5 essential features you should look for when buying mind mapping software

In a recent audio interview with Michael Tipper, he asked me what five features people should look for when trying to decide which mind mapping program to buy. Here is a distillation of what I told him:

1. Links and attachments: First, the mind mapping software you select ought to support a wide variety of links and attachments – including web pages, files, folders and, ideally, links to individual e-mail messages. If you think about it, when you’re conducting research and capturing ideas and knowledge in a mind map, a lot of that information tends to be embedded in the text of e-mail messages, received as we collaborate with others, as we request information from our teammates.  And being able to pull that content into your mind maps is extremely powerful.

2. Topic notes: In software-produced mind maps, notes are an excellent way to capture extended thoughts without cluttering up the visible part of your mind map. Yet you can still “drill down” to them with a single mouse click. A note can contain anything from a single sentence to several paragraphs.  So if you’ve got some additional thoughts or ideas that you want to capture that are longer than a few words, you can record them in map notes. If you’re writing a report, a book or other lengthy document, notes give you a practical way to begin fleshing out the major points of it. Later, you can export what you’ve collected to Microsoft Word; the topics become headings and the notes become paragraph text – your document is already half-written!

3. Content filtering: If you are planning large, complex projects, which will produce large, complex mind maps, the ability to filter their content is critically important. One of the most practical ways to filter map content is based on tasks.  If you apply such a filter, only the topics that are tasks will be displayed – enabling you to clearly see what needs to be done, and by whom. That’s very powerful.  Another example is to filter your map’s content based on an icon or symbol, which could correspond to a particular person on your team or a certain segment of your business. The key benefit here is focus: Filtering temporarily hides everything else, so you can focus in on the information you need to be more organized and productive.

4. Export formats: The ability to export to multiple formats, such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Project, PDFs and web pages, is also very important when you’re considering which mind mapping program to buy. Often, what you’re producing in your mind map is not the end result.  You may use it to organize all of your material and then export it to PowerPoint or Word, where you’ll finish it up.  The other thing to keep in mind is that there are some linear thinkers out there who don’t feel comfortable with mind maps, so for them you may want to convert your map into a more conventional, palatable format – such as a Word document.

5. Keyboard shortcuts: Most mind mapping programs require you to use toolbar buttons to add content to your map.  But when you’re brainstorming, whether individually or in a group, you need to be able to capture ideas quickly, without the program’s users interface getting in the way. That’s where keyboard shortcuts come in. They enable you to quickly create new topics and sub-topics, into which you can type your ideas without restricting your creative “flow.” One of the marvelous things about mind mapping software is you can just do a “brain dump” – capturing ideas on the fly without respect to their structure – and then rearrange them later.

If you’re a current user of mind mapping software, what features and functionality do YOU think are absolutely critical? What should prospective buyers look for (no commercials for a particular program, please!)?

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  1. Marie Hogan says

    Do you know if there is a mind mapping software that allows you to save an email attachment directly to the map? I have Mindjet now and I recieve a lot of attachments thru email. Currently, I save the attachments in my documents first then go to the maps and attach them to the map from documents. Do you know of a way to eliminate the step and save them directly to mind maps?


  2. says


    In MindManager you can add emails to the current topic in a map with the MindManager button in Outlook. It appears on the standard tool bar after installing MindManager.

    The email details (From, To, Cc, Flag to and Sent) are in the topic and can be minimised, the topic notes have the content of the email and the attachments to the emails are attachmented to the topics.

    The attached document in the map is a copy embedded in the map and increases the size of the map file by the zipped file size of the attachment. The attachment stored in the Outlook pst file remains there.

    Andrew Wilcox

  3. Empress says

    I would add easy brain storming function, meaning the ability to randomly list out a bunch of thoughts and then later rearrange them on or into a map. Even better would the ability to import or copy in an indented list (outline) and have it automatically make a map and vise versa, export it as an outline. Sometimes I feel like “thinking” in traditional outline, but later would like to see it and manipulate it as a map.
    The other feature I have chosen as a bare minimum is importing/exporting in freemind, .mm format. If I want to test a new program or switch, I am not going to want to re-do all the work I have already. If a program won’t import one of my current mind maps from an .mm file, I won’t even try it. I have all the important maps I have ever made in any program “backup up” in a .mm format.

  4. says


    Ms. Jamie Nast suggested I contact you to bounce a few queries I have on mind mapping in general, and on the MindMapping software that you advocate, “Mindjet MindManager”.

    Here’s the context. I take fairly detailed notes when reading a textbook, and am always interested to integrate the big picture with the small bits. Also, some of my notes – “flow of ideas” and “bloom of ideas” are action items or loud thoughts that have applicability in a context that’s different form the one I’m reading about in the text.

    1a. How does one encapsulate this tangential thinking? Does it mean I need to do separate maps?
    1b. Irrespective of how sophisticated the software might be, given my purpose – of summarizing and synthesizing my notes of a text book – I’d always have to first hand write a map. Won’t I? (Pls see question 3 in this context as well.)

    2. Can I design my own icons and export these into the Mind Mapping software for onwards use in presentations and Word docs? As self indicators, these may or may not be intelligible to another person, but they make sense to me because I’ve codified it an dam the only user, the purpose of it essentially being brevity and specificity – I suppose also because my mind is trained and familiar with that language/vernacular.

    3. Can I scan a hand written doc, and export this scan into the Mind Mapping software, and still use all editing / cosmetic functionalities of the software?

    4. Can I convert a word doc, a pdf, and a ppt into a mind map using your Mind Mapping software?

    5. Where are we at in terms of technology on mind mapping? Can the software do any kind of predictive or suggestive mapping by picking up on ones history of mind mapping?

    Many thanks and regards,

    Faheem Abbas

    L: Karachi, Pakistan
    E: faheemineductaion@gmail.com
    C: + 92 333 230 3001


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