Mind mapping software can be an excellent tool to gather, organize and synthesize your research. It enables you to discover a totally new topic and let the structure of your information evolve as needed.
Why is this? Because mind maps enable you to take notes in a non-linear manner – they can develop in all directions, depending on your discoveries. Mind mapping software enables you to discover a totally new topic without the need for a structure in the first place.
I recently had to do some research on iBeacon technology, and decided to use a mind map to capture and structure information on manufacturers, current deployments, usage models, technology aspects and more. My mind mapping software enabled me to add links to online articles, manufacturers’ websites and or technology blogs, and to capture longer bits of information as topic notes. In addition, my mind mapping software enabled me to organize and re-organize topics with complete freedom until I had a visual structure that made the most sense to me.
Where do I start with mind map-supported research?
Even if the research topic is new to you, you may have a couple ideas, some early facts and information you’re already aware of and a number of questions on that topic. Questions can be a powerful driver of research:
- Who are the leading experts in this field?
- What have they published on my topic?
- What trade magazines and technical journals cover this topic?
- What is the history of this topic (in the case of a technology, how has it evolved over time)?
Start by adding all of your questions and findings to the mind map, without being concerned too much about format or organization. Create first-level topics based on the type of information or some key aspects or elements of your topic. You can use those to do a rough, initial classification of the information you’re gathering. Remember: you can re-structure it later as many times as you want.
After some time, you will start to see patterns in the information you’ve gathered. You can then start to structure your map. One nice thing about using mind mapping software to do this is that it gives you a visual way to see what information is missing, as well as ideas that may need more research and verification before you can accept them.
Consider using icons or symbols to visually classify information and make it easier to skim your mind map. For example, questions could be denoted using a question mark icon. Information you’ve reviewed and dismissed, but which you still want to keep in your body of research, could have a thumbs-down icon attached to them.
Can a research mind map be shared?
In its early stages, a research mind map is usually a very personal working document. That is, it’s meaningful to you, but chances are that it’s too dense, too unbalanced and too complex to be shared with others in its rough form. After all, it is your working document that you are using to structure your research and accelerate your understanding of the topic. Some of my working mind maps are just a forest of topics, often with no color or images – definitely difficult to be shared as is.
If you decide that your research mind map is worth sharing, you probably will have to go through a “cleaning” step, which will include simplifying some of its branches and polishing its visual appeal. To ensure that it’s understandable to the people with whom you’re sharing, imagine yourself standing in their shoes, with their current level of knowledge about the topic and their pre-conceived notions and opinions about the topic. Imagine yourself reviewing your mind map from their perspective and mindset. Does it make sense through their eyes?
If you believe your audience wouldn’t understand the visual format of a large, complex mind map, then perhaps you should share your findings in linear forma, as a conventional document. In this case, you can use your working map as a guide to help you through the writing process. A well-organized mind map will help to ensure that your report is similarly well-organized.
The above mind map is a very good example of a working map: it is one of my first maps on the iBeacon topic.
Research mind map templates
On Biggerplate, there are few, if any, research-related mindmaps. I found these 3 templates:
- A research template from ThinkBuzan to be used for essays, assignments and reports,
- A research paper template from MindGenius, and
- A very interesting dissertation map from James Abela.
To conclude, mind mind mapping software can be a powerful tool to help you structure your research, enhance it with notes, links and other important information and share it with others.