Make Writing Easier With Mind Mapping

These are not my students, but you get the idea. Photo credit.

These are not my students, nor are they CSU students, but you get the idea.

Back when I taught writing to undergrads at Colorado State, I asked them to observe their writing processes. That is— what really happened when they needed to write something? Did they begin by drinking coffee? Watching TV? Cleaning their rooms? (Was there something going underneath these avoidance activities?) Did they settle in at a table in the library or the student center? Or did they head outside to sit under a tree with a notebook?

They told me they waited until the last possible moment (or even later), sat down in their dorm rooms or in the computer lab, and hoped inspiration would strike. They wrote or typed until they hit the minimum word requirement, and then turned their papers in.

The students mostly hated writing and didn’t see the point of it. When would they ever again need to produce 5 pages comparing and contrasting Romeo and Othello? Never. But they might be asked to produce a report or a presentation comparing two or three software applications and recommending one. Or they might need to write a clear and concise email to explain a business rule to a colleague.

Writing process components include:

  • generating ideas
  • developing some ideas (may include research)
  • formulating a thesis
  • organizing developed ideas to support the thesis (may include an outline)
  • writing a first draft
  • reviewing drafts and iterating until the document is as good as it’s going to be (or you run out of time)
  • checking grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Printing/publishing/turning in

If you have a visual learning style, all this writing may feel like a prison sentence.* But there are visual techniques for generating and organizing ideas that make it easier for visual learners, including mind mapping.

Mind-mapping is a technique for generating and organizing ideas. You begin by writing a word or phrase in the center of a sheet of paper. Then lines branch out from this central concept to related concepts. These related concepts may in turn generate more lines linking to more concepts. Here’s an example:

Image from Tony Buzzan mind map example

Image from Tony Buzzan

You can find more detailed instructions for mind mapping from Tony Buzzan or illumine training or Paul Foreman.

Writing process may or may not affect the end product but it will most certainly affect the writer. We can work with our usual work habits and learning styles or against them. The easier it is, the more relaxed and confident we will be, and this will be reflected in our writing.

*I know, but I couldn’t resist.

Photo credit

Photo of hackNY spring 2013 student hackathon by via flickr and licensed under CC 2.0.