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Creative tools > Mind-mapping

When to use it | How to use it | Example | How it works | See also


When to use it

Use it to explore and develop ideas for a specific problem.

Use it to think, doodle and see where it takes you.

Use it to take notes during discussions, lectures and conferences.

Use it to summarize books and papers.



      X    Long



    X      Psychological



  X        Group


How to use it

The main subject

Identify the main problem or topic that you want to explore and write it, in a short phrase, in the middle of a blank piece of paper.

The larger the page, the more mapping you can do, although it is surprising how much information you can get onto a standard letter/A4 page.

Problems are often expressed as verb-noun phrases, such as 'buying a car' or 'opening a shop'. You can also draw a picture to represent the problem, if you like. Use color to brighten it up.

Primary branches

Identify the words to describe first-level main branches from the main subject. These are important, as they will guide the thinking at lower levels. If they are too specific, they will constrain thinking. If they are just logical, they will encourage logical (but maybe not creative) thinking.

Buzan calls these Basic Ordering Ideas (BOIs), in recognition of their importance.

The words for primary (and sub) branches can be single words or short phrases, though always be aware of the impact they will have. For note-taking, look for key words that summarize important points. For creativity, look for stimulating and ambiguous words that will trigger other ideas. Make sure words can be read clearly, for example by using capital letters or careful printing (cursive scribbles may slow down later review).

Write the main subject words on branch lines that radiate out from the main subject. This is often done as a slightly curved line that is wider at the main subject and narrows towards the primary branch. Each of these may be in different colors. If all you have is a single pencil, don't worry -- even black-and-white is better than other methods.

Add pictures and diagrams wherever possible to explain and explore.


Continue adding sub-branches from the primary branches and from other sub-branches to build up the mind-map.

You can do as many sub-branches as you like, but by the time you get to around the third level of depth, you will probably find that you are filling up the page very quickly.

You can change color any time that you like. As you get to lower-level branches, you may also want to use smaller writing

When sub-topics seem to want to be in more than one sub-branch, then you can either write it down more than once or connect them with a cross-link (for example a dotted line).



I am going on a trip to London, so I start drawing a mind-map to help think about things to do:


How it works

At its most basic form, the mind-map is a simple hierarchy and could be drawn in any tree-shaped format.

Making notes as cursive text or even as a set of bullet-points is time-consuming and tends to obscure key points. Mind-mapping gets around these limitations.

Writing branches on curved lines allows that subsequent branches curve differently, making a corner apex between each branch and so separating them (without too much separation, though).

You can also write the words separately and connect them with lines (rather than writing the words on the lines themselves). The bottom line in all mind-mapping is use what works for you. This means doing experiments, which is, of course, allowed and encouraged -- especially in a creative environment.

The brain works by association and thinks in pictures and wholes. Mind-maps aligns with this tendency by showing associative links and being visible as a whole.

The use of color helps to attract attention, provide mental stimulation and visually separate different areas. You can also use other forms of emphasis, such as underlining, emboldening, italics, etc.

Pictures are 'worth a thousand words' and can be used to summarize and trigger additional thinking.

The size of the page will constrain what can be mind-mapped. This is often a good thing, as it makes you think more carefully about what to add and keeps it as a visible single chunk.

There are a range of different software programs that are available to help you mindmap on the computer. you can also do it with basic presentation software, although this will often take longer and will need more work when you want to reshuffle ideas.

Mind-maps were devised in the 1960s by Tony Buzan, who has written a number of splendid books on the subject.

See also

Brainmapping, Chunking

'Mind-mapping' is a registered trade mark of Buzan, Ltd. It is also so commonly used now, it can be found in encyclopedia entries.





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