Mind Mapping

by Gillian Burn

Key principles

Below are ten key principles that will help you when creating a Mind Map®.

  1. Use plain paper, landscape (sideways) – lined paper tends to constrain the thinking process and restrict the natural flow of thoughts. Using the paper sideways helps you to use your peripheral vision most effectively because it increases the horizontal space available. Plain paper also allows the opportunity to use the full 360 degrees available.
  2. Create a central image – this acts as a visual trigger; it provides a key focus and is memorable. It is also easier to recall.
  3. Use colour – colour helps you to identify different topics or branches, highlighting different sections or levels of information. Colour is a very powerful and effective memory tool – it is estimated that colour enhances your memory by between 25 and 50 per cent. Your memory is enhanced further if coloured images are also used. Colour stimulates activity from the right side of the brain.
  4. Use images, dimension and shapes – images are often very personal, making them more memorable. You can create your own simple images – ‘a picture paints a 1000 words’.
  5. Use wavy, curvy, organic lines – these stimulate creativity and use the right side of the brain. Straight lines use only the left side of the brain, so curvy lines are more creative.
  6. Print key words on a line or branch – using key words on branches helps you remember information more quickly than you could with long sentences. Key words are often nouns or action words. Print the main theme or key word in capitals to differentiate the importance of the key area.
  7. Use only one word per line, keeping the line the same length as the word – this is particularly important for memory and to allow ideas to flow from different associations. Long lines may make your brain question whether there is missing information. They also make it harder to create extra branches, as you quickly run out of space.
  8. Alter the thickness of the lines. The central lines are thicker, like a tree trunk, with the later branches thinner, to indicate levels of importance of information.
  9. Create the next level of thought and extra branches – key branches are similar to chapter headings. The next level of thoughts creates the next level of branches, as you explore a subject further. Each line or branch is connected to the previous one, forming a series of associations almost ‘growing out’ of the central image. Lines can be added clockwise or randomly around the page.
  10. Branches can be connected together with dotted curvy lines to show inter-connections or linkage between key areas.

Your individual mind map

The key principles listed above are a general guide, but it is important to bear in mind that creating a mind map is ultimately a personal process. Your map is a tool to help you, not somebody else, and you will soon develop your own style.

If it looks messy

When you first start, you may find the branches look untidy as you get used to drawing curvy lines instead of writing on traditional lined paper. The more you practise the technique, however, the more confident you will feel. mind maps do not need to look like a work of art, as long as you have captured the main information on key branches. A mind map can look untidy to an onlooker, as they have not personally created it or seen how each area links together. When you explain your mind map to someone else, the message becomes much clearer.

Coloured or not?

What if you don’t feel comfortable using coloured pens in meetings? Although, as explained in the key principles, above, it can help to use colour, you do not necessarily have to use colour unless you need to use the mind map as a memory tool. Using colour and images on a mind map enhances your memory by 25 to 50 per cent. In business settings, however, most of my mind maps are in black or blue, with the occasional use of red to highlight a section or to show an action point. I also regularly use pencil to create mind maps. The choice is yours.