A Postgraduate Survival Guide to Mind Mapping

Monja Stahlberger
MPhil Candidate, IMLR

First things first: I cannot draw, and I am not artistically gifted. However, since my early school years, I have loved mind maps, flow charts, and colourful graphs. 

Reading through the Learning Types, I definitely recognise most of my learning strategies in the visual type. While I predominantly use visual methods, I sometimes benefit from the other types complementing them. Let me give you a short insight into how I study using mind maps.

To be honest, sometimes I can be a bit of a grandma with technology and I prefer paper over digital applications. I have a ridiculous number of subject notebooks. I think they are really useful for individual projects. For my BA and MA dissertations, each chapter of my dissertation had its own section. The first page was always a mind-map for brainstorming ideas and concepts related to the topic. For my PhD project, I have one for each chapter and the sections correspond to themes, theories and texts I am planning on using – and a million different mind maps.

Bildschirmfoto 2021-02-22 um 17.28.02
This is a mind map on a key aspect of my project

One thing that really changed my life is mindmeister. There are probably hundreds of websites out there where you can create mind maps but I personally really like this one. The advantage of having an interactive mind map is that I can change things or swap them around and I can even include links to relevant websites. This is especially useful when I read key texts as I always use the same template.

Template for reading saved on my Mindmeister account

I always look out for four main categories when first reading a text: 1) Gaps in their research my project might fill, 2) Key themes 3) Methodology and theories applied in the text, and 4) Useful examples and quotes. I have found this to be incredibly helpful when writing my MA dissertation. When libraries were closed and I struggled accessing some texts I studied ages ago, I was still able to refer back to them and even quote properly.

Using mind maps can often seem confusing and disorganised. But they are actually a very effective tool once you have developed your own conventions for structuring them. Here are some suggestions that help me:

  • For handwritten mind maps, I try to identify key words. On another page, I have a little “topic dictionary” where I go into more detail about the key word. This helps to keep the mind map itself as simple as possible

  • For big projects I usually have a collage mind map with blue tack on the individual cards. This allows me to move concepts and key terms around and restructure more easily.

  • Be it online or handwritten, I use different colours to separate different ideas! This makes the mind map seem more organised and can help you spot things more easily later on. 

  • Pictures and symbols can help as well. I printed out a few pictures that I stick on my mind maps like a book and newspaper for types of reading and a key symbol for key theories or arguments. 

  • Make cross-links. Often different parts of a mind map relate to each other. Rather than drawing lines use symbols like stars, flowers or hearts in different colours to link them with one another.

Mind mapping may seem like a very chaotic way of structuring your notes. But at the start of a project it is a good way to think about all the different aspects of a topic. To cover a German stereotype: To be most efficient, I started skim reading texts and taking notes in a mind map. After doing that I always had a better idea of which texts would be useful and worth reading in more detail. I then take notes using the Cornell Method. But creating a mind map is always my first step.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: