Writing With Mind Maps

Table of Contents

I've been using mind maps to help me collect my ideas for a couple of years now and I find them to be an invaluable tool. I use them at home and work to do things like create document outlines, plan projects, and brainstorm ideas.

However, it always surprises me to see that very few other people use them. I therefore decided to put together a small tutorial on creating mind maps. I hope that it helps a few other people :)

What's A Mind Map?

A mind map is a visualization of a brain dump. Sound weird? Here's what I mean. Often, when we are thinking about a big idea (e.g. how will I write this essay, should I pursue this business opportunity, etc.), we have lots of related ideas floating around in our heads. Trying to evaluate and flesh-out all of these ideas in our heads can be very difficult. First, focusing on one idea for a long time can cause you to forget about the other ideas. Second, it's often hard to see the big picture as your big idea gets bigger and bigger.

So it helps if you can actually write all of these ideas down and organize them. The problem is that, in the US, we are trained to do this will a bulleted list. It's still better than not writing down your ideas, but the format is not very conducive to organizing lots of little, loosely-related pieces of information.

Mind maps are a much better tool. They allow you to do the following:

  • Record your ideas
  • Show how the ideas are related in a simple, lightweight and intuitive way
  • See the big picture of your big idea.

So why would you need to use something like this? Here's a few examples:

  • Brainstorming Session (either by yourself or with a group)
  • Writing
    • Mind maps are a great way to gather and organize information for an outline.

Mini-Tutorial

Ok, so how do you do it? Here's a quick example. Let's assume that you wanted to write a blog about a great new recipe that you invented. You don't know what to include and you don't want to miss any important ideas, so you decide to create a mind map.

First, you need some way of recording your mind map. Some of the most useful mind maps that I have every created have been done with a piece of paper and a pencil. However, if I get a choice, I prefer using a program called Xmind. There's a free version that is very powerful and easy to use.

Next, you need a main idea. This is the idea that is at the center of all of your other ideas. In this example, the main idea would be something like “Pulled Pork Blog Recipe”. You would then record your idea in your mind map like this:

main_idea.png

Figure 1: Main Idea

Next, you'll want to create some sub-nodes or subtopics. These are simply “child” nodes of the main idea. Here's an example of what you may user for a blog article:

main_idea-with-subnodes.png

Figure 2: Main idea with subnodes

This is the “model” that you can now use to organize your thoughts. As you can see, it's basically a stream of conciousness. Your version of this map would probably look a little different. So now you can just create child nodes of the child nodes and let your mind wander. Here's an example of a complete mind map that you might use for this type of blog:

pulled-pork-blog-recipe-example1.png

Figure 3: example 1

This format may seem a little strange to you, but that's ok. Most of the time, mind maps will only be used by the owner, so they only have to make sense to the owner. So use the structure and format that works best for you. Ok, so now you have a complete mind map. What can you do with it?

  • Document: If the goal was to publish a document, then the mind map could either be that document or help you create that document. For example, you could use the outline node in the example above to help you write a blog .
  • Decision: Sometimes, the only thing that is “created” by a mind map is a decision. For example, I once had an idea for creating a web application that I would run as a side business. When the idea was in my head, it seemed great. However, once I got all of my ideas down into a mind map, it was clear to me that this idea had been done before and that the market was already saturated.

More On Formatting

Chances are that your mind is “wired” a little differently than anyone else's mind. And since a mind map is usually a brain dump, your structure and format will be unique.

So in other words, don't sweat the format :) Besides, if you are using a program like Xmind to create your map, then you have the freedom to move your nodes around if change your mind about the structure.

One final note on formatting. If you are creating a document that has to be published, then it probably isn't a mind map, even if you use a mind-mapping tool like Xmind to create it. Mind maps are great for creating documents and ideas, not for communicating with large groups of people.

Resources

Here's some documentation that can help you get started with mind-mapping.

  • The mind map (.png,.xmind) that was used to create this blog.
    • That's right, I created a mind map to help me write my blog about mind-mapping. Like a really cool guy!
  • Software
    • Xmind
    • Freemind
    • There are loads of non-free mind-mapping tools, but I've never used one so I can't comment on them.
  • Web Sites
    • Xmind.net has some great examples of mind maps that users have uploaded. Check it out if you want to see what is possible.

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