Number. 9 © CDTL 2003
Mind Mapping
Associate Professor Hugh T.W. Tan
Department of Biological Sciences

Mind Mapping

Mind mapping, invented by Tony Buzan in the 1960s, is a convenient graphical tool to help you think and learn by putting complex thoughts or interconnected ideas into two dimensions. Mind maps utilise words, images, numbers, logic, rhythm and spatial awareness in a uniquely powerful package. Consequently, mind mapping can be used to take lecture notes, plan an essay/dissertation/thesis, outline a presentation/seminar, revise a topic being studied, make notes from text books, summarise articles/chapters, organise one’s thoughts about any topic (whether academic/emotional/personal), etc.

How to Mind Map

Mind mapping starts off with a central idea, from which other sub-ideas are branched, and from these other sub-sub-ideas and so on. The main features for mind mapping are as follows:

  • Begin with the main idea in the centre of the paper as a coloured image. An image/picture is worth a thousand words, stimulating both creative thinking and memory. Placing the paper in a landscape position is also recommended.
  • Use images throughout the mind map as much as possible. As above, the aim is to stimulate thought processes in all parts of the brain and aid memory.
  • Write only in BLOCK CAPITALS for each topic or sub-topic in the mind map. For reading back, block capitals are more legible, clear and distinct. The extra time taken to write each word allows more time for ideas to be generated.
  • Each word should be written on one line and each line is linked to other lines. This ensures that the mind map has a basic structure, like the branches in a tree. Sub-topics of the main topic radiate outwards on lines. Lines may be straight or curved (NB: curved lines make for more compact diagrams). Sub-sub-topics radiate out from the sub-topics and so forth for as much division as required.
  • Use only one word per line, as much as possible. This allows each word to have more connections (branches) and provides more freedom and flexibility in note taking.
  • Use colours in the mind map to enhance memory, stimulate all parts of the brain and make the mind map more attractive.
  • The mind should be allowed to be as free as possible. The main thing is to recall everything that the mind thinks about a particular topic; deciding where things should go or be included slows down the process. In general, once started, the ideas will be generated faster than can be written. Do not worry about the logical order/organisation of the words as this will tend to sort itself out; reorganisation can be done later as another mind map.

An Example of a Mind Map

More Thoughts on Mind Mapping

  • Mind mapping tends to polarise people into two types: those who become very enthusiastic users and those who seem to hate it. It is probably reflective of how people think. The enthusiasts
    are those who already think in a hierarchal and organised manner and need a device like this to organise and put down their thoughts on paper. For the non-enthusiasts, please give mind-mapping a try before giving up!
  • Mind mapping is not easy to do using a computer with a keyboard. It is best done with a pencil or pen and paper (A3 size).
  • Compared to linear note-taking (as done by most people during lectures) with headings and subheadings written starting from the left of a piece of note pad and indenting from there, mind mapping clearly shows the main idea, the relative importance of each idea (those nearer the centre are more important) and the linkages between ideas. Consequently, recall and review is more convenient and quicker, and new information can be easily incorporated by adding in more branches.

Further Reading

Buzan, T. (1995). The Mind Map Book. London: BBC Books.

Buzan, T. (1995). Use Your Head (revised ed.). London: BBC Books.

James Cook University. (2003). ‘JCU Study Skills Online: Mind Mapping’. (last accessed: 1 April 2003).


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