Floating topics: How and when to use them in your mind maps

Jan 12th, 2013 | By | Category: Basics

floating topics in mind maps

#10 in the Effective Mind Maps blog post series

While most mind mapping software programs now support floating topics, not many users know how to utilize them. Here are some tips on how to do so effectively:

Brainstorming: Floating topics are a great way to quickly record a series of ideas in a mind map and keep the creative flow going, without getting bogged down in where each one should fit. In fact, one program’s brainstorming mode works this way by default. When you are conducting a brainstorming session with ConceptDraw MINDMAP, you enter ideas into a dialog box that is superimposed over the map’s workspace. It deposits each idea as a floating topic, which you can arrange and embellish later.

Map legends: In a mind map, a legend tells you what each icon used in the map means. Typically, these are positioned above or below the mind map as a floating topic. Sub-topics are then added for each icon contained within the map, with the topic name explaining what each icon means.

Parking lot: When you want to add an idea or piece of information to your mind map, but aren’t quite sure where it fits in the hierarchy of topics and sub-topics, you can temporarily “park” it in an open area of the workspace as a floating topic. You can figure out what to do with it later. This “parking lot” concept is especially useful when recording the outcomes and decisions arrived at in a business meeting, where information tends to come at you quickly and often in an unstructured way. Don’t forget: Most programs that enable you to create a floating topic also enable you to add sub-topics, notes and other embellishments to it. So don’t be afraid to fully describe your uncategorized idea before moving on to other parts of your map.

Instructions: If you are sharing your map with others and need to explain how it’s organized, a floating topic is a great way to do that. It lets you convey instructions to your collaborators – without cluttering up the structure of the map itself.

Show opposing forces: Sometimes it’s valuable to depict opposing forces in a mind map, by creating two main topics (“pro” vs. “con” for example), and having sub-topics fan out in opposite directions (see the image above right for an example). According to Michael Deutch, writing in the Mindjet Blog, these types of maps can be useful for depicting:

  • Pros and cons
  • Actions and reactions
  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Ideal situations vs. reality
  • Compare the perceptions of opposing parties in negotiations
  • List “what we know” vs. “what we don’t know”

How do you use floating topics? Please share your ideas in the comments area below.

(originally published April 16, 2009. Updated to be included in the Effective Blog Posts series Jan. 12, 2013)

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2 comments
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  1. I use mindmaps in my owrk but never used the programs i feel they are too restricted and less fun! so enjoy the free flowing form of pen and paper. The more i learn about them though the more interested i am!

    Paul Telling
    Creative Communications Creator and Graphic Facilitator
    Pauls Site
    Visualise and Monetise!

  2. I have a short comment to the Brainstorming part:
    MindManager provides Floating Topics too, when you use it’s Brainstorming function :-)

    Claudius Schultz
    Trainer & Consultant in MindManager and Microsoft Office

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