Mind mapping for essays

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Whereas note-taking from a book or lecture involves taking the essential elements from linear material to generate a Mind Map, note-making for an essay means first identifying the essential elements of the subject in a Mind Map and then using your Mind Map notes to build a linear structure. • As always, you should begin your Mind Map with a central image representing the subject of your essay.

• You can then select appropriate Basic Ordering Ideas, as described in Chapter 9 (pages 83-89) and Chapter 13 (page 133-8), as your major branches or principal sub-divisions. At this stage you should pay close attention to what the topic or question is asking you to do. The wording of essay topics usually suggests what the BOIs need to be.

• Let your mind range freely, adding items of information, or points you wish to make, wherever they seem most relevant on your Mind Map. There is no limit to the number of branches and sub-branches that can radiate outwards from your Basic Ordering Ideas. During this Mind Mapping stage you should use codes (colours, symbols, or both) to indicate cross-reference or association between different areas.

• Next, edit and re-order your Mind Map into a cohesive whole.

• Now sit down and write the first draft of your essay, using the Mind Map as a framework. A well-organised Mind Map should provide you with all the main sub-divisions of your essay, the key points to be mentioned in each, and the way those points relate to each other. At this stage you should write as quickly as possible, skipping over any areas that cause you special difficulty, especially particular words or grammatical structures. In this way you will create a much greater flow, and you can always return to the 'problem areas' later, much as you would when studying a book.

• If you come up against 'writer's block', doing another Mind Map will help you overcome it. In many cases just drawing the central image will get your mind going again, playing and freewheeling round the topic of your essay. If you get blocked once more, simply add new lines branching off from the key words and images you have so far generated, and your brain's natural gestalt or 'completing tendency' will fill in the blank spaces with new words and images. At the same time you should remind yourself of your brain's infinite capacity for association and allow all your thoughts to flow, especially the ones you may have been dismissing as 'absurd'. Such blocks will disappear as soon as you realise that they are actually created not by your brain's inability but by an underlying fear of failure and a misunderstanding of the way the brain works.

• Finally, review your Mind Map and put the finishing touches to your essay, adding cross-references, supporting your argument with more evidence or quotations, and modifying or expanding your conclusions where necessary. It is worth mentioning that the Mind Maps we are discussing are meant to replace the voluminous linear notes that most students write before actually writing their essays. The Mind Map method uses a single Mind Map and a quick first draft in place of the standard twenty pages of notes and two or three drafts. It is worth saying here that a word-processor is an excellent complement to a Mind Map in that it allows increased flexibility of drafting. Similarly, the Mind Maps Plus computer program (see page 310) is a superb essay-writing companion.

School or university students, who take exams regularly, will find it very useful to write every essay to a strict time limit, as if it were an examination question. This approach is especially rewarding in highly competitive academic situations, where your brain needs constant training to excel under pressure-cooker examination conditions (see the Edward Hughes story in Tony Buzan, Use Your Head, Chapter 1, pages 11-14).

Three of the Mind Maps on pages 214-15 are by Swedish school children, Karen Shmidt, Katarina Naiman and Thomas Enskog, and were done for essays on sports, Sweden, and computers, respectively. As Katarina said when doing her Mind Map:

cThe more I wrote and drew, the more things came to my mind - the more ideas I got, the more brave and original they were. I have realised that a Mind Map is never ending.

'Only some other person I respect, a stomach aching of hunger, or real thirst could make me stop building my Mind Maps!'

These Mind Maps, two in Swedish, further indicate the universality of the Mind Map language.

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