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Thinking strategies

Your thesis is going to create a unique work that is a contribution to knowledge in your discipline, while being grounded within its formalities, academic conventions and literature.

Therefore, while being cognisant of the importance of replication within your discipline, you are seeking to create a work that is novel. Some of the unique creative aspect of the work will be generated by seeking out fresh ideas and unexpected connections for your project.

All writing, like all research, involves the tension between the creative and the rational parts of our brains.

So, while rational planning, structuring and the like are necessary activities, at the same time we need techniques to unlock our creative brain.

Here are a few ways that you can generate creative thinking:


It is difficult to be inventive and creative in your writing and critical at the same time. Peter Elbow considers this dilemma and suggests a phase of freewriting, where you divide your available time, spending the first half fast writing without attention to organisation or language, without worrying about errors. Students often find this very helpful. See how you respond to this method. Write whatever you are thinking in whatever order, leaving spaces if you can't think of an appropriate word. Allow yourself to include unrelated thoughts in parentheses or on a new line. Don't cross anything out, just continue on a new line. Then, when you have done this, in the second phase of the process, go back over your writing and revise now paying attention to the meaning you'd like to convey as well as the correct and optimal language.

Mindmapping, as explored by Buzan et al., can be helpful in generating ideas and indicating ways they are connected. You may like to try this:

Write or draw your topic or research problem in the centre of a blank page. Let your mind freely associate and write or draw all the associated thoughts around your centre circle. You can then include branches connecting the associated ideas to the central theme and to each other.

Brainstorming has been encouraged as a good way to generate a multipicity of ideas rapidly.

Here is one form of brainstorming that you may like to try. Spontaneously write down all the thoughts that come to mind as you ask yourself the questions of "how, what, why, where, when and who" and respond with the answers as they relate to your topic.

Lateral thinking, developed by Edward de Bono Opens in a new window, is ideal for "changing concepts and perceptions."

Lateral thinking means being able to look at issues from other angles and fresh perspectives beyond logical structured thinking. It's a tendency towards creativity and innovation that fosters new ways of seeing something or linking ideas.

The "six-hat" approach developed by Edward de Bono (1985) is a comprehensive strategy for generating lateral thinking.The six hats represent different perspectives and are depicted as different colours.

  • White is the neutral observer, emphasising the focus on information.
  • Red represents fire and warmth, emotions feelings and intuition.
  • Black is the colour of judgement, critical logical and negative.
  • Yellow is sunshine, suggesting optimism and positivity.
  • Green indicates creative thinking, possibilities.
  • Blue is cool like the sky, and suggests an overview, a summary, organised and controlled.

This approach needs all hats. When you think about your topic you will need to approach it from each of these perspectives in turn, allowing for logic and reason, and also emotion. There is a place for positive and negative features, consideration and intuition.

While writing is one important mechanism for thinking and generating creative thoughts, there are other thinking tools, such as graphic, non verbal modes, that work better for some people and can complement writing in the work of generating and organising ideas.

For example, people think in different ways. Some favour thinking verbally or conceptually, some think more numerically, while others may have a strong visual and pictorial process, or perhaps an aural and musical form for thinking and free expression.

Allow your inner self to express its creativity in the most spontaneous and natural fashion. For example, attempt to depict your research in a drawing or series of drawings, images or shapes. When you have created a number of sketches and diagrams, see how these can link or what connections they could have. Sometimes this requires more sketches and diagrams.

Several possible thinking tools can be used in generating ideas and you don't need to limit yourself to written text alone.

How can you develop lateral thinking?

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