These are suggestions, not law.

These are suggestions, not law.

Mind mapping is a technique for mapping information using color, pictures, symbols and, most importantly, a branching structure emanating from a central concept. Tony Buzan in his book, The Mind Map Book, adds four characteristics to the definition that further define mind maps. They are:

  • The topic is the central image
  • Main themes radiate from the center
  • Branches are represented by a key image or word
  • Branches are connected

I would add a fifth characteristic. Topics that are less important tend to be placed farther from the center image.

These five characteristics can be mined for rules to draw a mind map.

  • Use images.  Images engage visual and linguistic learning styles which encourage memory. Buzan suggests that the central image should be an image. When hand drawn, the use of an image provides a strong anchor for the mind map. Drawing the image adds another layer of involvement in the map through physical drawing.
  • Use single words or a short phrase when you can’t use images. When using phrases make them as short as possible.
  • Color can provide added meaning to the images and words.  For example, use of the color red conveys danger or urgency (depending on context) while green tend to portray growth.  Frankly, I am colorblind (pretty close to total), so I use color sparingly as combinations I find pleasing, but others find befuddling (that is why plaid is my favorite color – think about it). Use color to draw attention, show linkage between items or highlight items that are helpful to you. While some think of mind maps as art, I think they are a tool that just happens to look cool.
  • Weighting can be used to show the relative importance of each topic. Two types of weighting can be used.  Varying font or image size is one way to convey importance. The larger the font the more important the entry. Second, the mind mapper can vary the width of the branch. This form of weighting can be difficult or unavailable if you are using a computer-based tool for mind mapping.  The goal of weighting is to draw attention to specific features to increase memory retention or to increase readability.  Remember not all entries or subdivisions are created equal.

Here is an example of the use of images, words, colors and weighting.


  • Crosslinking is a way to show relationships between items that are not within the same branch.  For example in the figure below, a relationship is shown between the categories of processes and common problems.2Untitled

Linkages allow the mind mapper to layer in nuances that might not be observable without repeating entries.

I consider these rules to be important, but not absolute.  I have created many mind maps whose branches include links to websites or whole paragraphs of notes.  I broke the “rules” because breaking them provided more value to me than not breaking them.  The only two hard and fast rules are:

  1. The core topic and branch structure.
  2. All the other rules are guidelines.

The rules and guidelines for mind mapping exist to help the mind mapper get the most value from the map possible.  The map should engage as many senses and learning styles as possible to get the job done.  Tomorrow we tackle different uses of mind maps.