Product Information:-

  • Journals
  • Books
  • Case Studies
  • Regional information
Request a service from our experts.

Mind maps

Options:     PDF Version - Mind maps  Print view

Banner: Emerald Students.

How to use mind maps to revolutionize your note-taking

The traditional way of taking notes, whether for a lecture or when reading a book, is to follow the chronological sequence of the author's thought, and to summarize the content of the book or lecture, often using sentences and phrases instead of just keywords.

An alternative approach, and one which some claim works with both halves of the brain by harnessing its powers of visualization and association, and thereby improves both memory and creative thinking, is mind mapping.

Image: Mind map.


Mind mapping is a way of linking key concepts using images, lines and links. A central concept is linked via lines to other concepts which in turn are linked with other associated ideas. It is similar as a technique to concept mapping and spider diagrams, the difference being that true mind mapping involves constructing a hierarchy of ideas instead of pure random association.

Mind mapping uses the concept of "radiant thinking" – that is, thoughts radiate out from a single idea, often expressed as an image. Branches flow backwards and forwards from and to the central idea.


Mind mapping is generally linked with the popular psychologist Tony Buzan, although in fact similar approaches have been used by Porphyry of Tyros in the 3rd century to conceptualize the ideas of Aristotle, by Leonardo da Vinci and by Picasso, to name but a few. Tony Buzan however did much to popularize and schematize mind maps in the 1960s and 1970s and his books, listed below, provide an authoritative account on how to use the technique.

How to mind map

There are four key characteristics of a mind map:

  1. There is one key concept, often expressed graphically as an image.
  2. From the key concept/image radiate out branches each of which contains another key concept which is a subset of the main concept.
  3. Attached to these main branches are other branches which represent less important concepts.
  4. Together, the branches and central image form a nodal structure.

The steps involved in creating a mind map may be summarized as follows:

Step 1 – Determine your central image or concept.

Step 2 – Create the basic structure for organizing your ideas: these are the main branches and are known as the Basic Organizing Ideas (BOIs), and are represented by branches radiating outwards from the main concept.

Step 3 – Put down keywords associated with the BOIs, which should sit on smaller branches connected to the main branch.

Step 4 – Revisit your mind map, putting things in order, and numbering the branches. If necessary, revise it on another piece of paper.


The following points should be borne in mind when creating a mind map:

Users are recommended to adopt a personal style and to have fun creating their mind maps, and deliberately attempt to make them as beautiful as possible. In fact, mind maps can often become mini works of art as in the following example:

Image: Mind map example

© Jonathan Goldstein

If you invest in some good quality pens, as well as some coloured ones, you will find you take a greater pride in what you produce, and this will increase the "fun" element.

Benefits of mind maps

The benefits of mind mapping as a technique is that it enable the user to enlist the full power of the brain, both the right side, which is employed for spatial awareness, a sense of wholeness (Gestalt), imagination, day dreaming, and colour, and the left, which is the more analytical, logical side.

Mind maps draw on the brain's ability to store an infinite number of associations and this, together with their visual qualities (space, image, colour etc.) help them stimulate the memory to store more facts.

Physically they also take up less space than chronologically based notes and are less time-consuming to produce.

Uses of mind maps

Mind maps can be used in a wide range of situations, from brainstorming, sorting out family problems, business meetings, making notes from books or lectures, to planning a series of television programmes. Most useful to you in your student career, however, will be:

Making notes from books and other secondary sources

As a student you will need to browse a large number of secondary sources – textbooks, journal articles, websites. Sometime, the amount of material can seem daunting. The benefits of mind maps, however, is that rather than working through the material from beginning to end in a chronological sequence, you proceed in a more "spiral" fashion from firstly having an overview to looking in greater and greater depth.

Before you begin to study, organize the task by:

You are then ready to do the mind map of the document, for which you go through the following (spiral) stages:

  1. Overview – look at the chapter summaries, chapter and other main headings. Note that most text books these days have a very explicit structure with objectives at the beginning of each chapter, as well as chapter summaries. This way, you are searching for the gist of the author's argument before looking at the detail.
  2. Preview – go a stage beyond the book's "organizing bits" and look at the beginning and end of chapters and sections.
  3. Inview – look at the rest of the material, but if there is something that you find very difficult, leave it and return to it.
  4. Review – finish your mind map notes, going back over anything you found difficult.

Note that the above assumes that you are reading a book; journal articles and websites also have their own organizational structure, for example pages or headings. The same principles will apply.

Making notes from lectures

Lectures lend themselves less easily to the mind mapping technique because their structure is inherently linear. However, you should be able to get a good idea of the "basic organizing ideas" from the scheme of work for the course, or from the notes which the lecturer gives out at the beginning of the lecture. Try and search for the BOIs as the lecture progresses.

Note: if your mind map seems confused, then this may be because the lecture, book or website is confused!

Image: Mind map example

© Graham Burnett

Making notes for essays or presentations

The basic difference here is in the preposition: you are making notes for something rather than from something, so you will need to draw together your existing mind map notes and prepare a new mind map covering what you are going to write or present.

The following diagram shows a mind map of a profit and loss statement, with some branches left blank. Can you complete it?

Image: Mind map

Some useful resources



You may also like...

Image: Where to find information.

How to search for information

Icon: Writing.

How to write more simply

Image: 9 things that every student needs according to research.

9 things that every student needs according to research


Printed from: on Tuesday August 20th, 2019
© Emerald Group Publishing Limited