Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others - a set of notes!
Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name, 'Mind Mapping'.
What is a Mind Map?
According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are 'an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain.' A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.
In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.
How to draw a mind map
There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.
- In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.
- What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?
- The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.
- Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.
- Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don't feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.
- Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don't worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.
Take a look at the video below for a helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.
Or listen to Tony Buzan talk about mind maps.
I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures.
Try something new
Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.