I love tools that work. Mind mapping isn’t new, but it is one of the best tools you will find for generating ideas. All you need in order to begin is a pen and paper, but once you have learned how to do mind maps, you can get fancy. I like to use a large (18 x 24″) art pad and colored markers to make large mind maps, but I end up making a lot of them in my small pocket-size commonplace book.
Generating ideas is like turning on a faucet for hot water. What comes out at first is not hot, but it has to come out before hot water (the good ideas you really want) can emerge. Your best ideas usually begin to flow after your mind has warmed up and settled into thinking about a topic. If you begin to write with the first or second idea that comes to mind, you may be settling for a lukewarm idea. Be patient and think first, write second.
How to Use a Mind Map to Think on Paper
- At the center of your paper, write a few words that summarize the topic or question you are supposed to answer.
- Draw a line radiating from the center idea for each relevant fact, possible argument, proof point, or supporting detail that comes to mind.
- Branch off these ideas as additional details emerge.
- Write down everything that comes to mind, even if you are not sure it fits.
- Record each idea on the mind map as a word or phrase rather than a complete sentence.
Here is a sample mind map (click on the image below to enlarge it):
See? Just five simple steps and you have a selection of potentially good ideas to work from. I use mind mapping for planning all my books, articles, and talks, and when I was in college, I used it to review textbooks before the final. To do this, just make a mind map for each chapter of the book, then study from it or try to re-do it from memory. It really works! I learned how to make and use mind maps many years ago from Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book, and I think it’s still the best resource on this. I hope you enjoy thinking on paper with mind maps!
Additional Mind Mapping Tips and Ideas
- You may use color in your mind maps, but it is best not to create an elaborate color coding scheme, as this can impede the flow of ideas.
- Some people prefer to use quick sketches rather than words to capture some or all of their ideas. If this is the way your mind works, and it does not slow you down too much, you may do this.
- Mind maps are usually made with pen or pencil on paper, but the sample above was created with a free web app called Coggle. Do what works for you.
- You can see many examples of mind maps at http://www.tonybuzan.com/gallery/mind-maps/
You may also find it helpful to make an outline.
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There are three steps to mind mapping.
Step 1: Brainstorm
A brainstorm is a thinking process commonly used in study and work situations. It can be done individually or in a group.
How to brainstorm
- Use a piece of paper to write down everything you can think of about a particular topic.
- Write the name of the topic in the centre of the page.
- Do not try to organise the information at all - the purpose is to get it out and onto the page.
- Use key words or phrases to write your ideas.
- Always use the paper horizontally as this way you can fit more information.
Example 1 - Brainstorm of the topic 'History of antibiotics'
Step 2: Organise the information
Organise the information in the brainstorm by identifying the main categories and linking the other information to those as follows:
- circle the main categories
- connect sub-points to main categories
- use colours and visuals where helpful.
Step 3: Complete the mind map
Rewrite the information under headings and sub-points to make the mind map easy to read. In this example the use of graphics and colours helps clarify the mind map.
Here is an example of how you might structure a mind map for an essay topic.