Mind map

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A Mind map is a kind of concept map or more generally speaking a visualization that arranges items around a central idea.

  • “A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged radially around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing.” (Wikipedia, retrieved 13:28, 18 August 2007 (MEST)

According to Mindmapping.com, retrieved 09:09, 15 January 2010 (UTC), a typical mind map has the the following characteristics:

  • The main idea, subject or focus is crystallized in a central image.
  • The main themes radiate from the central image as 'branches'.
  • The branches comprise a key image or key word drawn or printed on its associated line.
  • Topics of lesser importance are represented as 'twigs' of the relevant branch.
  • The branches form a connected nodal structure.

Mind maps were made popular by Tony Buzan, who was the first to publish extensive guidelines. There exist other simple hierarchical concept maps, however the term "mind map" is used loosely by many people for naming any kind of more hierarchical diagram that connects sub-elements to elements. WikIT has a discussion about the various types of mind map as well as describing what to consider when choosing between mind maps and concept maps.

Design guidelines

According to Wikipedia (, retrieved 13:28, 18 August 2007 (MEST)), Buzan (1991) suggests the following desing guidelines for structuring a Mind Map:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.
  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your Mind Map.
  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.
  4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
  5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the centre.
  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image.
  7. Use colors – your own code – throughout the Mind Map.
  8. Develop your own personal style of Mind Mapping.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your Mind Map.
  10. Keep the Mind Map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

Danny Stevens made this mind map of the mind map guidelines:

Danny Stevens, Mind map of mind map guidelines, Copyright: GFDL

Uses and usefulness

According to Peter Russel, mind maps can be used for:

  • Note taking
  • Improving recall, since it connects somewhat ideas
  • Creativity, since it favors non-linear thinking and each node could be expanded as a new mind map
  • Problem solving, because one can quickly produce all the issues in order to get a hierarchical overview and also how issues relate to each other (although the later statement could be challenged)
  • Planning (including task analysis), since one can nail down all relevant information in one place.
  • Presentations

Some claims made by the map mind community are very controversail, in particular the ones that relate cognition. As far as we know, serious studies only show that mind mapping vs. "no method" can provide some little gains, e.g. Farrand (2002). Use of mind maps as cognitive tool to support certain tasks on the other hand seems to be well accepted, e.g. to brainstorm, to decompose a concept or problem situation or to plan certain activities like (writing, smaller projects).

In education

(needs to be written)

Mind maps are popular in class-room teaching at all levels. Some popular use cases are:

  • note taking
  • brain storming (to detect dimensions of a problem/concept)
  • planning (for little papers, class projects, etc.)


There are loads of mind mapping and concept mapping software and I don't have time to sort them out. Rather check out Wikipedia's good list of mind mapping software or mindmapping.org. See also the concept map article, since many mind map systems also allow to create concept maps (e.g. labeled arcs)


Commercial including some that have a basic free version.
Free (open source or not) software
  • FreeMind, multiplaform (Java based). Good XHTML export. There also is an embedding extension for MediaWikis (we should try this sometimes) plus a browser application (in flash).
  • FreePlane, a fork of FreeMind with excellent extra features.
  • SciPlore MindMapping is another FreeMind fork (and compatible). It “is the first mind mapping tool focusing on researchers’ needs by integrating mind mapping with reference and pdf management.” (retrieved 1/2010).
  • VYM (View Your Mind). Free (Linux, MacOS) as of 1/2010.


Commercial iPad Apps
  • iThoughtsHD ($10) is a fully featured mindmapping software (good price/performance ratio). Can import/export from most popular applications including freeware like Freemind and Freeplane.
Free iPad/iPhone
  • Mindjet (free) is an iPad/iPhone version of the popular "MindManager" application and online service. Can synchronize with the online app.
Free Android
  • ThinkingSpace. Can read Freemind maps. Commercial version has extra features
  • Mind Map Memo. Includes advertisements. There is also a cheap commercial version.

Web based

(Somewhat or totally) free Web-based applications

You might find more in our incomplete list of web 2.0 applications. These service usually allow you draw a limited amount of mind maps for free. Best to try these, before you install something on your computer.

Commercial web applications


Mind map Web sites and Software indexes

(check these for more links than we have here)

  • Mind Map inspiration by Paul Foreman offer example Mind Maps for inspiration and motivation, plus mindmapping tips, drawing tips, techniques for enhancing your creativity and improving idea generation.
(somewhat and totally) free mind maps
  • Freemind Gallery Free maps that work with Freemind and Freeplane)
  • Mindmaps directory from Topicscape (includes also different kinds of concept maps)
  • Mappio Mind Map Library. 1000s of...
  • Biggerplate (MindManager only, but a free viewer is available in principle)
Online map applications
  • Wikimindmap.org allows to visualize relationships between wikipedia pages. (This tool is now open source, DKS 1/2010)
  • A simpler SVG tool is available to your left in the toolbox.


  • Buzan, T. (1991). The Mind Map Book. New York: Penguin. Chapter "Mind Mapping Guidelines"
  • Buzan, T. (1991). The Mind Map Book. New York: Penguin
  • Farrand, P.; Hussain, F.; Hennessy, E. (2002). "The efficacy of the mind map study technique". Medical Education 36 (5): 426-431. Retrieved on 2005-05-05.
  • Pressley, M., VanEtten, S., Yokoi, L., Freebern, G., & VanMeter, P. (1998). "The metacognition of college studentship: A grounded theory approach". In: D. J. Hacker, J. Dunlosky, & A. C. Graesser (Eds.), Metacognition in Theory and Practice (pp. 347-367). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum
  • Watson, Katherine, A French Exception: Mind Mapping à la française in the cyberspatial dimension, TCC 2009 Proceedings, PDF