expand and streamline, pointing out what direction you need to go in and what you need to focus on.

Step 3: Connect

Your canvas may be looking pretty messy by now, so feel free to begin a new one. Think about where you place each strand of information; could you order it? Do certain parts go together better?

When you begin to map out thought processes in a more visual way, a part of your brain is stimulated and can begin to make connections that you couldn’t before. This is called visual thinking and is a huge part of what we focus on at InsightNG . Start connecting!

Step 4: Refine, repeat and feel enlightened

There is no limit to how many times this process can be repeated. The key is to inquire, connect and refine as many times as you need until you have the clearest idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it. At this point, you will experience what many people refer to as an ‘aha! moment’ or moment of enlightenment. Everything has come together! Your understanding has peaked and you feel confident in your project; is there a better feeling?


Human insight is about the discovery of what you do not know and need to know to deal with a given situation. Often, it is more about the questions you need to ask and who to ask them to, but that in itself is no easy process of discovery.  Think about it, if we knew who to ask and what to ask of them, then life’s challenges would be so much easier.  Keep repeating steps 2 through 4 and think about the right questions to ask and to whom you might ask them, which could mean asking a search engine or intelligent digital assistant rather than a human.

Until now, there has been little in the way of technology to assist students in this process, and the mammoth task of beginning a project is still a dreaded one. We are always creating and refining in our own ways at InsightNG, including with the development of our very own digital assistant. Your Smartest Friend is our 1st generation intelligent digital assistant that allows you to interact with your own knowledge and understanding in a more intuitive way, especially when it comes to research projects.

Used in combination with these handy tips for starting a project, Your Smartest Friend might be the tool you have been missing that is able to simplify, improve, and even change your life.


About Neil Movold

I am the founder and CEO of InsightNG. I have a career spanning across Canada, Australia, Bermuda and New Zealand. For most of my life, I have been keenly interested in how our human brains function at a cognitive level. When my son Jaden was born with Spina Bifida, my interest in human cognition became more focused, resulting in the creation of InsightNG. My current interests lie in the areas of social learning, open innovation, collective & contextual intelligence, knowledge discovery, findability and content visualization.