Mind Mapping

What Is A Mind Map?

Another popular and useful creative technique I like to use is mind mapping.

You’ve probably all seen one before. A mind map, pretty simply, is a diagram that we can use to organize ideas and to find connections between them and/or to outline all important data on a topic visually.

It is difficult to say where the technique was originally developed. But the idea to use diagrams for structuring information is probably not that new. However, the term mind map and the idea of using the colorful, tree-like structure familiar to us today has been traced back to the popular British psychology writer and lecturer Tony Buzan, who presented mind mapping in his BBC series Use Your Head in the 1970s.

How To Create A Mind Map?

mind-mapA single word or short phrase (the key concept/topic that you want to explore) is placed in the center of a blank page as the central node. To break that topic down into smaller sections, you now add further ideas and concepts. Arrange them as sub-categories around the central node. The sub-categories can have sub-categories of their own and so on.

To indicate how the categories are connected, it is useful to draw lines between them.

Mind Mapping can be used either:

a) As a brainstorming technique. In this case, you start off with the topic you want to explore and freely associate what comes to your mind, organizing ideas into branches as you go.

b) As a means of organizing ideas gained through brainstorming or research. Mind Mapping is also useful if you already have most of the categories but need to organize and sort them visually to get a better picture of connections and hierarchies. This gives you a good overview over the topic.

c) As a combination of a) and b). 😉 This is most often the case.

Tips For Creating Mind Maps

To get the most out of your mind mapping, here are some useful tips:

First and foremost, your mind map is entirely yours, i.e. it is there simply to make your topic clearer to you. So don’t waste any time trying to follow anyone’s directions to the t. Be open for new techniques, but use whatever works for you.

Compare it to a road map you might draw for yourself. Wouldn’t you include that huge McDonald’s sign opposite of where you have to turn left rather than just the street name?

The only “rule” that I’d like to suggest is to put your main topic in the middle. It doesn’t matter whether you write it, glue in a picture, draw etc. This is helpful for 3 reasons:

1) You will immediately see what this map was about when you pick it up again later

2) It will get you started more easily to have the topic in front of your nose

3) It will reduce the fear of the blank page because it is not blank anymore.

Otherwise,  go wild! You can include anything you want to into your mind map: words, pictures, shapes, colors, drawings or sketches … Whatever you feel makes the map’s structure more clearly defined and accessible. You can keep your mind map simple or complex, fitting your current needs. You can use lists, but be careful not to make them too long or it will get unstructured again.

Give your ideas room. Meaning: Use a big enough piece of paper for your mind map or do it on a computer so you can always expand and rearrange. It is annoying if the paper is full and only half of your ideas are included. Also, I find that if you have more room, you are more creative because you’ll want to fill the empty space. If the page is full, you get the feeling you are done.

Ideally, use A3 (or tabloid-sized) paper or at least A4 (approx. letter-sized). It depends on how broad the topic is. But plan for some sudden inspiration. 😉

As I’m mostly not at home when I spontaneously decide to start brainstorming, I myself tend to use my A5-sized (Junior Legal) writer’s notebook. I always have that with me. It is better than nothing, but I mostly find it does not offer enough space for more complex topics. If you simply want to sketch a rough outline, though, A5 might be sufficient.

If you find that a sub-topic is getting too big and would need more room, why not move it to a different sheet of paper and give it its own mind map?

Don’t worry about the order overmuch. It can be helpful to draw connections while you go—if it comes natural—and even spark new ideas into one direction. However, it is no problem to just write down words and draw the connections later if you’re not sure where they fit exactly. As in brainstorming, avoid thinking too much. Just let it flow and see where it takes you until you feel that you’ve exhausted all your ideas.

What is Mind Mapping Good For?

Personally, I find mind mapping most suitable for developing articles and posts. I like how it gives you a quick but already very deep and structured overview. I usually have a structured mind, and at least half the time I brainstorm something, I like using a mind map already as I go. It is great how one thing leads to another.

The technique is also used in creative and fiction writing, where it is more popular under the name “clustering.” It can help generating ideas or getting unstuck.

If you need to get the hang on a very complex and extensive topic, mind maps can be very helpful to visualize, illustrate and draw connections. A mind map always simplifies and of course cannot encompass every aspect, especially not in much detail since it mostly works with headwords/short phrases. However, it is a useful tool to break complex concepts down and make them more understandable and find a good structure for explaining them.

With this capacity, the mind map technique can aid studying at school or university as well, especially for visual learners. It is useful when …

  • memorizing items, terms, and vocabulary (if they are connected in some way) when studying for a test,
  • in outlining essays or term papers that you have to write,
  • breaking down complex topics or processes so that you gain a deeper understanding of them,
  • organizing your thoughts on a topic
  • putting together the topics you have to study for a specific test or subject.

In researching this topic, I read several times that mind mapping is great because it ‘draws a picture of our thought process’ and ‘presents a true reflection of our thought patterns.’ I only partially agree with that. Yes, our minds work by creating/strengthening neural pathways between items of knowledge. And when we start brainstorming, the most beaten paths will come to mind first. But, mind mapping—as all creative techniques—is supposed to help us leave those paths and boldly go to make new, unexplored connections that no-one has thought of before. 😉

When we are creative, thoughts are often not connected and organized when they come out. That is the whole point. Mind mapping is just a way of understanding this ‘random’ outcome and putting it back into some order that we can understand and work with later. Often, thought processes are just not organized and systematic. And that is a good thing, too, because otherwise nothing new would ever be discovered.

Another great idea I came across while researching this topic is to use mind mapping in teaching.

It could, for instance, be a good way to start a lesson. I’d used random brainstorming with students before, naming the topic and then allowing them to make associations that I would write on the board. What a great idea to organize those ideas into a mind map already as you put them down! Makes me think: Maybe it would even be great to write that mind map on a big sheet of paper that you pin to the wall during the lesson. So the students—and you as the teacher as well, of course—have structure and connections in front of their eyes the whole time. I love it! It could also be used during the lesson by letting students make mind maps about something they need to get a better understanding of. They could work alone or in small teams and then compare their ideas.

Conclusion

In conclusion, mind mapping is a relatively simple but versatile technique. It helps to generate and to organize content, and if you allow yourself to let go it will let you use the trodden paths as a starting point for completely new connections. In the end, you will have a useful collection of already roughly organized material to work with. It adds the component of visuality to the material, which is very good for understanding and memorizing. Happy mapping! 😉

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