How to Create a Mind Map

Most of us think visually but we write textually. This goes against how our minds actually work. It also makes the information we catalog more difficult to process, remember, and share.

A mind map is the perfect answer to this dilemma. It combines the brain's visual nature with our inclination to write down words. We end up with a diagram that merges logic and order in a less structured manner. This promotes clearer thinking, better comprehension, and easier collaboration.

It's also a lot more enjoyable than simply writing down lists.

Creating a mind map starts with a central idea, and then branches out into related ideas. These can then branch further, providing more detail with each level. Each of these ideas is presented in a box, circle, or other shape. Connecting lines show the relationships between ideas in each branch level. Mind maps can be a valuable tool for group collaboration as they lend coherence to ideas that might otherwise seem unrelated.

So, how do you create a mind map? The most basic method is to just use a pen and paper, or a marker and whiteboard. But mind mapping software offers many more advantages.

For example, SmartDraw includes these mind mapping capabilities:

  • Easy-to-use templates with automated diagramming features.
  • Customizable formats let you add color, images, hyperlinks, etc.
  • Automatic formatting for quick, easy editing.
  • Sharing capabilities for team collaboration.
  • Full integration with Microsoft Office® programs.
Mind Map Video

Getting Started

A mind map begins with a central topic or idea, then flows outward. Think of it as a tree, where the central point is the trunk. The next level of topics is represented by limbs, with branches and twigs extending from them.

Unlike other diagram types, such as flowcharts and org charts, there aren't really any rules for creating mind maps. While most flow outwardly from the central topic, some users prefer to build mind maps in one direction.

Others like to add colors, pictures, or symbols in their mind maps. This can make groups of ideas easier to identify and remember. It also makes a mind map more enjoyable to create and use.

Why Mind Maps Work So Well

Mind maps are extremely effective for taking notes, planning a project, brainstorming an idea, presenting information to others, and many other uses. Why is this? Here are a few reasons:

  • They improve our capacity to see the bigger picture.
  • They help us save time by focusing on key issues.
  • They improve our ability to retain and recall information through patterns and associations.
  • They help to clarify thinking.
  • They provide concise, visual information maps that are well-suited for presentations and reports.

How to Create Mind Maps with SmartDraw

When we are presented with a task our brain's natural response is to immediately begin conceptualizing a number of different approaches towards completing the task. Our mind doesn't develop a plan all at once-instead it adds new information and new tasks to the picture as the mind digests the problem over time.

A mind map intuitively illustrates this process before your eyes.

A mind map begins with a central idea, usually the problem or task at hand, and makes room to insert any number of tasks and pieces of information needed to solve the problem. It's brainstorming, with visuals.

Mind Maps can be used for organizing ideas, planning projects, breaking down decision making processes and just about anything else. And there is no better or easier way to create a mind map than by using SmartDraw.

Mind Map Example

Getting Started

To make a mind map in SmartDraw, start by selecting the mind map template by clicking its icon on the home panel.

Mind Map Templates

Add Topics Using the SmartPanel

SmartDraw's mind map template will always have the main topic already in place. You can add additional topics by pressing the Add Right button in the SmartPanel located to the left of your work area. This SmartPanel is specifically designed to help you build mind maps.

Pressing the button again adds another topic and so on, automatically arranging them on the page. Note that the lines connecting topics are added automatically and the shapes are evenly spaced and perfectly aligned.

Mind map topic

Add Text and Shapes Using the Keyboard

You can add text by selecting a shape and simply typing.

Add mind map text

Just like filling in a form, you can use the tab or arrow key on the keyboard to navigate from shape to shape and enter text.

You can also use the keyboard to add shapes. Hold down the [CTRL] key and hit the left arrow key to add a shape to the left or hold down the [CTRL] key and hit the up or down arrow key to add a shape above or below the one you have selected. In fact, you can add all the shapes to your mind map without taking your hands off the keyboard.

You can navigate from shape to shape using the [TAB] or [ARROW] keys.

Automated mind map

Rearrange Shapes

To remove a shape select it and hit the delete key - just like you'd remove text in a word processor. Removing the shape makes your mind map reflow - just like deleting in a word processor causes your text to reflow.

You can also insert a new topic and the mind map will automatically reformat to accommodate the new shape.

Use the mouse to move shapes around and SmartDraw will adjust your mind map automatically. To move a shape, select it and without letting go of the mouse move it to any location you desire. As you move your shape, you'll notice SmartDraw's automatic connectors will attempt to grab it. SmartDraw shows you a dashed outline of where your shape will be if you let go of your mouse. To drop a shape into place, simply let go of your mouse.

That's how a visual processor works. No more lining shapes up manually and hooking them up with lines manually.

Floor plan kitchen cabinets

If you want to keep a larger mind map more manageable, you can use the small minus key on any topic that has subtopics to temporarily hide those subtopics. To show the hidden subtopics, just click on the plus icon to reveal them.

Expand topics

Convert Your Mind Map into a Project Chart or Timeline

You can use a mind map to brainstorm tasks for a project and when you're ready to convert it into a project chart, SmartDraw makes it easy. You can simply choose "View as Project (Gantt) Chart" from the SmartPanel and your mind map will be converted into a project chart with all of the topics arranged hierarchically into a list with a start date, end date, and duration. Once your mind map has been converted to a project chart, you can specify task duration, add dependencies or milestones, and specify a resource responsible for completing each task.

You can then take this Project Chart and convert it to a timeline to see major milestones even more easily.

Convert mind map to project chart

In a few clicks, you can go from a freshly brainstormed mind map to a detailed project chart and then a timeline overview.

You can manage the entire project in this one document and easily switch back and forth to the different views using the tabs at the bottom of your work area.

Convert mind map to timeline

Changing the Style of Your Mind Map

SmartDraw automatically applies professional design themes for you, but also gives you complete control to customize your mind map in any way you want.

Change the entire look of your mind map by applying a new design theme with just one click.

Mind Map Theme

Or change the look of individual shapes instantly by selecting a new Quick Style. Choose from more than 40 preset looks.

Mind Map Style

Share Your Mind Map with Others

If you want to share your mind map with others, you can do so with a single click. You can send any SmartDraw visual to PowerPoint®, Word®, Excel®, or Outlook®.

Share mind map

Keyboard Shortcuts

Create your entire chart without taking your hands off the keyboard with quick and easy keyboard controls.

To add a shape to a mind map, simply hold down the [Ctrl] key and use the up, down, left or right arrow key.

To add a new peer shape alongside a selected shape hit the [Enter] key and to add a subordinate shape use [Shift] + [Enter].

Here are some other keyboard shortcuts you may find useful:

When you need to communicate an idea visually, do so with a mind map and use SmartDraw to work smarter and with better results, every time.

Share mind map