Brainstorming and mind mapping

What is brainstorming and mind mapping?

Brainstorming is a way of generating ideas and organising your thinking on a topic. It can take shape as a simple list, an outline or a mind map.

  • Once you have generated some ideas, you can evaluate and organise them, and narrow down your focus.
  • The key to successful brainstorming is suspending judgment and opening your mind to different possibilities, including wild and unusual ideas.

Mind mapping is a way of visually organising information around a central point, with related points linked from it like branches from the trunk of a tree.

  • Because mind maps distribute information across the page in all directions, they can be a powerful tool for finding patterns and structure in seemingly disparate material when you want to organise your thoughts, study materials, or an approach to a project.

Brainstorming can be used to generate ideas through three steps: questioning, generating and evaluating.

Click through the example below where a student has used brainstorming to generate ideas for an essay with the following assessment instructions:

On 13 September 2007 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Critically evaluate the capacity of the UNDRIP to promote the interests of Indigenous peoples in South America.

The following video will guide you through the the early stages of creating a mind map:

Creating a mind map might seem overwhelming but it is really quite easy. You can start out with a very basic outline and generate ideas. Then you can connect and rearrange them.

Another way to refine your mind map is to incorporate additional research and insights. As your mind map grows, you usually reach the end of what’s in your head, and have new questions. This is a good time to go away, research or develop your own empirical evidence, and then return to the mind map and use it to consolidate your understanding.

Below is a mind map created by a student as a way of developing a research question. Have a look at how their thinking evolves as they add to their mind map. Also notice they go back, adjust and refine their mind map once they have conducted their research before they start writing.

Questions to help you brainstorm and mind map

Begin with a series of basic questions that are useful for gathering information and ideas. These questions will not be appropriate for all types of assignments, so tailor your list of questions to suit your task.

Mind mapping software

Mind mapping software gives you more flexibility than a page in a notebook. With an app or software, you can adjust your mind map and change your mind without having to continuously cross over or redraw your mind maps. Click on the cards to learn more and access each tool.

The following mind mapping software packages are some of the most popular. You can find a more comprehensive list of mind mapping software here.