Mind Maps – An Introduction

A Mind Map is a way of writing notes in such a way to show associations, easily allow addition of new information and to quickly get an overview of a subject.

This article shows you how to draw a Mind Map and some of my hand drawn maps.

The benefit of using Mind Maps are many. Note taking is faster – they are quick to review and memorise – they help you understand the “big picture” – capture ideas quickly and useful in giving a presentation.  You can see how the pieces of a subject fit together and what is missing. A lecture, presentation and even a book can be summarised into a single Mind Map.

A Mind Map has a central topic with branches radiating outwards. Keywords are written on the branches. A branch may radiate out into more branches with additional keywords.  Adding images to the keywords helps visualise the information and make the information more memorable. Similarly, using colour will enrich the map.

Click on the maps in this article to view full size.

How to draw a Mind Map

The minimum requirements are a piece of paper and pen. Blank paper is preferable and the larger the better.  These are my recommended materials, however you will see my maps drawn with ballpoint pen on ruled paper, as well as pencil.

  • A4 sized blank paper
  • Black fine tipped pens
  • Pencil
  • Coloured fine point pens (Stabilo Boss)
  • Thicker marker pens (Staedtler Connector pens are good)
  • Highlighters





1. Write the topic in the centre of the page in a few words (the less the better!). Draw a picture to symbolise the topic. Write in fairly large letters and draw a symbol or image related to the topic. Draw a circle or “cloud” around the topic.

3. Draw thick branches from the central image and write keywords on the branch. Only make the branch long enough for writing the keyword.  Add an symbol or image close to the keyword to help visualise the keyword.

Mind Maps emphasis brevity and this is why you should write keywords – not phrases. A single word is easier to remember and allows more associations to help you recall more information or to memorise.

Using images will help you remember informaton and provide more associations for memorisation and recall.

If you have coloured pens, use different colours for each major branch and its sub branches.

4. You will need to think about how many branches you will draw around the central image. Normally you wouldn’t have more than 8 branches.

5. Each main branch can be extended with more branches, drawn thinner than the main branches. Add keywords and images (if appropriate) to the smaller branches.   Make sure that the lines are connected to emphasise the connections.

6. Write in different styles and sizes. For example, you might draw the central keyword in a large 3D typeface.

7. Use arrows to connect associated sections of the map.

You can of course break these rules and only use one colour and  one line thickness. Alternatively you can makea work of art. Maps can be small or enormous.

Mind Maps are personal and you should practice drawing them regularly and develop your own style.

You should develop your own “symbol library” and icons. I think it is  lot of fun drawing symbols and shapes, and I have started to copy shapes and icons into my notebook for use in my maps.

Examples of Mind Maps

To Do List

Mind Maps are a great way to capture your thoughts quickly. As you draw branches, and add keywords and more branches, you will most likely think of things to add to other parts of the  map. Here is a map of my to-do list for a long weekend


A speech or presentation can be mapped to help you as the presenter remember the content. The map can also be used as a handout for the audience.  Here is a map I made when I was brainstorming ideas for a talk about my interest in music.

At a previous job (Bullant Software), I gave a 45 minute presentation to 3rd year Computer Science students at Sydney University. The topic was Customer Support and here is the Mind Map I made brainstorming ideas for the talk . I was then able to quickly prepare Powerpoint slides.

Summarising a book

Use the chapter headings of the book as your main headings, then expand each branch based on the chapter topics. Here is a summary of Michael Gelb’s book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci”.

Michael Gelb is an advocate of Mind Maps and developing brain skills. Here are two Mind Maps I made from his book Present Yourself.

Idea Generation

A good way to generate ideas is to use a template with pre-drawn branches for you to fill in. Here is a map for you to explore Happiness. There are eight main branches and each branch has three sub-branches. Print the map then think what happiness means to you. Write eight keywords on the main branches. Next, review each branch and think what that word means to you. Add more branches if required, draw symbols, add colours and arrows.

Mind Maps on Flickr

There are many styles of Mind Maps and a good place to look is on Flickr.com

Mind Mapping Software

There are many software applications available for Mind Mapping.  I have the iMindMap software which is a commercial product and runs on Mac, Windows and iPad.  This is probably the best product on the market and I recommend you download a trial version and have a go.  You can get free programs such as Freemind and web-based programs.  The best source of information on Mind Mapping software is Chuck Frey’s MindMapping Software Blog.

I think it is important to develop the skill of Mind Mapping by hand but using a program allows presentation quality graphics and maps can be easily edited.


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