What Is a Mind Map? (+ How to Use Mind MappingTechniques)

Last Updated:Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Frequently divided between multitasking and quick decision-making, our minds can become a whirlwind of scattered thoughts and ideas. As we strive to organize our thoughts and make sense of complex information, one tool has emerged to aid us in this cognitive process - mind maps. 

But, what is a mind map exactly? And, how can you use this dynamic visualization tool for various tasks? That's exactly what this article will teach you!

Whether you're a student seeking effective study techniques or a professional striving for better project management, mastering mind mapping can prove to be a transformative skill.

Let's get started!


What is a mind map? Our mind map definition

Your typical mind mapping definition will explain how it is a visual diagram that is used to organize information by core concepts, sub-concepts, and other hierarchical relations. Mind maps are used for brainstorming above all else, but they are also useful for note-taking and presentations.

Tony Buzan and the mind mapping concept

Tony Buzan is a leading productivity guru who has championed the idea of the creative mind map concept. He basically stresses how mind maps are superior to linear note-taking, especially for thinking creatively. For Buzan, one should always start in the center and work outwards, and to use many colors and images.

What does a mind map look like?

A mind map looks like a central circle with other circles extending outwards in a radial fashion. From there, each satellite circle can be its center with its radially-related circles. Mind maps also have a very colorful and pictorial appearance to them, which helps one grasp your mind map ideas more easily.

what is a mind map


What is mind mapping used for?

The purpose of mind mapping is to let individuals and groups organize new ideas by representing them in a visual way. A mind map is used for capturing and organizing ideas in a structured way on any topic - ranging from your work-related tasks to your next barbecue.

Here are some specific mind map uses:


Mind maps are great for the kickoff period of a new project when you need to brainstorm new ideas and generate levels of connection. This will let teams see things like priorities and dependencies and encourage creativity.


People can use a mind map to take a lot of disparate information from a brainstorming session and summarize and organize it. This is often attributed to its highly visual nature.  

Note taking

Whether or not you are a student, if you ever need to take notes, especially by shorthand, then a mind map is often considered a more ideal system than simply writing sentence after sentence.


If you have notes, data, and information from many different sources, then a mind map is a fantastic way to consolidate that information into a single document for easy understanding.

Decision making

A mind map is used for things like problem-solving and decision-making. It is particularly effective for complex problems that must be simplified before solving.


Mind mapping is a very useful tool for visual clarity for those who need to present information, data or complex systems of knowledge, whether to a class or to a business team.


If you are studying or need to memorize information for any reason, then using a mind map is an ideal method to help you learn concepts and their connections by heart, which is great brain exercise. 


Mind map techniques:

Mind mapping techniques are not the same as the different types of mind map diagrams (like flow charts or circle diagrams). When discussing creative mind mapping methods, we mean the approach to mind mapping and not the style. The mind map techniques are:

Structure mind map method 

The first mind mapping method or technique is structural mind mapping. With this method, you begin with a central topic, often as a single word of text. From there, you move down and list all lower-level topics, branching out to even more sub-topics as you go on. You will see this differs from the drill-down method, where you work on each branch before the whole levels.

Central mind map method

The number two mind map strategy is the centralized one. This is similar to the structural method, but rather than focusing on a top-down plan, you create a center and radial system around the key topic. You then explore its branches by continually returning to the core concept and the ideas that branch out from there.

Drill down mind map method

The drill-down method is the third mind-mapping technique. The method is to start with a central topic, then map out your first subtopic and drill down from there all the way before going back to the top and beginning to drill down on the next subtopic. This differs from the structural method, where you work on levels first over branches. 

Spaghetti mind map method

Our final mind mapping technique is the spaghetti method. Regardless of its silly-sounding name, it is highly useful. The spaghetti mind map is great when you begin with little to no idea of your structure or levels, so you can just start filling up your blank page with all your concepts and keywords, only to connect them with lines and arrows afterward.


How to use mind maps effectively

To provide you with an idea of how to use mind mapping in the optimal way, you should always keep in mind the principles of simplicity, creativity and open-endedness. More specifically, pay attention to language and visuals. Mind maps are about clarity of meaning regardless of size and scale.

1. Keep your language simple

Whenever you begin to develop your mind map, remember, simplicity is king. Every complex idea can and should be broken down into more basic terms. This begins at the level of language. 

Try to use just a single word, and don't fill up your mind map with phrases or lengthy sentences. If you ever feel you need more than a simple word for your mind map, ask yourself first, is this idea something I can break down into sub-components?

2. Uses color coding

Mind mapping helps turn abstract ideas into visual objects that you can look at and analyze from different angles and in different ways. One of the best strategies to effectively create mind maps is the utilization of color. Color coding your mind maps can be done in several ways. You can color code words that have strong connections or color code the lines and arrows between ideas. You can also use colored backgrounds for different areas of the mind map. It's a good idea to stick to primary colors like red, blue, and yellow or bright secondary ones like green, pink, and purple.

3. Symbols, images, pictures, and icons

So far, we have been emphasizing ideas and concepts as expressed in words. But you should not limit yourself to signifying vocabulary alone. Oftentimes, a picture, image, symbol or icon can say a lot more than a single word can. 

Images synthesize lots of meanings and connotations. What's more, they take up less space on your mind map page, thus reducing clutter and making for a more presentable mind map. 

Images and symbols also stimulate the creative part of your brain more which is awesome for using mind maps for brainstorming or idea generation. 

4. Use arrows for cross-linking

Mind mapping is about more than ideas. In fact, ideas are secondary within mind maps. What is most important are connections between ideas. 

In this way, mind maps follow the revolutionary structural linguistic models (as first formulated by Ferdinand de Saussure), where meaning is not derived by a fundamental relationship between signifier and signified but by each symbol's connection to all others and its role in the total network of signs. 

With mind maps, lines and arrows serve this purpose for cross-linking your topics, showing relations, dependencies and other connective attributes.

4. Stay on one single page

The whole point of a mind map is to allow your brain and creative thinking to expand as much as the ideas allow. They are not closed systems but can open themselves up to more and more connections. 

Now, if you begin to draw your mind map by hand on a single blank page, it is likely you will soon run out of space. Don't, under any circumstance, continue on another separate page. 

Rather, take a new blank sheet of paper and tape or staple it to the end of your first sheet, thereby making one single, large mind map that can be pinned to a wall and viewed as a whole.


How to make a mind map

Of course, in our digital age, you can find many mind mapping software solutions to use. However, you don't need to. A lot of people prefer to begin their mind maps manually, either with pencil and paper, or with markers on a whiteboard, or even cue cards on a bristle board. 

You can always photograph your finished product and then convert all this manually written data onto a software program if you have the time.

How to mind map with paper and pencils

Paper and pencil are the original methods and many people like to start with this, as it is intuitive but also casual, especially if you have good erasers.  

1. Start with the most important idea

Grab your blank sheet of paper. Pick up that pencil. And now, write the most important idea or concept dead center of the page. Go ahead and draw a circle around it if it makes you feel good.

2. Add connections to your main idea

Now, using your pencil, start writing all the most important concepts that are related to your main idea all around that central idea. Draw your lines connecting the core concept to these related ideas.  

3. Branch out from each topic 

Go from each related topic and begin writing out the sub-topics for each one in circles around these ideas. Whereas the upper-level ideas could be full topics, these could be specific angles or sub-topics. 

4. Add colors and images 

OK, at this point, we actually might want you to ditch the pencil unless you have colored pencils. Go over each circle, line, or arrow in a different color to begin making the visuals more specific. You can also begin adding images, which you can draw or glue cutouts onto the sheet.

Using mind mapping software

For those who cannot stand manual writing and drawing, you should consider using mind mapping apps. 

Take your time when researching the best mind mapping software. Consider things like pricing, key features, pros and cons, and even customer support when looking for a tool that will suit all your needs.


Helpful mind maps tutorial

You can get a lot of useful mind mapping tutorials and video guides online. These are fun and entertaining ways to go over mind mapping guidelines in case you hate reading too much. Mind map guru Tony Buzan has made some excellent mind map video guides you should watch.

As Buzan says, in order to be able to manage all the knowledge you have, you first need to learn to manage the manager of your knowledge - your mind. Make sure to check out this TEDx talk by Tony Buzan and learn more about The Power of a Mind to Map


Our conclusion on using mind maps

Our final notes here are going to be simple: Learn mind mapping, use mind maps, take advantage of mind mapping techniques, and try out mind mapping software. It will improve your brainstorming, your note-taking, your decision-making, and your problem-solving.



Is a thought map the same thing as a mind map?

Thought mapping and mind mapping are not the exact same thing, though they are related. Thought maps are a bit more advanced and complicated than mind maps which use basic circle and radial structures. For mapping thoughts, you have more diagrammatic options for more complex ideas.

What is the purpose of mind mapping?

The purpose of mind mapping is to help individuals or teams visually organize ideas by creating connections between topics and concepts. Mind maps are used for brainstorming, idea generation, taking notes, and even planning projects. The goal is to break down complex ideas into sub-concepts.

What is mind mapping in writing?

Many writers use mind mapping. It is a great technique for writing, especially in non-fiction, where you want to explain or analyze ideas based on their components and their related ideas. Mind mapping in writing is often done at the outset of a project during conceptualizing, planning, and outlining.