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Mind Mapping™

Mind Maps (or concepts maps) can be used to help frame a research question, plan an essay or a literature search, or take notes in a meeting. The maps are a way of representing information in a visual format that is similar to the way the brain itself maps concepts; i.e. in a non-linear, interconnected view. Mind Maps make use of colour, images and symbols to help stimulate the brain’s recall.

One way to implement a Mind Map in your research process is to use the map to state what you already know about a particular topic. The map can then help you identify the gaps in your knowledge. You can also use Mind Maps to plan a literature search – using images as well as search terms could help stimulate other alternative terms or synonyms. If you annotate the Mind Map as your search progresses you will be able to see how you achieved your end result. Details on this application of Mind Maps can be found in Sheila Webber’s paper ‘Mapping a path to the empowered searcher’.

The leading authority on mind maps is Tony Buzan. You may want to read his book, Use Your Head (1989), for further details of how Mind Maps can be used in a variety of situations. Buzan suggests the following basic rules for creating Mind Maps.

  1. Start with a coloured image in the centre of your sheet of paper.
  2. Use plenty of images throughout your Mind Map.
  3. Words should be printed in capital letters.
  4. Printed words should be on lines and each line should be connected to other lines. This will give structure to your Mind Map.
  5. Words should be printed one word per line.
  6. Use colours as they help memory recall and stimulate creativity.
  7. Be as spontaneous as possible. Don’t pause or think about it, just explode on to the paper.

The list above is also available as a print out, ‘Summary of creative thinking techniques’.

There are various versions of Mind Mapping software available, including FreeMind, which can be downloaded free of charge from (last accessed 7 July 2005).

Mind Mapping example

This Mind Map was produced using the FreeMind software. It illustrates what is possible. As you can see, some of the Mind Mapping rules have been applied, but not all. For example, we have more than one word to a line. However, we have tried to use colour and images to help stimulate recall.

Try the following activity. It uses Mind Mapping to formulate a strategy for a literature search.


Use either a search topic relevant to your own research or the search topic suggested below.

You want to find information on the effects of food additives on human health.

Develop a Mind Map to formulate your search strategy. Start by writing the question in the middle of the page. Then use the branches of the Mind Map as a means of exploring the different concepts you will need to use as part of your search.

When you have completed your Mind Map, have a look at this example of a search strategy for the topic we suggested.

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