Paper writing is tough. The pre-writing process, where thoughts are gathered and organized, can be the hardest part.
In this post, I share my best tip for how to launch the paper writing process: using mind-maps to organize your thoughts and brainstorm.
When Paper Structure matters, Start with a Mind Map
For visual thinkers, mind mapping can be a way to draft a good paper without having to do any typing!
If you frequently find yourself hours into the process of writing and realizing your paper has no structure or key points, this tip is for you. A pre-writing exercise making a mind map could shave hours of writing off your next paper.
Why I love mind maps.
Typically my pre-paper mindmaps are done in pencil and are an absolute mess. The mind map below is an exception. It’s an example of how this system can work for me on in two ways: 1. getting a paper drafted and 2. practicing self-care through art time.
I like that mind maps allow me to combine both productivity and a need to slow down. With a mind map, I can create something with care. I can sit down and let my mind wander around my topic as I color my mind map. Often this space and permission to let my mind wander add insight to my final paper.
Mind maps allow us to combine productivity with a need to slow down process the information we’re learning. 1
When I use mind mapping for paper pre-writing
I use mind-map brainstorming when I need to integrate information that doesn’t necessarily mesh well.
For example, a paper prompt that asked me to explore how standard medicine and indigenous therapies intersect and diverge was perfect for mind mapping. Mind maps also help me organize my thoughts for case studies, for which I need to brainstorm diagnosis and treatment plans before writing my paper.
Mindmapping helps identify themes and commonalities in a way that a typical paper draft doesn’t. As you draw connections between ideas and concepts, the structure of your paper takes form. The mind map begins to inform your main points, and how you’ll discuss ideas.
Mindmapping Organizes through Lines & Colors
In the pre-paper mind map shown above, a case study on an imagined client named Brendan, there is a color syctem. The items in blue are aspects the instructor asked students to address. I start by taking these aspects from the assignment or rubric and spacing them around my page. In this case, my main headers are: “What is the behavior communicating,” “What is Brendan’s attachment style?” “Presenting Problems,” “Areas of Development,” “Areas of Counter Transference that could cause problems,” “Cognitive Aspects” and, “Treatment Plan.”
Once the rubric is converted into sections of a page, I begin to fill in the mind map with details from the text of the case study.
If I was mapping a research paper I might map ideas, theories, and evidence that are relevant to my research topic. I could even include direct citations. If I was mind mapping for a paper on a piece of literature, I might include quotes and page numbers along with my thoughts. (On this mind map, the small numbers next to a box indicate what page of the case study the data is taken from)
Using Mind Maps to Outline a Paper when an Instructor’s Assignment is Vague
Often a teacher’s prompts are so clear you can use the instructions as your paper’s outline, but sometimes a teacher’s assignments can be very vague.
Mind maps help me figure out what I think about a topic. As I begin to plot my thoughts on a page, I look for clues:
Lots of bubbles around one idea or lots of lines connecting back to one point identify what should be my thesis and main points.
Below is an example of a mind map for a paper. For this paper, I felt at a loss for how to start: a research paper about “who or what God is and how he or she relates to humans”.
Mind Mapping is helpful on doodle notes taken during class as well- especially if you are a visual thinker. As an instructor explains headings and subheadings, try giving yourself space to draw connections between the ideas.
🎨 Use color in mind maps as a way to show levels of importance. For example, the difference between main points and sub points.
Free Association and Mind Mapping
When you free associate, you allow your mind to wander and come up with creative ideas for your paper. This brainstorming technique which captures thoughts in a mind map can help you discover new ideas or perspectives on a topic.
To free associate, simply sit down with a pen and paper, and start jotting down anything that comes to mind related to your topic. Don’t worry about editing or organized thoughts at this stage- or even stay on the lines of your ruled paper. Just let your mind flow and ideas fill the page. After a few minutes of brainstorming, you may be surprised at the new and interesting ideas you’ve come up with for your paper. Connecting these ideas with circles and lines can help identify your paper’s outline.
- Nurlaila, A. P. (2013). The use of mind mapping technique in writing descriptive text. Journal of English and Education, 1(2), 9-15.