Buzan's mind map guidelines in practical use

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Here is a consolidated list of the guidelines that Buzan has published from time to time for making a Buzan-style mind map:

  1. Start in the center of a landscape sheet of blank paper.
  2. Use a picture for your central idea.
  3. Use colors throughout.
  4. Connect your main branches to the central image and connect your second-level branches to the first and so on.
  5. Make your branches curved rather than straight-lined, the central lines being thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate from the center.
  6. Use one keyword per line.
  7. Use images throughout.
  8. Develop your own personal style of mind maps.
  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mindmap.
  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radiant hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.

There’s much more to the Buzan guidelines than just following the list, as discussed in this WikIT article.


There are many examples of mind maps that strictly interpret Buzan’s model of a central topic, colors, curved and ‘organic’ lines, and single words per node on the Web. You may click on in this link to see a selection of Buzan-style mind maps.

Below is a discussion on how using these rules will affect your mind maps, their effectiveness and the process to make mind maps.

“Start in the center of a landscape sheet of blank paper”[edit]
MindManager and Xmind (right) layout options

Most mind mappers follow this rule, but it is not inviolable. Several mind mapping software packages allow different conventions for laying out, as the controls from two examples, MindManager and XMIND, on the right show.

Some do not even offer a radiant format as an option: Comapping, and its derivative MeadMAP, offer left-to-right tree diagrams only. They report[1] that users found left to right organization of topics more natural.

This is a matter of personal preference, but the overwhelming number of mind maps found on the web are organized with the main topic in the center. This may be down to Buzan’s rules, and the many who echo them on the web, or it may result from the freedom that this layout gives to spread your ideas and thoughts out in any direction.

“Use a picture for your central idea”[edit]

A picture can express the main topic of the mind map immediately and is claimed to spark new ideas more easily. Nevertheless you will see few mind maps that do not have the central topic expressed in words as well.

“Use colors throughout”[edit]

Colors can help with separation of sections of the graph, but for a quick brainstorming or creativity sessions on paper, too much concern with form can slow you down greatly. And changes in your thinking as the map progresses can set your progress back if you have already committed branches to colors.

So, to nuance this guideline:

  • If you’re working on paper, think about what you want out of the mind map:
  • Something attractive to share with others?
  • something to help you remember the material covered in the map?
  • something to keep for future reference?
  • a colorful result, because that’s your personal preference?
Using colors throughout in above cases will be worthwhile.
  • a receptacle for a flood of ideas, where getting them on paper is important and doing so is bringing on more ideas?
  • this is a draft that you know for sure you will have to re-work?
  • your map is going to be printed on a black and white printer or photocopied and distributed?
  • you need to show someone that you understand a subject? (consider a concept map as an alternative)
Using colors throughout in above cases may get in the way, and is often of little value.
  • If you’re working on a computer, think about the audience for the mind map:
  • Something attractive to share with others? Use color.
  • Something authoritative to be shared with others? A project outline, for example. Use color sparingly.
  • Something for yourself to think about? Again, if the ideas are tumbling out, stick to one color and enhance it with color later if you feel so inclined. Re-working it with color may well bring out new ideas, not because of the color but because you are forced to think again about the structure of the map.
Changing the colors of branches is easy with most mind mapping software. Most can do it for you automatically if that’s what you want, so effort and speed need not be an important part of your decision.
“Connect your main branches to the central image and branch out from that”[edit]

In full: “Connect your main branches to the central image and connect your second-level branches to the first and so on.”

This rule is what ensures that a mind map remains a variation of a tree diagram. It is one of the elements that distinguishes mindmaps from concept maps.

“Make your branches curved, organic and flowing, tapering outward”[edit]

This emphasizes the structure. It shows what is nearer the central topic and what is further away from it. As with ‘using colors throughout’, whether you follow this guideline will be a matter of taste and available time.

“Use one keyword per line”[edit]

This is perhaps the most discussed and the most polarizing of Buzan’s guidelines and is dealt with in more than one article. What you are mapping, why you are mapping, both affect critically whether this guideline should be followed.

  • The great benefits of bypassing the guideline in very different circumstances are given in a mind map summarizing the more useful commands for editing Wikipedia. At the third level and beyond, substantial editing guidelines are given. Breaking these into single words would do nothing for those trying to use the instructions. You’ll need to view it in the MindJet Player to open the branches and see these so the small extract on the right illustrates the point.

    Another example is the mind map of this business analysis method.

Long after I wrote the above, John England added this to a discussion about the guidelines that was in progress on LinkedIn: “I had this discussion with Tony (Buzan that is) many years ago. The use of single or multiple words is really dependant on the use of the map:

  • If you are using it to be creative the one word policy is clearly the best as it keeps your options open for subsequent branches.
  • If you are using the map to communicate a concept the single words become confusing i.e. in those circumstances short “key” phrases are acceptable.

However this does not mean that whole essays can be put on a branch … that is what the Notes section is for.”

Well, maybe. Certainly it’s usually better to have long paragraphs off the visible page and accessible in Notes when the node is selected. But I can’t help noticing how deeply committed to mind maps medical students and qualified doctors are, and typically, they seem to want all the information in front of them. Some of their maps, which you’ll find in the WikIT entry just linked to, make the example earlier in this paragraph look distinctly cryptic. My guess is that they refer to printed maps, and then, Notes will not be visible.

“Use images throughout”[edit]

For self-motivation, to motivate others with truly powerful graphics (see Attractive mindmaps), or to catch the attention of students, especially young ones, extensive use of pictures can be useful. We may not always read the wording, and you can also use images to remind yourself of topics that need to be thought about or researched more.

But these are not always the circumstances in which we use mind maps. In a business setting, pictures, unless chosen with a good sense of design, or made with skill, can give a childish appearance that risks turning other people off the whole idea if they are not mind mappers themselves.

While simple icons or images used on a map can help readers find their way around rapidly, if you will be sharing the map with business associates, consider whether the images supplied with mind mapping software are up to the task. Ready made clip art is often good but not always.

Of course, if you are a talented artist, and inspirational as well, none of the concerns about a business environment apply – as the work by Nancy Margulies shown on the right amply demonstrates. There is more about this style of mapping in the article on mindscapes.

“Develop your own personal style of mind maps”[edit]

This gives a great deal of freedom in interpreting the other rules. It can be fun to look at other mappers’ styles and try to imitate them while you work out the style that is best for you.

Often your choice of style will relate not only to your personal inclination, but to your purpose in making the map and the future use to which you will put it.

“Use emphasis and show associations in your mindmap”[edit]

In a sense, having lines flowing from the central topic outward to more remote ones, is all about showing associations. This Buzan guideline is about showing associations outside the strict tree-like hierarchy, often is dotted or different colored lines.

If used extensively, mind maps can disappear in a fog of curved lines. And if you find you are using them a lot, then consider whether concept mapping software is more suited to your purpose.

“Use ‘radiant’ hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches”[edit]

In full: “Keep the mind map clear by using radiant hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.”

From time to time, outlines are used in both Buzan mind maps and common mind maps, to group items in a branch strongly together. An example is shown on the right.

The use of the word “outlines” is perhaps confusing in this context. It refers to the colored areas that enclose several branches with a common root, and is distinct from lists indented (and sometimes numbered) to show structure often also referred to as “outlines”.

There’s also an article titled Concept maps or mind maps? the choice, that looks at how the above guidelines may influence the type of information map you choose.

External Links[edit]

Adam Sicinski’s article, How to mind map a beginners guide expands usefully on Buzan’s guidelines, as well as other aspects of mind mapping.


  1. Left-to-right mind maps claimed easier (see the first item under the heading “Layout”)
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