Mindmapping: A Diagram is Worth a Thousand Thoughts
Posted by mitchsilverman1 on June 15, 2012
I often get frustrated when I’m brainstorming. Trying to come up with ideas, or see how related ideas interact can get very frustrating. Outlines and lists can work well, if your topic or interest is linear enough. But if not, what then?
One technique I find very useful for this is called mindmapping. And while I use it a lot, I haven’t ever been able to learn to use it formally, or systematize my use of mindmapping, though I have tried.
One reason for this is that it’s hard to find resources about mindmapping that don’t refer to or borrow from the approach of mindmapping’s creator, Tony Buzan (though Wikipedia traces similar techniques back to the 3rd century). While Buzan’s approach to mindmapping itself is useful, his writings are larded with pseudoscientific popular psychology about how to use more of your brain and how to use different parts of it. So while I’ll link to one article about mindmapping inspired by Buzan, I’ll mostly make some suggestions myself.
What is a Mindmap?
Mindmaps are diagrams that begin with a center word or concept, with lines connecting to related, subsidiary concepts. Those concepts also have lines connecting to related concepts subsidiary to those concepts. And so on.
This is a mindmap about mindmapping. It’s a template from MindMeister (http://www.mindmeister.com/), an excellent cloud-based mindmapping application, which also has iPad/iPhone and Android applications.
And here’s an example of a to-do list mindmap, also a MindMeister template.
Some mindmaps aren’t so strictly hierarchical. In these, related concepts can connect to one another “horizontally,” instead of connecting vertically to a higher-level concept. Here’s an example of that, using MagicalPad (http://www.magicalpad.com/), a good iPad mindmapping and outlining application.
Because mindmapping is a creative endeavor, there are no absolute rules (though most applications require mindmaps to be hierarchical). I do have some suggestions, though, based on what I’ve read, and my experience.
1. Work from the center out
2. Go from large to small as you go out
3. Use graphics and colors
Buzan’s guidelines, according to Wikipedia, are:
- Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
- Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.
- Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
- Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.
- The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
- Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.
- Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also to encode or group.
- Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.
- Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.
- Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.
This list is itself more concise than a prose version of the same information and the mind map of these guidelines is itself intended to be more memorable and quicker to scan than either the prose or the list.
Here is a mindmap (from the Wikipedia page about mindmapping) of the same concepts, which gives a good comparison of a list (or outline) and a mindmap:
A post at the excellent productivity tools and tips blog Lifehacker called “Boost Your Brainstorming Session with MindMeister” (http://lifehacker.com/398476/boost-your-brainstorming-session-with-mindmeister) has quite a bit of information about MindMeister ad mindmapping in general. James Cook University, in Australia, has a good website on mindmapping (http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/learningskills/mindmap/). Though it concentrates on Buzan’s paradigm, it has excellent materials, such as this introduction to mindmapping (http://www.jcu.edu.au/tldinfo/learningskills/mindmap/howto.html).
I find mindmapping very useful for brainstorming, whether just to clarify or arrange my thoughts about some subject, or for a project like a seminar paper or a class presentation. It is also useful for the three-dimensional equivalent of outlining, either for a law school class or any place you would think to use an outline. I know an NSU Law alumn who thinks very highly of mindmapping, who used it throughout law school, and credits it in part with his excellent performance in law school. My MagicalPad mindmap above, about “Attorney Admission and Discipline as Discrimination and Social Control” was done as part of a paper I am working on.
Tools for Mindmapping
The program I usually use for mindmapping is called MindMeister, for three reasons. It’s easy to use; it produces great, good-looking results; and it works on pretty much every platform under the sun: Web, iPad/iPhone, and Android. MindMeister offers a limited free account. Subscriptions start at $4.99/month (with a discount for educational users). The iPad and iPhone apps are currently free, though they require at least a free MindMeister account. MindMeister also allows for collaborative editing and static sharing of mindmaps.
MagicalPad is a good, if somewhat funky, mindmapping app for the iPad. It produces good results, though the user interface can be somewhat confusing, and the combination of mindmapping and outlining was a little weird for me at first.
FreeMind is an open-source freeware mindmapping application. It works well, has a good function list, and works under Windows, OS X, and Linux.
Mindmapping can be fun and useful, but it’s not for veryone. I would suggest that you pick an app, play with it a bit, look at some examples and advice, then just do some mindmapping. It’s very much an experiential, try and try again process. So try it, see if you like it. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.
One Response to “Mindmapping: A Diagram is Worth a Thousand Thoughts”
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.