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What is mind mapping?

Mind maps are a great way of organising your thoughts, especially if you are a visual learner. Just like a road map helps you on a journey, a mind map can help you get from the start to the finish of a project or essay in an organised efficient manner without getting lost along the way. Mind mapping is a way to represent ideas and concepts in a picture form. By focusing on key ideas and looking for links between them, you can ‘map’ knowledge that will help you better understand, retain and organise information. They are often used just to ‘brainstorm’ a topic but they can become a powerful tool to help organise assignments and plan essays.  

What does a mind map look like? 

Making a mind map is only limited by your own creative genius. However, there are two common templates that are often used. The first is a thought bubble template that is more circular thinking and suits people who process thoughts a little randomly. It involves placing a central theme in a bubble near the centre and then placing new and related ideas or information radiating out from it. Information that links to those ideas can then be added in more bubbles (squares, lines, or whatever). 

Image of a mind map

The second type is an outline template which is a more traditional form of organising ideas and suits people who are more linear in their thinking:

+ Main Idea 

        + First subtopic 

               Detail 1   
               Detail 2 
               Detail 3 

        + Second subtopic 

               Detail 1   
               Detail 2 

        +Third subtopic 

               Detail 1 
               Detail 2 

+ Conclusion 

A more detailed, visual mindmap may look like this:

Image of a visual mind map
Source: Paul Foreman http://www.mindmapart.com/portfolio/paul-foreman/

How to create a bubble mind map

The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to be an artist to create your own mind map. Everyone can draw bubbles and connect them with lines or arrows.  

Step one:  

Place the title of the main theme, or a draw a picture that represents it, in the centre of the page (landscape is better). 

Image of a mind map

Step two:

Add main branches to the central theme by using lines or arrows that connect to other ‘bubbles’. These lines show the connection between the two and help to organise your ideas. Each bubble should only contain one key word or idea that stems from the central theme. These could form the basis for each paragraph or section of an essay. 

Image of a mind map

Step three:

Next, add more detail by drawing smaller (sub) branches from your key words. This forms the basis for what you want to write about for each idea. 

Image of a mind map

Step four:

If you are doing a large project you may need to add even smaller branches onto your subbranches to flesh out ideas even further. 

Image of a mind map

Turning a mind map into an academic essay

Once your mind map has been created you can use it as the plan, or framework, for writing an essay. Everything you need to write about is laid out in front of you. The topic you are writing about is what you placed as the central theme in your map. In your introduction you will describe what this is and also mention each sub-topic that will be discussed. The following paragraphs will contain all the information that you need to include (which you have already noted on your map). Remember, each paragraph should contain one idea or cover one aspect relevant to the central theme on your mind map. 

Example paragraph using a mind map as a guide

Image of a mind map

For a start-up business to be successful, it is important to have both long- and short-term strategies that are achievable and well planned. The long-term strategy for ACME Inc. is to create an efficient operating model that can then quickly become immersed in the local market in order to build up brand awareness and a customer base. The short-term strategy is to quickly become immersed in the local market in order to build up brand awareness and a customer base. These strategies will be implemented initially by the management team and then it is envisioned that an expert team, using outside advice, be created to implement the long-term strategy of selling franchises. Setting up a competent management team who are all on board with these strategies is critical to the success of this business. 

The two types of mind maps that have been described can both be used to formulate an academic essay. The difference is the linear type will take you from the start to the finish of your essay in ordered steps, whereas in the bubble type you will have to decide on the order that each idea is discussed, and which information is included, within your essay. 

The content on this page has been adapted from a resource created by Learning Support@Student Success, Otago Polytechnic