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Mind Mapping for Productive Research and Writing

If your daily work involves a substantial amount of writing or research, you know the frustration that sometimes comes from trying to manage information for multiple projects. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing business plans, company reports, articles for clients, or doing academic research. Coming up with an effective way to manage multiple document files and research notes can make a difference in your work productivity.

One of the most ideal ways to manage research notes and multiple forms of writing is mind mapping. A digital mind map is like a blank canvas that gives you multiple benefits.

Benefits of Using Mind Maps for Research and Writing

  1. You can see high- and low-level views of document details.
  2. Easily organize and reorganize the information hierarchy in whatever way is optimum for a given document.
  3. If you work as part of a remote team, you have the choice between web-based mind mapping applications or new shared workspace features that complement desktop mind mapping tools.
  4. Most digital mind maps, regardless of the originating application, integrate well with files on your desktop and the default applications tied to their file types. You can associate each node of a mind map to a document file. Double-clicking your mouse on a linked node activates the desktop application associated with that file type.

To summarize the benefits, a mind map gives you powerful control over multiple document from a single place. E.g., a master map, which will give you a high level view of all your research and writing projects and files. You can then link a map node to either a document file or even to another mind map that contains even more details about that project. If you link nodes to document files, you can then quickly open those files in the associated text editor, word processor or web browser. Ditto for image file links. (Note that some high end mind mapping tools have native editors, word processors, spreadsheets and browsers embedded in the interface.)

How to Use Mind Mapping for Research and Writing

Storing Research Data
When you use a mind map to store information, notes, hyperlinks, images, spreadsheets or whatever else, you have a  lot of leeway in how you store your data. The simplest way is to either type, copy/ paste, or drag and drop your information into a sequence of mind map nodes. When you start to see hierarchies, you can rearrange the map nodes however you want.

When it comes to writing documents using mind mapping, you have a number of options:

  1. Brainstorm. You can brainstorm semi-randomly, recording what you already know, building a list of related topics, and cataloging (research, links) what other people have written about similar topics, as well as relevant images. Then start asking questions. If you’re writing articles, you might ask yourself what others have not said. What can you add to the collective conversation about that topic? Continue to collect notes, links, and whatever information you need to form your article.  On the other hand, if you’re writing business or academic documents, it’s likely that you need to follow some document structure.
  2. Structured writing. Start by listing off the sections your document needs, depending on the structure you need to follow. This gives you a basic outline and is actually a powerful way to help you visualize completing complex writing projects. For example, you might have the following sections in your mind map:
    1. purpose
    2. assumptions
    3. tools
    4. processes
    5. notes
    6. intro
    7. body
    8. summary
    9. references

    Now flesh out the sections in layers, adding details as you go, including point form notes, examples, theory, interpretation, or whatever you need for the type of document you’re writing.


Don’t overthink. It’s possible to overplan when using a mind map. Take notes in the form of your map, then start writing. Either use your mind map’s native text editor/ word processor, or a third party application.

Don’t obsess about the writing. Do your best to edit, check typos and grammar after you have a rough draft.

Let it flow. When you use a mind map to record research notes or to write an article or document, you give yourself an unstructured canvas that can be intimidating. If you get stuck, try collapsing portions of your mind map to look at the big picture (high-level view), not the details. Maybe the flow of your document or article’s sections is not quite right, but you will not notice if you’re only looking at the details.  Let your mind map nodes flow and develop naturally. You can always alter hierarchy after you’ve noted everything you feel is necessary. Your final document does not need to include everything that you have in your mind map. The map is only a guideline towards your completed writing.

As an example, take a look at the PDF file via the Scribd window below. It’s a PDF of my final mind map for the article you’re reading. You can see the structure I’ve applied, though it looks extremely different than what I started out with.

Mind Mapping for Productive Research and Writing

Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Tutorial research writing

Final Thoughts
Mind mapping can be used for any type of research and writing, and gives you a greater degree of control over large quantities of information. A master mind map can be the glue that helps you manage a large set of research notes and document files.

One Comment

  1. David Powelstock Says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. As an academic writer, pretty new to mindmapping, I'm trying hard to find examples of how others use this tool for research and writing. Unfortunately (but understandably), most of the examples and sample maps on the software makers' commercial sites are aimed at business users (project management, etc.). It was nice to come across your blog post. BTW, is it possible to get a pdf or scribd or mmap of your "My Mindmapping Best Practices Notes" that you've used as a graphic? I'd be interested to see your ideas in this regard. Cheers, David

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