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Mind maps

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The "mind maps" referred to here are of two types: What could be called "true mind maps", of the type described by Tony Buzan that follow a set of guidelines; and the much looser family of hierarchical diagrams very widely referred to as mind maps.

Before talking about these two types, some context about the process of mind mapping: Mind mapping is a graphical way of dividing a topic into component parts, generating and organizing solutions to a problem, or provoking ideas and capturing the results of a discussion. Many mind mappers feel that it has freedom of thought and creativity built in.

Medium-sized project mind map

Mind mapping (as the phrase is commonly used) is less formal than concept mapping. At first sight it looks similar, but is very different in actual use. Mind mapping is more personal. You may make a mind map for many different purposes and two people working on the same topic will often produce very different mind maps.

What a mindmap contains and how it looks will depend on why it is being done, and how the person making it chooses to slice and dice the subject matter. Here are two thumbnails to give an idea of just how different mind maps can be.

These two mind maps were both done by the same person and illustrate the differences in maps for different purposes.
Thinking mind map
The one on the right was used to control the information gathered during a large project, and that on the left was made to think through an issue and come up with some answers.

When the first is seen at a readable magnification, it is hard to work with, it is so large. Still, it is an improvement on working with no mind map at all.

You can break the map into many sub-maps, but this does limit the convenience of the resulting collection of maps.

Buzan mind maps

A Buzan-style mind map

Buzan mind maps are those that largely follow the guidelines laid down by the originator of the term who has made it popular, Tony Buzan.

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.

Common mind maps

This would include true mind maps, of course, but also spidergrams, bubble diagrams and in some cases even tree diagrams. Buzan's guidelines do not allow for boxes or bubbles (unless you interpret rule 8 liberally). But some mappers like to have nodes: Something concrete or tangible that helps when you're organizing information that you have at your fingertips but not on paper yet. It can also help when you're drawing relationships. This can lead to what many people like to call a bubble diagrams.

Any map with a central topic and nodes radiating out from that is very commonly called a mind map. Well over half the references to "mind maps" on the web are of this type. There is one example at the top of this article. Click this selective link to see a wide range of examples of what are commonly called mind maps.

It is useful to separate out concept maps because there are distinct differences of structure and content that make them suitable for different purposes. A clear distinction is therefore made here.

Who uses mind maps?

Mindmapping is used by teams in business, by visual thinkers and, in Europe especially, by students. In the United Kingdom it has a particularly good hold, because Tony Buzan is British and has evangelized its use there. It has a good hold in Asia - Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and, to a lesser extent, Hong Kong.

During 2007-2008 there awareness of the technique increased greatly in the USA, to judge by references on the web. There is now a steady daily stream of news items, new sites and blog posts, and mindmaps themselves are even appearing integrated into web sites and blogs.

The technique is used by project managers to do their initial planning and organize their project information, by writers preparing to blog, by business people preparing reports, and by hobbyists to organize their collected information about their favorite topic.

Related articles


Discussions about the absolute value of different map types should take place discussion tab of the Map wars entry

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