Does anyone else have trouble with mind mapping?

Mind Mapping as a way of generating ideas and creating plans has been gaining steam for the past few years, especially in the technical communications arena. For some reason though, this just doesn’t seem to work for me.

When I approach something substantial I want to write about, I usually make an outline. This is what I was taught to do as far back as the seventh grade, and it is what I am comfortable with. When I write in Microsoft Word, I almost always use the Outline View.  In fact, I’m using it right now.

I’ve tried mind-mapping several times. I’ve experimented with PC applications and iPod applications, as well as using a pencil and paper. In the end though, I spend too much time staring at the connections, feeling as if I need to move things around or form new connections. It is interesting to see how ideas can be connected, but it doesn’t take long for me to fill up my screen, and once a mind-map take up more than the space on the screen, it starts to feel unwieldy.

When I try to mind map, I spend a lot of time thinking about whether something is a central idea or whether it is subordinate to a larger concept, even though it has its own sub-categories. I’m not saying an outline handles this problem perfectly, but I take some comfort in knowing that I just have to scroll up or down to get to any thought.

If you are having luck with a particular mind-mapping program, let me know and tell me what you like about it. Thanks.

13 thoughts on “Does anyone else have trouble with mind mapping?

  1. Shawn,

    You may have hit the nail on the head. Mind mapping is not a linear process, and I probably work best in a linear format.

  2. Scott,

    Good point. I have to go with what works for me. I just keep hearing people sing the praises of mind mapping, so i feel like I’m missing out on something.

  3. Personally, I find mind mapping helpful if I have a bunch of ideas and can’t figure out how I should best organize them. At that point in time, it’s useful for me to be able to just hand write ideas and see them spread out on a page. I never worry about finding a central hub and drawing lines from that, partly because when I do so, I find my argument has one main idea and a bunch of unrelated points.

    As a teacher and writing coach though, I can say that mind mapping can be eye opening for writers who have had negative experiences with writing in the past. I’ve had several students who got really excited about the concept. I think even these students have to eventually revise their papers to meet readers’ expectations of a linear argument where each piece builds on previous points.

    As a bottom line, I’d say that mind mapping’s biggest value is that it changes the way a writer thinks about his/her topic. You note that you change your thoughts whenever you try mind mapping. Even though it might not be a positive change for you, I’d say that anything that changes the way we approach work has some exploration value.

  4. Wow! Did that newsletter ever come at a perfect time. I’m working on an article that requires a lot of research and has to be organized and reorganized as I go along because the research takes me to unexpected places. I had never tried Word’s outline view before. I took a break from my task to check my email and tried it. It’s already cleared my head. As for mind mapping, my attempts have left me spending an inordinate amount of time revising my central concept or hub. The comment above might help. Leave it out and use it as more of a brainstorming tool.

  5. John,

    >For some reason though, this just doesn’t seem to work for me.

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Few (if any) tools or techniques will work for everyone. I could make a long, long, long list of everything that I’ve tried that didn’t work for me!

    That’s the key — finding the tools and techniques that work for YOU.

    But the fact that you tried mind mapping says a lot. You gave it a shot. Sure, it didn’t work for you but you didn’t dismiss mind mapping out of hand. A lot of people wouldn’t take that step.

  6. I’m just starting to write an articles, so im not familiar with mind mapping. I’m always been comfortable with ms word. But i try to take some suggestion here as you are.

  7. John,

    Whenever I ask myself if I’m missing out on something, chances are I’m not :-) Seriously, though, I find that some things are popular for a reason but just because they’re popular is no excuse to jump on a bandwagon.

    But if you’re looking for a simple mind mapping tools, I like Mind42 ( Freemind is nice, too.

  8. Hi John
    I think Mind maps have been pushed for the wrong reasons.
    I remember being forced to use them and it was all so esoteric it became too difficult.
    I think that they work better if you are drunk and relaxed and having fun!
    I wrote ans article about them a while ago.
    Mind Maps
    I love mind maps.
    I suffer from ADOS ” Attention Deficit….Ooooh shiny”
    So I need high speed methods to organise my thinking and one page references to cover all the work.

    At school we were taught to make elaborate mind maps using colours and cardboard and I think we totally missed the point.

    Mind maps for me have three major uses:

    They organise disorganised material (That jumpy off the subject lecturer)
    They allow you to add stuff later
    They help you to work fast
    The basic rules are few
    If it doesn’t fit on one A4 page, it’s too big.
    If the key word doesn’t recall everything, it’s the wrong word.
    If the connections aren’t logical or they jump around, you’ve lost the plot.
    If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to map a learning unit, you are doing it wrong.
    If you don’t reread your mind map once a week, then you are wasting your time.
    There are numerous free mind map programmes that you can download, and now there are numerous free online maps you can use. is my current favourite.
    You can share mind maps with friends and collaborate online.

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