How to Mindmap; and why it will improve your literature review

mind map for literature review
Mind Mapping is a great technique that will really help you to organise all your research ideas and themes when you’re putting together your literature review. I use it as a note taking technique when searching for articles. It’s great for grouping similar articles together so that I can easy find them and cite them when I come to fully write up the literature review.

What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is similar to a spider diagram. You begin with a central theme and draw lines moving away from this central idea to link it to other sub-themes. Each sub-theme can then be linked to an indefinite number of smaller themes.

Mind maps are slightly different though. Instead of writing in a bubble at the end of a line as with spider diagrams, you write each theme on the actual line of the mind map. This is to help save space and it makes them easier to read, and to link ideas in you mind. Also, each word must be roughly as long as the line on which it is written. By doing this you make sure that all of the words are quite close together which again, makes it easier to make links between them in you mind. Always draw a mind map on a landscape piece of paper, A4 or larger.

How this will improve your literature review

The mind map is a place to dump all of your ideas and organise them at the same time. At a glance you can see the entire literature review unfold in front of you. Because you are only using one sheet of paper for your entire plan, it is very easy to put everything into context. It is also easy to see where most of your information lies and if you need to do more research in a particular area.

Supercharge your mind map

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your mind map;

1 use a lot of colour

It is important that your mind map is aesthetically pleasing and mentally stimulating. By using colour, you are doing something that you wouldn’t normally do when planning a writing project and this alone can help you come up with ideas.

2 Use pictures

A picture is worth a thousand words right? Well it’s true, and the less written words you use on your mindmap and the more symbols the better. It makes it much easier to remember the plan and to express your ideas in a concise way. As with using colour, it is much more mentally stimulating and it will help you be more creative with your ideas and your writing.

3 Can’t think what to write? Draw some extra branches

This is an amazing trick for writers block. If you can’t think of what to add to your mind map but you know you need to add more, just draw some extra branches, with no writing on them. Your brain HATES to see this and will work over time to try and fill in the blanks.

Electronic vs Hand drawn

I use both, although I am moving more and more towards using only electronic versions thanks to the discovery of the iMindmap software.

Arguably, with a hand drawn mind map you can be more creative and if you enjoy writing by hand, then this method is great. Also, I think drawing by hand is a very good way to stimulate your brain to come up with ideas because of the novelty of actually drawing.

The problem is, it is very difficult to do a good hand drawn mind map the first time round. Chances are that as ideas develop, you’ll find the distribution of the mind map isn’t quite right and you’ll have to start again. This is fine, and it’s a normal and important part of the process, but it can be time consuming.

With digital mind maps re-arranging is much easier. However, the trade off for me has always been that mind maps on a computer are very rigid, and it’s hard to be creative with them. However, this is not the case with iMindMap which is the best mind mapping software I’ve used. The free version functions like most other mind mapping tools, but with all of the different paid versions, you can draw the branches of the mind map by hand, allowing you to be creative as you like. You can also add your own hand drawn diagrams, or choose from a huge library of clip art images.

I’m a big fan of the iMindMap software and there’s a chance to win a copy with a competition on this site.

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