First-level topics: 15 tips to build a stronger foundation for your next mind map

basic ordering ideas for mind maps

#9 in the Effective Mind Maps blog post series

Deciding on first-level topics for your mind map is a critical first step in its creation, because they have a strong influence over the structure and content of the rest of it. Like the foundation of a house, a mind map needs a strong, well-constructed base, so that the rest of its structure will be adequately supported. Think through what you need to communicate and how to organize it, using the questions and techniques in this article.

One of the real strengths of mind mapping is that it leverages your brain’s awesome associative powers. But in order for you to realize that potential, you need to be sure to select keywords for your first-level topics that help you to make additional connections and generate valuable ideas.

In his excellent book, The Mind Map Book, Tony Buzan offers some valuable tips to help you decide what words to use for your map’s first-level topics – which he calls “basic ordering ideas.”

He recommends that you ask yourself these open-ended questions:

  • What knowledge is required?
  • If this were a book, what would its chapter headings be?
  • What are my specific objectives?
  • What are the seven most important categories in the area under consideration? According to brain science, the mind can only hold at most 6 to 7 thoughts consecutively. So you should try to limit the number of basic ordering ideas to this number
  • What is a larger or more encompassing category into which these fit?

Buzan also recommends using questions that begin with the popular “5W & H” words: Who? Where? What? When? Why? and How? to think through what your map’s first-level topics should be.

Here are some additional tips from Buzan on the types of words that tend to make effective basic ordering ideas:

  • Divisions: chapters, lessons or themes
  • Properties: characteristics of things
  • History: a chronological sequence of events
  • Structure: how things are formed or arranged
  • Function: what things do
  • Process: how things work
  • Evaluation: how good, beneficial or worthwhile things are
  • Classification: how things are related to each other
  • Definitions: what things mean
  • Personalities: what roles or characters people have

These questions and word types will help to catalyze your thinking and will help you to develop more effective mind maps. Why not give them a try?

One caution when creating basic ordering ideas

One closing note on basic ordering ideas: If you’re going to be sharing your mind map with others, take a moment to think about the information you plan to convey from their perspective. How will they view this topic? What makes sense to them? Too often, I see mind maps where the author obviously understood what he or she meant when creating a mind map, but the rest of us are left scratching our heads and going “What the…??” Don’t fall into this trap when creating your maps!

(originally published Jan. 29, 2009. Updated and expanded to be included in the Effective Blog Posts series Jan. 11, 2013)

Related post:

What are basic ordering ideas and how can they improve your mind mapping?

Learn more about ConceptDraw MINDMAP 8


  1. says

    Hi everyone this is so true but why has been shown as bullet list? Mind Maps are constructed around the principle of ‘radiant thinking’, surely this would be better displayed as a mind map?

  2. S Kahn says


    i am a bit confused as to when to use the basic ordering ideas?

    From what i have read about creating mindmaps, is that one should let the mind free and not impose any restrictions. would not the basic ordering ideas construct the minds thinking.

    Woudl the way forward be to creat a quick mind map without thinking about the basic orering ideas and then construct a fresh mind map with well thought out boi’s (using buzan’s questions) and the links from the originally created mind map?


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