A mind map is a way to create, understand and show ideas, concepts, topics and other areas and the links between them. Mind maps excel because they show this often, quite abstract data in a visual way, which makes it easier to see and understand how everything fits together.
In this short guide, we’ll explore the main concepts of mind mapping and show you how to start creating one of your own.
Benefits of creating a mind map
Mind maps are excel in presenting complex, linked information so that it can be quickly and easily understood. Areas where this can be really beneficial include:
- Teaching and learning
- Planning out a project at home or work
- Explaining things to people
- Creating a business plan, product or service
- Studying and revising for an exam
- Summarizing ideas and knowledge
Who is this article for?
- People that have never created mind maps before
- People that want to improve how they create mind maps
- People that want to visualize complex data and connections
People wanting to conceptualize their thoughts, ideas and other areas
Step 1 - Learn the basic concepts of mind mapping
Mind mapping has several key concepts that are important to understanding how it works:
- It is visual - A mind map is more about seeing the big picture and connections between things, rather than individual words
- It builds out from a center - All mind maps have a starting point that other things get added onto
- Is is hierarchical, like a tree - As the mind map spreads, it will split and become finer and there will be more levels in the mind map, just like a tree starts with a trunk, divides into large branches, then small branches, twigs and leaves
- There can be many connections - There’s often more than one way to connect different parts of the mind map together
You can probably see this most easily in the example mind map below. Notice how the central point of the ‘Business overview’ subdivides and then divides again and again as more detail is added.
Step 2 - Find the right tool to create a mind map
There are lots of tools that you can use to create a mind map, depending on whether you want to do it by hand, or by using software.
- Completing mind maps by hand - You will need a large piece of paper (e.g. flip chart size) and a pencil or pen
- Completing mind maps using software - There are some good free mind mapping software applications available, including Freemind, Xmind and Edraw Mindmap
If you’re using some software to create the mind map, download a few different ones to see which you like the most, spend a little time getting to grips with it and learning how it works.
Step 3 - Decide exactly what you want to mind map
Mind maps need to have a purpose, otherwise they are nothing more than fairly complex posters! You should think about what you want your mind map to help you accomplish. Do you want to solve a problem, do some research, explore options or something else? Ultimately, what do you want the end result of the mind map to be?
Step 4 - Write down your central theme in the middle of your mind map
Now that you know what you want your mind map to do, write it down at the center of your map, it is from here that you will build the branches and visualize the next steps.
Step 5 - Create the high level things that link to your central theme
Now its time to create the main branches. What are the high-level areas that connect to the central theme? For example, if you were preparing to move house, the central theme would be ‘moving house’ and the branches might be: packing, real estate agents, investigate new area, prepare house for moving etc. Give each of the high level areas its own branch.
Step 6 - Go through each of the branches and create more detail
Now you’re going to go through each one and create more detail. for example, off of the ‘Investigate new area’ in the example, you might have ‘Find new schools’, ‘Find out where to move to’, ‘Investigate house prices’ etc.
Step 7 - Repeat and go down to greater levels of detail
Go through all of your branches and divide them, then go through each of those branches and divide them again, until you have put as much detail as you think you need into the mind map.
Step 8 - Look for more connections
Look at all of the items you have captured and see if there are connections to other parts of the mind map. For example, you might connect ‘Investigate house prices’ with ‘Find a real estate agent’ as they can help you out with that.
Step 9 - Create some actions
Now you have a mind map, its important to get actions from it. For each of the lowest level items, create an action that helps you move things forward and get stuff done!
Helpful books from Amazon
If you're interested in finding out more about mind maps and how to get the most out of them, there are some excellent books available from Amazon including:
- Mind Mapping: How to Create Mind Maps Step-By-Step
- Mind Maps: Quicker Notes, Better Memory, and Improved Learning
- Mind Mapping For Dummies
- How to Study with Mind Maps: The Concise Learning Method for Students and Lifelong Learners
Mind maps are a great way to visualize things and break down large areas into more manageable, bite-sized chunks. If you think visually, they are a perfect way to make projects more manageable, and as with everything else, practising with mind maps will make you even better with them. Good luck!
Some images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Wikimedia Commons.