What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.

Wikipedia has detailed definition of mind map.

How mind maps can be useful?

It is a great tool to express details of an idea. It helps to consider different aspects of a task/idea showing the big picture. In other way, it shows all parameters associated with an idea.

Using of mind map as study aid means you never lose focus from big picture. You can always link how your current node (or where you are working on) is linked to the central idea.

Here is an example.


It can also be useful to show classification of something. Here is an example shown below.



So in a nutshell, advantage of mind maps:

         It is a tool for capturing and organising ideas.

         The real benefit of mind map is the questioning process, as one constantly needs to ask "where does this lead to?" or "what else is there at this point?" or "what is the implication or consequence here?" at each node/branch.

How it is different from standard flow chart or process diagram or concept map?

Concept map may be considered a superset of mind map. Mind map is more often used for brainstorm or short session (e.g. a meeting, a classroom lecture, quick idea etc.). A concept map (or a glorified process diagram/flow chart) a visual representation of a persistent system.

Mind map typically encourage tree structure (nodes have only one parent) where as like process diagram, concept map nodes may be connected in whichever way required.

Please do note that the boundaries among different diagrams are not cast in stone and they often overlap with one another.

So to summarize the difference:

         It is all about the convention. Process diagram or flow chart usually have a start and end point. But mind map evolves around a central theme and fans out from it.

         Also, in mind maps, one node can have children only and this is the usual way of fanning out. But in a flow chart/ process diagram, any two nodes can be joined arbitrarily. Although some mind map software do allow direct linking between any two nodes, it is more often an exception rather than convention.

         Most mind map software allows you to view data in Outline format (similar to nested list) as well. So mind map can be a visual way of creating outlines. The internationally accepted format for outliners is OPML. Some mind map applications can import/export OPML format.

         Since mind map apps following outlines/hierarchical relationships, they often provide mechanism for node collapsing the objects in diagrams to enhance viewing interaction with the diagram.


A mind map can have different layouts like:

If appropriate, often same mind map can be viewed using different layouts.

Do I need special software to draw mind maps?

There are several dedicated mind map software available in the market (for all computing platforms) - some are free and some are very costly.

Strictly speaking, you don't need specialized mind mapping software. A Visio or Power Point diagram drawn properly can do the tricks. You can use several other tools, even though they are not primarily designed for mind mapping. For example, data modelling tool can often be used to draw mind mapping diagrams. (You may ask then why people do not use those tools instead? The answer is, those tools are more expensive!) Mind mapping is a convention of capturing ideas and classify them. So you can draw a mind map on a piece of paper with a pencil. The way a word processor acts to capture your writing, the mind map software acts as a tool to store your ideas.

Conversely, a mind map software will also allow to you create flow charts to certain extent.

Here is a list of most commonly used mind mapping software for desktop.

Please note that I have listed only those who supports the mind mapping logic from ground up i.e. they forces you to follow mind mapping conventions. There are loads of other graphical applications which you can use to draw mind maps.

Many of these applications allow you to upload your maps to share online.

There are some apps available (both free and paid) for tablet devices and smart phones.

A comprehensive list is in here

(c) Ensel Software 2011