#5 in the Effective Mind Maps blog post series
One way to significantly improve the quality of your mind maps and the effectiveness of how they communicate your intended meaning to others is to include a legend in them.
If you frequently share your mind maps with colleagues and coworkers, they may not completely understand the meaning and context of what you’re trying to communicate. That’s because mind mapping lacks a commonly accepted visual vocabulary – a set of de facto standards that governs how mind maps should be constructed, what common icons and symbols mean, and so forth.
A legend in a mind map serves the same function as one does a geographical map: it defines what each symbol and icon means, so that the person reading them can interpret these marks with the proper meaning. In a mind map, legends typically define the meaning of icons or symbols attached to topics. Unfortunately, because most developers of mind mapping software don’t automate the production of legends, most users of these productivity tools don’t realize it’s possible to add them to their maps, or how to create them.
Where should legends be used?
Legends should be used on any map where you are utilizing symbols or icons. This is very important, because your map needs to be immediately understandable by anyone with whom you share it. The meaning of each symbol or icon may have been abundantly clear to you at the time you created your map, but remember: you have the advantage of knowing the entire context of your map, because you’re the one who created it. Others viewing this map may be confused by the meaning of these small graphics and, as a result, may not take away the full meaning that you intended when you added them to your map.
How do you add a legend to your mind map?
Typically, a legend is formatted as a floating topic at the top or bottom of the map; a series of subtopics radiate from it, each one containing an icon or symbol, with the topic text providing the meaning. For best results, I recommend placing the legend above the map, because people tend to read top to bottom, left to right. If the first thing they see looking at your mind map from the top down is the legend, they will fully read it first, which will help them to understand the mind map itself.
When in doubt, include a legend in your mind maps. The people with whom you share them will appreciate it!
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