Mind maps can be useful for note taking.

Mind maps can be useful for note taking.

Mind mapping is a technique for mapping information. A basic mind map typically emanates from a central topic with subdivisions branching out from that topic. The process for mind mapping has few basic rules and suggestions for constructing and formatting mind maps, which makes them highly flexible. Mind maps have a wide variety of uses based on one central theme: learning. The uses of mind maps include:

  1. Note taking: Most lectures tend to follow a more linear outline with relationships and linkages between topics inferred. Standard note taking is generally a reflection of how the lecturer thinks rather than how the note taker thinks. Mind mapping helps the note taker to capture the branches of the topic and then to visualize the linkages. Structuring notes based on how the note taker thinks makes memory recollection easier. Note: I occasionally use this technique to restructure standard notes as a means reinforce my memory.
  2. Planning: Few plans are linear. Mind maps are useful tools for planning and visualizing program-level backlogs. The branching attributes of the map provide a tool to show how functionality breaks down and then visualize the linkages (dependencies) between the entries. While every story should be independent, story and task independence is generally a goal rather than a fait accompli in many organizations. A second use for mind maps in the planning category is as a tool to capture sprint planning results. The sprint goal serves as the central theme with stories radiating from the theme. Activities and task branch from stories. Relationships can be added to show predecessors and successors (or as a trigger for re-planning).
  3. Research: Using a mind map a tool in research is very similar to how mind mapping is used in note taking, with a few subtle differences.  The first is that the mind mapper is generally gathering data from multiple sources while looking for gaps or unnoticed relationships as data is acquired. I often use mind maps as tools for gathering and reorganizing information that I collect (the ability to reorganize data is a strength for most tool-based mind mapping solutions). Many tools support clipping URLs and information for bibliographical entries.       The real power of using mind maps as a research tool is the ability to visualize the data collected, which generally makes gaps obvious and can be useful when looking for relationships between branches of the research.
  4. Presentation Tool: In the entry Mind Mapping: An Introduction, I recounted the story of Ed Yourdon using a mind map to direct his presentation. I have developed mind maps as a precursor to building a classic PowerPoint presentation. When developing or giving a presentation from a mind map, the flow of information reflects how you have visualized and reflected it on the map.
  5. Organizing thoughts: This is my favorite use for a mind map. I begin the organization process by generating my central theme and then using the theme as a hub add each separate item I can think of based on that theme. I generally do this on paper without worrying about spelling or whether one or two items are duplicates. The goal is get everything that is known around the central theme. A starburst pattern will be generated. A simple example:


Once the starburst is created the map can be mined to establish major subdivisions and to indicate area where more research is needed. Walk through each entry and gather related items together. From the items you gather together, the name of the subdivision will emerge. For example, in our mind mapping mind map, when I gathered note taking, planning, research and other together the major subdivision titled “Uses” emerged.


Every Daily Process Thought essay begins using this type of mind map. Many people use the term brainstorming for this type of mind mapping activity.

Mind maps are tools for visualizing data. Seeing your thoughts put into patterns that represent how you think makes it easier to remember the ideas and concepts being mapped. Mind maps also help the mapper see gaps in the data or to jog creative thoughts by exposing relationships that do not jump out when processed linearly. Mind mapping is an extremely flexible tool, therefore there are an enormous number of uses. There is a saying that “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything will look like a nail.” Given the varied number of uses for mind maps, perhaps they might be an information-visualization Swiss Army knife.