I always tell people that I could not have gone through my life as a student without drawing mind maps. It is the visualisation of thoughts—big ideas are branched out into smaller ones onto the page. Rather than forcing my notes to go in a linear procession, mind mapping lets ideas appear on the page as they would in my brain, sporadic and not always subsequent to one another.
The map can be either hand-drawn or computer-generated. Personally, I love hand-drawing mind maps. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about physically linking ideas together on the page, and watching your ideas become its own creature of bubbles and lines. When I get a sudden burst of creativity, I will draw a mind map on any scrap piece of paper I can find. Here is a quick map I made on the back of an old quiz paper.
But if you’d rather not write on trees, there are also tons of resources online that can generate mind maps for you. Many are also multi-user friendly, making it easy to collaborate and share ideas online. Here are three areas in which I think mind maps can help with.
Have you ever struggled to put together an essay topic? I know I certainly have. I either get super excited and come up with a million ideas, or I can’t even think of a single one. When this happens, I always turn to mind mapping, because they are a fun way to engage with course material that isn’t just copying notes on a page, and they help me hone down on a specific topic.
That being said, mind maps do not have to be strictly school-related! One time, my friend was telling me the most convoluted story involving ten different people, and they had to draw out the connections between each person because I wouldn’t understand otherwise. They can also be used to brainstorm personal goals, manage to-do lists, or even organise transferable skills to add to your resume.
Studies show that mind maps encourage better understanding through visual elements, such as the use of colours, pictures, and lines to depict relationships between ideas, to “significantly improve recall when compared with simple note taking” (Farrand et al., 2002, p. 427). Back when I was taking history classes, drawing a timeline and marking out each significant event in chronological order always helped me remember important events, and when they happened in relation to one another.
Mind maps can also help with something called chunking, which is a term you might have come across in a psychology course. It refers to the mental process of splitting up a larger piece of information, and grouping those smaller units under a common topic (Rabinovich et al., 2014). The process is very reminiscent of mind mapping; you break down a big idea into smaller sections, and categorise individual points under these subheadings.
I am absolutely terrible at explaining things. I get sidetracked while telling stories, I forget important rules when explaining games, and sometimes, just shaping my thoughts into a sentence is hard. So, naturally, explaining concepts in my theory classes can be an absolute nightmare. By physically linking ideas in a mind map, I’m consciously choosing details that will make more sense together. This helps me present my thoughts in a more clear and concise manner.
While a quick Google search can give you a bunch of sites, here are two that aren’t solely marketed for mind maps, but are just as easy to use (in my opinion):
Easy access: Google Jamboard
- One of Google’s many apps, Jamboard is an online whiteboard for you to write or draw out your thoughts.
- Quick and easy to get started for those who already have Google accounts; the board will be stored in your Google Drive.
- It is collaborative, so I love using Jamboard to brainstorm ideas with friends.
- This is not a mind map-specific resource, so there are no pre-made templates.
- The design features are also quite limited, but it is very reminiscent of drawing on paper, so it is great for people with tablets or iPads who want to draw things out physically, but still want to keep their papers digital.
- If freeform isn’t your thing, I recommend Canva! Just search ‘mind map’ in the search bar, and you’ll find a plethora of ready-to-use templates.
- I love its user-friendly interface, and the variety of designs and graphics you can choose from.
- Here is an example of a mind map I made using Canva to prepare for my trip to Japan:
For the design-lover: CANVA
And that is it! I hope you all try out the benefits of mind mapping, whether it be for your next essay, or for when you want to explain the next biggest piece of gossip to a friend.
For more information on how to write your thoughts down, I recommend checking out our toolkit on note-taking.
Farrand, P., Hussain, F. & Hennessy, E. (2002). The efficacy of the `mind map’ study technique. Medical Education, 36: 426-431. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2923.2002.01205.x
Rabinovich, M. I., Varona, P., Tristan, I., & Afraimovich, V. S. (2014). Chunking dynamics: heteroclinics in mind. Frontiers in computational neuroscience, 8, 22. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncom.2014.00022