Gillian Burn was first introduced to Mind Mapping over 20 years ago while learning to be a midwife. “A very astute tutor introduced me to the concepts of Mind Mapping and I continued to create Mind Maps of my whole midwifery course. Once in my exam, I found I was able to ‘see’ my Mind Maps in my minds eye to answer the exam questions – they help even when delivering babies!”

The History of Mind Mapping®

Mind Mapping was first described to me as a process that would help revolutionise how I take notes, how I think, how I work and how I organise information. The concept originated in the 70s by Tony Buzan and has since developed as a powerful graphical technique, which is used by individuals worldwide in schools, universities and businesses.

As a seven-year-old Tony Buzan was puzzled by the differences in ability of his class-mates and after many years of research, questioning and exploring, he developed Mind Mapping, which was produced as a television series and book, ‘Use Your Head’, with the BBC in 1974. His work has since been published in over 100 countries and 30 languages in his quest of helping millions of people to use their brain more effectively to help improve memory, reading skills and become a genius in their own way.

In the year 2000, Tony Buzan described the start of the new century as the ‘Millennium of the Mind’ and the ‘Century of the Brain’ and he is now a world authority on the brain, memory, creativity and speed-reading. I hope this article will entice you to try your first Mind Map as I did 20 years ago.

What is a Mind Map?

A Mind Map is similar to a road map to help you on your journey. It will provide an overview or overall picture of a particular subject and help you plan your route or choices. The Mind Map stores large amounts of information efficiently, but the exciting part for me was discovering that the final Mind Map is not only easy to read and look at, but also uses the potential of the brain in a very exciting way. It helps develop new brain skills, which are often overlooked by traditional teaching methods.

How the brain links in with Mind Mapping

One of the main reasons why Mind Mapping is so effective is how it enhances the skills within our brain.

The brain has been the subject of research for many years, however it is only in the last 15 or so years that most of the exciting developments in brain research have been studied. The brain has been described as being ‘more powerful than the most powerful computer’, however, it is now estimated that we only use about 1% of the potential of the brain in our everyday activities. Within the millions of nerve cells in the brain we have infinite potential waiting to be used and – contrary to popular belief – we can increase our skills with age as we create thousands of new nerve cells in our brain every day.

Mind Mapping uses the whole brain to help generate ideas. The cerebral cortex (cerebrum) of our brain, or ‘thinking cap’ as it is sometimes called, consists of a left and right side. The left side of the brain mainly focuses on words, logic, lists, analysis and numbers, whereas the right side of our brain focuses on such areas as rhythm, imagination, colour, images, dimension and day dreaming.

The brain functions by connecting between right and left brain, linking and associating, which is where Mind Mapping becomes so exciting. By using colour, images and key words within a Mind Map,we are in effect using both sides of the brain to enhance our learning, creativity and clarify our thinking.

How to Mind Map

To create your first Mind Map you will need a large white plain sheet of paper and some coloured pens.

A Mind Map uses four key characteristics:

  1. Central image for the subject.
  2. Main themes radiate from the central image.
  3. Branches hold the key word/image.
  4. Smaller branches form a connected structure.

Ideas for getting started

Once you have tried your first Mind Map, take another subject or even prepare a Mind Map about yourself, your hobbies, interests, where you live, what key things you did last year etc. Practising as much as possible will help you become more familiar with the Mind Mapping process.

Use of Mind Mapping

The following list highlights just some of the uses of Mind Maps:

  • taking notes in meetings;
  • generating ideas and thinking creatively;
  • planning projects, organising processes, tracking progress;
  • preparing a presentation or essay/report;
  • learning/studying – note taking, review, recall and exam preparation;
  • decision making – prioritising, clarification e.g. solving problems;
  • preparing key documentation for reports or projects.

I personally use Mind Maps to prepare presentations, run training courses, write documents, prepare reports and learn new material.

Computer software

There are now several computer software packages available, which can assist you in creating Mind Maps. The main ones being Mind Manager, Mind Genius and ConceptDraw MindMap (for Mac users). It must be emphasised that the beauty of a Mind Map is its individuality and uniqueness. Hand drawing provides a wonderful way of using your own muscles which helps in the learning and memory process, as the information is in effect brought into your own muscle. The computer packages take that effect away, but are nevertheless extremely beneficial when information needs to be presented professionally within the business world, or if you want the opportunity to explore lots of ideas quickly yet in an organised and creative way. I personally use the Mind Manager software (Mind Manager 2002 -Standard, Business, Enterprise or palm edition), which I have used for many years. You can download a free demonstration version from and try the different versions and options available.

Recommended books

There are many books about Mind Mapping. Some of my personal recommendations include:

Brain Power for Kids by Lana Israel and Tony Buzan – a great first book explaining the key principles about Mind Mapping and how to apply it to reports, essays and exams to make schoolwork easier. Lana was a 13-year old school girl who used Mind Maps to become a Rhodes scholar.

Get Ahead by Vanda North and Tony Buzan – colourful, practical, easy and inviting, especially for children (ISBN 1 874 374 007).

The Mind Map Book by Tony and Barry Buzan – a comprehensive guide to Mind Maps (ISBN 056 348 7011).

Use Your Head by Tony Buzan – a book which explains how the brain functions and helps you ‘learn how to learn’ (ISBN 0 563 53729 9).

Where next?

Twenty years on, I still have my original Mind Maps and continue to Mind Map every day. I now have exams looming and will be using revision Mind Maps to help in the next exam challenge, hopefully, my mind maps will be as helpful as ever!

Mind Mapping

So here is the step-by-step guide to creating your first Mind Map:

  • Take a BLANK piece of paper and start by turning your paper sideways on – landscape. This allows much greater freedom for the brain.
  • Choose a topic, e.g. planning a holiday, writing a school essay. Gather all the information around you related to the subject or area.
  • Start in the CENTRE of the page and draw an image related to the subject, e.g. the beach or a symbol related to the school essay subject. The image should be colourful, unframed and represent the subject.
  • Add the MAIN THEMES or key branches related to the subject area. Create ‘wavey’ branches out from the central image (called organic) – like curvy legs from a spider! The length of the line for each branch should be the same length of the word or image. These are usually drawn with thicker lines.
  • From each main branch you can create SUB BRANCHES to add sub themes, like tributaries from a river, showing other information related to each key branch subject. These lines are usually thinner.
  • Add extra levels of thought by each branch.
  • Use colours, images, codes, arrows wherever possible.
  • Remember to use key words and images – one word to a line.
  • Develop your own unique shorthand or images, being as creative as you like to make each Mind Map more colourful and picturesque.

Your first Mind Map may not look as artistic as you hoped, but whatever it looks like is fine. With each Mind Map you create, you will develop more confidence and you will become more artistic and creative. TEX

Gillian Burn is a licensed instructor with Tony Buzan for training in MindMapping® techniques and has been trained in speed-reading and memory techniques. 

Websites – for details of courses on Mind Mapping, Speed Reading and other learning skills. – for additional information on Mind Mapping and lots of examples. – for a choice of Mind Mapping software and the chance to download FREE trials.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 1 Autumn 2003.