Part 1: Understanding Mind Maps

Mind Maps Guide

What is a mind map?

A mind map is a cluster of related ideas connected to a central concept. Each layer of ideas branches out from the next. The farther from the middle you go, the more specific the ideas get. The closer to the center, the more general the ideas are.

Mind maps are the perfect tool for brainstorming or note-taking. Starting with an initial topic at the center of your map, you use lines to branch out into related ideas, and then branch out again to develop those ideas even further. The process of creating a mind map helps our brains connect ideas, understand concepts from a high-level perspective, and form new ideas based on these insights.

Mind maps are often a faster and easier way to represent an idea than writing them out completely. Because they add a visual element to ideation, they’ve also been shown to increase retention when studying for tests and promote innovation when conceptualizing new ideas. Some people call mind maps by different names, such as idea maps, spray diagrams, or radial trees.


Mind maps, though not referred to as such, have a long history dating as far back as third century Greece and Rome from the philosopher Porphyry of Tyre, who is credited with mapping Aristotle’s famous Categories. His mind map was known as “the Porphyrian tree.”

The philosophical origins of mind maps continued in the 13th century with philosopher Ramon Llull, who created an illustrated version of the Porphyrian tree. In fact, many famous thinkers throughout history have used their own takes on mind maps to create free-form notes that branch off one another and often include drawings.

Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain have all been known to create mind-map-esque notes, but it was British author and TV personality Tony Buzan who popularized the term “mind map” in the 1970s.

Buzan did more than coin the term; he taught how to create and use mind maps in his BBC TV series, Use Your Head, and in his books, such as Modern Mind Mapping for Smarter Thinking. He claims his mind map approach to learning was inspired by Alfred Korzybski’s general semantics and popularized by science fiction writers such as Robert A. Heinlein and A.E. van Vogt. Buzan believes people often absorb information in a non-linear fashion, and mind maps are the perfect tool for capturing that process.


Because mind maps are highly versatile and easy to produce, they can be used for a variety of functions, including:

  • Brainstorming: Mind maps change and adapt with your ideas. They can help you make connections you wouldn’t otherwise.
  • Note-taking: Quickly capture and organize concepts from lectures, presentations, or meetings.
  • Studying: If your notes didn’t start as a mind map, you can still create one to use for studying to increase your retention and understand the material.
  • Decision making: Think through complex ideas to arrive at the best decision possible.
  • Presenting: Mind maps are much easier for audiences to understand quickly than reading full sentences. And they can easily be placed into PowerPoint and Keynote presentations.
  • Goal setting: Whether you’re thinking about your personal or professional aspirations, mind maps can help you discover the right path.
  • Writing: Whether you’re writing a blog post, book, set of instructions, or something else, you can use a mind map to organize your thoughts, formulate a plot, or develop character backstories and motivations.
  • Planning: Plan and organize an event, strategy, project, or meeting.
  • Diagramming tool: Mind maps can help you flesh out the goals you want to set for creating more complicated diagrams such as wireframes, network diagrams, or flowcharts.


Mind maps aren’t just great in theory; they’ve been shown time and time again to improve both the understanding and idea retention.

A 2002 study by Farrand, Hussain, and Hennessy showed that the use of mind maps improved memory recall in medical students compared to students’ preferred methods of note-taking. In fact, the mindmap group scored 10% higher than the control group in a recall test.

Another study in 2002 by Goodnough and Woods focused on sixth grade science students. Not only did students report enjoying mind maps, they considered them fun, interesting, motivating, and easy to understand. And 80% of the students thought mind mapping helped them understand concepts and ideas in science.

And in 2006, a study by A.V. D’Antoni and G.P. Zipp involving physical therapy students showed increased learning with mind maps.

It should be no surprise that mind maps improve retention; the combination of words and pictures has been show to be six times more effective for remembering information than words alone. And with the addition of colors and pictures, you can improve retention even more.

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