Did you know that mind mapping software can be a powerful tool for planning and outlining your writing projects? You can not only use it to visually outline your next report, white paper, book or other large writing project – you can also export it to Microsoft Word, saving you many hours of time.
During the export process, topics are converted into heading styles and topic notes become paragraph text. Other mind map elements can also be incorporated into the export process. Utilizing this method is a very productive way to help you write faster and more cohesively than you ever thought possible.
Visualizing the mind map-to-document export process
To help you understand how this works, I have created an infographic that visually displays what happens to each element of your mind map when you export it to Microsoft Word. The example below was created using MindManager 2016, but the principle is the same no matter which mind mapping software program you use.
(click on the image to view a larger version)
Advantages of this approach
Most people simply begin writing by doing a brain dump of whatever comes to mind. Next, they attempt to edit and organize what they have written, but this tends to be problematic. The structure of your writing tends to be buried within the sentences and paragraphs that you are putting together. It’s almost impossible to see. You have little or no sense if you are completely covered your subject or if there are pieces missing. More importantly, it’s hard to tell if your writing contains any extraneous elements that could be eliminated.
In contrast, mind mapping software enables you to create a visual outline of your writing before you start to assemble sentences and paragraphs. It’s much easier to see the structure, the skeleton of your writing in visual form with topics and subtopics representing the main points and supporting point of the article or other writing project you’re working on. And that makes it much easier to determine what needs to be added or clarified, what points can be consolidated or simplified, and what doesn’t fit and can be removed.
You can also add and reorganize topics at will, enabling you to create the perfect structure for the information you plan to convey in your writing project. You can even do “what if” exercises with the content of your writing project. In other words, move topics or sections of it to a new location. Do they make sense there? If so, leave them there. If not, undo the move. In this way, you can experiment with different structures for your information.
As my friend Roger C. Parker explains, if you find that you need to capture some extended thoughts about a specific topic, you can type them into a topic note. In this way, you can capture the first several sentences or even several paragraphs about the subject. “By the time you finish outlining your writing project in mind mapping software, you’ll discover it’s already half written,” he explains.
What can you export?
As you can see from the infographic, many types of information are exported, not just topics and text notes. Images, links and symbols can also be exported, making it easy to take an entire mind map of multimedia research sources and transfer it into your Word document, where they can become part of your finished writing project.
Mind mapping programs vary in their export capabilities, but some of the more advanced ones enable you to:
- Customize the export to indent or not indent the topics to match their hierarchy within the mind map
- Include or exclude images, links, relationships and other map elements
- Map the topic levels in your mind map to specific heading and text styles in the Word template to which your map data will be exported – which will save you time editing them in the resulting Word document
Consult the help file for your program to determine which of these features it supports.
Get comfortable with your program’s Word export capabilities. Then, instead of starting your writing process in Microsoft Word, consider mapping the content of your project in your mind mapping software. Give some thought to the information it ought to contain, and how it ought to be organized.
I think you’ll be pleased with the results!