In this article we’ll show you how to use mind maps for essay writing. Mind maps can not only make this often dreadful task a whole lot easier, but also save you a huge amount of time. If you want to learn how this simple yet effective technique works, just follow the steps as outlined below.
What Is a Mind Map?
A mind map is a diagram that displays information visually. You can create mind maps using pen and paper, or you can use an online mind mapping tool such as MindMeister. Whatever you use, the rules for creating a mind map are simple:
1) Write the subject in the center of your paper / canvas.
2) Draw branches that point away from the center. Each branch symbolizes one thought or idea related to the subject. Use meaningful keywords to write these ideas onto the branches.
3) From each branch more ideas can branch off.
4) Use colors, icons and images whenever possible. These function as mental triggers and can help spark new ideas in you, which is important during brainstorming sessions.
Now that you know how to create a basic mind map, let’s go over how you can use mind maps for essay writing.
Step 1: Using a Mind Map to Find a Good Topic for Your Essay
If you have the opportunity to choose the topic for your paper yourself, try to find one that’s been covered by other researchers before, but still gives you a chance to come up with new findings and conclusions. If you choose a topic that has already been explored in depth by a gazillion other researchers, you might be hard pressed to develop a unique perspective.
Ideally, the topic should be something you are also personally interested in, or at least something you can relate to in some way. This will make the whole task of writing your essay a little less dreadful. The best way to find such a topic is a brainstorming session.
How to brainstorm topic ideas in a mind map
Create a new mind map and simply write “My Essay” or “My Paper” in the center of the map. Now, start adding ideas around the center. These can be things your professor suggested, related subjects you discussed in class, or anything else relevant to get you started.
Next, note down your own areas of interest and see where they intersect with the former. Once you have a few good ideas for the subject of your paper, you can start weighing them against each other, noting down pros and cons. Eliminate topics until you’re left with only one. This will be the topic of your paper.
In the example below, the only requirement that had been given was to write a paper about literature from the English Renaissance. You’ll see various famous writers of this time mentioned in the map, as well as various aspects of their work that could be examined in a paper, such as the symbolism, dramatic conflicts or themes.
Step 2: Start the Research Process
While working through both primary and secondary sources, it’s quite easy to get confused about the numerous arguments and counterarguments. Many students get frustrated and waste a lot of time just trying to figure out how to make all the different pieces of information fit together into a coherent text.
What you need, therefore, is a system to collect and structure all this information in one central place, so you can easily review the materials while you write.
How to collect research in a mind map
Create a new mind map for each source (book, article, essay) you read and take notes in this mind map while you work through the text. Alternatively, you can use one single map where you list all your sources and create child topics for every page/paragraph/quote you want to use in your paper.
In the map below, you’ll see that – based on our initial brainstorming session – we chose ‘Love in Romeo and Juliet’ as the topic of our paper. For our research map, we wrote this topic in the center and created individual branches for each source we read. Next to the book title, we noted down the topics covered in the source, its central question as well as important passages that we thought we might want to quote in our essay.
Here are some practical tips to set you up for success:
- Use colors, arrows and icons to indicate connections between the arguments and quotes.
- Be sure to add the page numbers to the topics in your map so you can quickly go back to do some more fact checking if necessary. If you’re working with online sources you can also attach their links directly to the topics in your map.
- As you go along, you can restructure the sources according to topics, which usually provides a better overview of the material you have available for each section of your paper.
Here’s another example of a research map. This is the map we used to take notes while reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the subject of our paper. As you can see, we created branches for each of the text passages we wanted to analyze in the essay.
Step 3: Outline Your Paper in a Mind Map
Before you start with the actual writing, it’s very important that you first create an outline of your paper. This will help you create a coherent structure of your arguments, counterarguments, examples, quotes, and the sources you want to reference in each argument.
You can quickly review this outline whenever you get sidetracked in your writing process, or when you’re unsure about how to continue. A mind map is a great format for such an outline because it provides you with a visual overview of your thesis statement and the entire text structure.
If you’re using mind mapping software such as MindMeister, you can also…
- Link the individual topics in your map with the respective research maps you’ve created.
- Add notes and deadlines to each step to make sure your writing stays on schedule.
- Export your finished outline as a Word document and use it as the basis for your paper.
Using mind maps to plan and outline your essay will not only make the writing process a lot easier, it will also enable you to work through sources more efficiently and help you find information more quickly. Of course, you can use mind mapping for all types of writing assignments – from essays to short stories and from book reports to blog posts. Try it out!
See also: The Student’s Guide to Mind Mapping
Learning to speak English as a second language is not easy- especially when introduced to idioms like “who spilled the beans” or “she let the cat out of the bag.” If you’re trying to write an essay and keep hearing that you need to first “brainstorm” this idiom might be keeping you from putting paper to pen.
Brainstorming is simply when you stop to think about the topic you will be writing about, then write down each idea or though that comes to mind. When writing your essay you must be deliberate with the way you roll out information. However, before you even begin that first draft, the time in which you’re gathering your thoughts, you should write or type as quickly as possible to jot down each thought that comes to mind.
To brainstorm when writing an essay there are two ways you can approach the brainstorming process depending on which you feel will be more beneficial for you.
1. Fill the Page
Grab a pen and paper or your computer and start writing. Any key words or sentences that pop into your mind you should add to your paper. This process might get messy but it’s an effective way to quickly gather your thoughts without the pressure of creating an actual draft.
2. Stay Organized
If the idea of throwing your thoughts onto paper makes you cringe or draw a blank mind- don’t worry. There are a few more “orderly” ways that you can brainstorm- using a diagram can help you quickly gather your thoughts but also keep them organized at the same time. Here are two diagrams commonly used when brainstorming:
Venn Diagram: Most students don’t use a Venn diagram on a daily basis but it can be helpful when brainstorming. If you’ve never used a Venn diagram for the purpose of brainstorming, here’s an example: Perhaps you have an essay in which you’re addressing the benefits vs. the harmful effects of Styrofoam. You could then title the left circle “benefits” and the right circle “harmful effects” the middle shape would then be able to include each item that is not specifically a positive or a negative to Styrofoam- each thought that falls somewhere in the middle. After your diagram is labeled you can then list items that below in each category.
Spider Diagram: When creating a spider diagram start by writing down 3-5 key topics that you want your essay to include. Once again using the Stryofoam essay example, perhaps you would write down “Non-biodegradable,” “Cheap to produce,” and “Useful material.” After you have your main topics that you wish to cover you can branch off of those topics with supporting ideals- and maybe even link your key topics together. In the end, it should resemble a spider web.
After you have brainstormed it’s then time to turn your thoughts into your essay. Read through your thoughts and establish where each will fit within your essay. Your essay should include the following parts:
- 1st body (strongest support)
- 2nd body
- 3rd body
Your brainstorming session then allows you to create an outline using each thought you want to convey in your essay. You’re now ready to view essay samples and start writing!
This entry was posted on Saturday, May 9th, 2015 at 8:40 am and is filed under International Student, Study in the USA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Written by Bryanna Davis
Bryanna joined EIC in 2011 after returning to the United States from teaching English in China. Her interest in international education, sparked initially by her own study abroad experience in Wales, led her to the company. Bryanna is originally from Missouri and is a graduate from the University of Central Missouri.
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