I do a lot of writing for various blogs.  One of the biggest challenges in writing is coming up with topics or subtopics to write.  Sometimes you just run out of ideas.  And aside from doing some brute force brainstorming, what else can you do?  You can always read news about the subject matter you wish to write about and comment on it; you can see what everyone else is talking about and give your opinion; or you can mind map.

What is Mind Mapping

The visual way of mapping ideas has been around since the 3rd century (according to en.wikipedia.org). I learned about it over twenty years ago when I was going through my graduate studies at the Air Force  Institute of Technology or AFIT for short.  It’s primary use is the mapping of ideas starting with one central idea.  From there, other related ideas radially branch out.

You can apply mind mapping in various ways.  Here’s how I’ve used it in recent past:

  • Document Complex Processes:  I used it to document how Apple’s educational volume licensing works.  Believe me, their volume licensing for educational institutions is complex.
  • Non-Linear Outlining:  I created the foundation for an outline of a book I’m writing–I actually finished the outline, and have started to write portions of it in another blog–www.lifeandtechskills.com.
  • Create a Task List:  Sometimes getting a good picture of a challenge can be better visualized using a mind map.  This was the case when I used it to determine the various tasks that would be needed to improve the computer and network security of a K-12 educational organization.
  • Topic Generation.  Creating a list of topic ideas can sometimes be difficult using traditional means.  When I started with an experimental niche site several months ago, I use mind mapping to figure out various writing topics.  It was one way to figure out if I had enough content to write.
  • New Way to Take Notes.  I used it to take notes on a recent webinar I attended.  The good thing about it is that I can update my notes without really worrying about sequence.  Remember, traditional note taking is linear and sequential in nature; get out of order and your notes start to look very messy.

Tools For Mind Mapping

You can always mind map with pencil and paper.  However, there are computer programs to do it.  There are several awesome programs available out there for people to use, and most of them can run on any computing platform–including tablet computers.

  •  FreeMind - a free mind mapping application written in JAVA.  It is licensed under the GNU General Public License.  It has extensive export capabilities and works with Windows, Linux, and Mac OS.  I use this one on my Windows 7 computer at home and at work.  It exceeds my expectatios for a free product.
  • Mindjet for Android (previously known as Thinking Space) – This is a free Android app available via the Android market or Amazon.com.  It works with cloud storage like DropBox, and it compatible with the FreeMind file format.
  • Thinking Space Pro ($4.88) – Paid version of Thinking Space; allows for attachments and sharing of mind maps.  Available on Android devices.
There are many others out there, just do a search.  Make sure to get one that is compatible with the file format of FreeMind.  If you do, you can save your mind map in the cloud (like DropBox) and work on them no matter which computing device you have with you–including your smart phone!

Example Mind Map

This is an example of a mind map I started to build for a section of a writing project.  I was trying to figure out why social networking skill is important in today’s world, and mapping it out really helped me organize ideas that revolved around this topic.

Mind Map Example

Mind Map: Central Topic is Social Networking

For the above example, I used FreeMind.

Conclusion

When you find yourself out of ideas, try mind mapping.  There are some great tools out there to make this easy.  FreeMind is my favorite; it’s free and it more than does the job.

How have you used mind mapping tools?

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