We don’t intend to claim here that thought maps are “cure-alls” as ways of thinking, but they can help to see things differently and more complexly without limiting oneself to a certain linear narrative. At least during the past century, western society has become very used to formulating its ideas in a very linear manner – this was headed by analytical philosophy, which advances forward step by step, taking no turns or diversions. We have learned to label errors as something bad, something that doesn’t belong to a thought process. Teachers and students surely know the urging words of “short and succinct” or “to the point”. However, these words assume that there is a clear problem here and the student should find one correct solution to it. But, if you need to write or think about something, you can’t really take this approach.
This is where thought maps come in – they are creative techniques that attempt to support your creative thinking. This means looking for ideas, methods and connections that aren’t visible at first glance.
How do we create such a map?
- Write a topic that you want to think about in the middle of a piece of paper (or an application).
- Create associations on the word (topic) and write each one as a new branch.
- Build upon these associations by adding more and more of them.
- Use colors, ideally a different color for each branch.
- Use images or symbols.
- Go for as long as things continue to make sense.
Everyone has a different style of work, and no ideal method exists. Someone will focus on one branch, then another, and finally look for relationships. Some will jump from one to the other and link them together, while others will draw images. It’s also up to you whether you want to work on a computer or on paper. Generally speaking, it’s probably easier and quicker to create things on paper, and it’s more suitable for beginners. But, big maps can’t be created on paper, and they’re hard to share and edit. In addition, the author of this article, for example, tends to regularly lose them.
It’s recommended to write one word or a short phrase for each branch; there’s no sense in long texts, as they’d make thought maps ineffective.
Thought maps can be used for almost everything – from analyzing a topic to a map describing a certain problem (they’re good for things like studying history), working with a story and many other things. At the same time, they’re also a creative exercise – you might not use them in the end for what you need, but you’ll get your thoughts flowing and start the process of looking for new contexts, which you can then transfer to a written text.
If you want to find out more about thought maps, have a look at the following articles:
- The role of mind mapping education
- 6 Mind Mapping examples for students and teachers
- Mind Mapping in Education
- How To Mind Map With Tony Buzan
- Mind Mapping in College: Tips, Tools, and Examples
- 15 Creative Mind Map Examples for Students
- Mind Map Mastery: 10 Tony Buzan Mind Mapping Laws You Should Follow
- Note-taking techniques: Mind maps
We definitely recommend the following tools when working with thought maps:
- Coggle.it – a high-quality online tool with a lot of functions – the basic version is free.
- FreeMind – a slightly unwieldy-looking open source tool with many advanced functions but ugly maps.
- Xmind.net – a tool with a free basic version which makes nice thought maps, which aren’t organically rounded, and offers other diagrams. It’s definitely worth a try.
- Miro – is not made purely for thought maps, but you can put just about anything into it – from post-its to Google docs and webpages. It’s free for schools.
- FreePlane – a very similar tool to Freemind, only highly focused on personal management. It doesn’t have nice maps either, but it does offer many interesting functions.