This month, I’m going to share one of my favorite tactics for writing effective content: mind mapping. Now, this is a bit wonky and “inside baseball,” but when I began using the technique in my content writing practice a few years ago, I saw major improvements in my productivity and efficiency, as well as the structure and organization of my articles, white papers, and blogs.

Before discovering the mind-mapping technique, I used a traditional outline in the planning stage of my projects. You know, the one you learned in fifth-grade creative writing that looks like this:


  1. Introduction
  2. Idea 1
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  3. Idea 2
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  4. Idea 3
    1. Supporting data
    2. Supporting data
  5. Conclusion


Riveting, isn’t it? But this standard outline approach has been around for hundreds of years, dating back at least to Ramon Llull (1232-1316), who some claim invented the outlining method we use today.

The problem with using a traditional outline in the creative phase of writing is that it doesn’t accurately reflect the way our minds think. In fact, it forces you to organize disparate ideas within a very tight construct, limiting your ability to think “outside the outline.”

In the earliest stages of a big writing project, I find mind-mapping is much more effective for stimulating the free flow of ideas.

In fact, studies have shown that mind mapping improves memory by 10 percent, and children that use mind mapping recall words 32 percent more effectively. Mind mapping has also been shown to improve organizational and writing skills.

What is Mind-mapping?

Like outlining, the general concept of mind-mapping has been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In fact, there is some evidence that Llull used this technique as well as more hierarchical outlining methods. Luminaries including Leonardo DaVinci and Sir Isaac Newton also toyed with concept maps and similar radial-style organizational techniques. More recently, Tony Buzan coined the term “mind map,” and is generally considered the “father of mind-mapping.”

A mind map begins with a central idea, visually represented by a circle at the center of the page. From this central idea or picture, various branches and nodes radiate outward. Each node can have sub-branches and sub-notes radiating out from it, and so on.

People use mind maps in several ways: for taking notes, for public speaking (think Prezi), for brainstorming and ideation, and for planning and organizing thoughts.

Today, there are many software programs to help with mind-mapping, including touch-enabled tablet solutions, but I prefer to use paper and pencil. As an example of my chicken-scratch approach, here is the mind map I used to plan this article:

My process is very simple, but many writers and researchers use a more elaborate, visual approach. Buzan recommends the following five steps:

  1. Establish the central idea
  2. Add branches
  3. Add keywords to each branch
  4. Color code
  5. Use images to illustrate your ideas

I find that mind mapping is most effective during the brainstorming or ideation phase of a project. For shorter pieces like this article, I’ll create a quick mind map, then begin writing the initial draft. For longer-form, more complex writing projects like white papers and research reports, I will often take the extra step of creating a traditional outline from the mind map. I find this helps me to organize my thoughts in a more linear fashion and makes the actual crafting of the first draft a much easier exercise.

Check out to learn more about Buzan’s Mind Mapping Method and specialized software developed to assist with mind mapping. The Asian Efficiency site is also a great resource to learn about mind mapping, outlining, and other note-taking and productivity tips.

Have you tried mind-mapping? I’d love to hear about your experiences. Just email me at

Write well, and be well!