There are three steps to mind mapping.
Step 1: Brainstorm
A brainstorm is a thinking process commonly used in study and work situations. It can be done individually or in a group.
How to brainstorm
- Use a piece of paper to write down everything you can think of about a particular topic.
- Write the name of the topic in the centre of the page.
- Do not try to organise the information at all - the purpose is to get it out and onto the page.
- Use key words or phrases to write your ideas.
- Always use the paper horizontally as this way you can fit more information.
Example 1 - Brainstorm of the topic 'History of antibiotics'
Step 2: Organise the information
Organise the information in the brainstorm by identifying the main categories and linking the other information to those as follows:
- circle the main categories
- connect sub-points to main categories
- use colours and visuals where helpful.
Step 3: Complete the mind map
Rewrite the information under headings and sub-points to make the mind map easy to read. In this example the use of graphics and colours helps clarify the mind map.
Here is an example of how you might structure a mind map for an essay topic.
A very common complaint from lecturers and examiners is that students write a lot of information but they just don't answer the question. Don't rush straight into researching – give yourself time to think carefully about the question and understand what it is asking.
Set the question in context – how does it fit with the key issues, debates and controversies in your module and your subject as a whole? An essay question often asks about a specific angle or aspect of one of these key debates. If you understand the context it makes your understanding of the question clearer.
Is the question open-ended or closed? If it is open-ended you will need to narrow it down. Explain how and why you have decided to limit it in the introduction to your essay, so the reader knows you appreciate the wider issues, but that you can also be selective. If it is a closed question, your answer must refer to and stay within the limits of the question (i.e. specific dates, texts, or countries).
Underlining key words – This is a good start point for making sure you understand all the terms (some might need defining); identifying the crucial information in the question; and clarifying what the question is asking you to do (compare & contrast, analyse, discuss). But make sure you then consider the question as a whole again, not just as a series of unconnected words.
Re-read the question – Read the question through a few times. Explain it to yourself, so you are sure you know what it is asking you to do.
Try breaking the question down into sub-questions – What is the question asking? Why is this important? How am I going to answer it? What do I need to find out first, second, third in order to answer the question? This is a good way of working out what important points or issues make up the overall question – it can help focus your reading and start giving your essay a structure. However, try not to have too many sub-questions as this can lead to following up minor issues, as opposed to the most important points.