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A mind map is a diagram used to visually outline information. A mind map is often created around a single word or text, placed in the center, to which associated ideas, words and concepts are added. Major categories radiate from a central node, and lesser categories are sub-branches of larger branches. Categories can represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items related to a central key word or idea.
Mind maps can be drawn by hand, either as "rough notes" during a lecture or meeting, for example, or as higher quality pictures when more time is available. An example of a rough mind map is illustrated.
Diagrams that visually map information using branching and radial maps trace back centuries. These pictorial methods record knowledge and model systems, and a long history in learning, brainstorming, memory, visual thinking, and problem solving by educators, engineers, psychologists, and others. Some of the earliest examples of such graphical records were developed by Porphyry of Tyros, a noted thinker of the 3rd century, as he graphically visualized the concept categories of Aristotle. Philosopher Ramon Llull (1235–1315) also used such techniques.
The term "mind map" was first popularized by British popular psychology author and television personality Tony Buzan when BBC TV ran a series hosted by Buzan called Use Your Head. In this show, and companion book series, Buzan enthusiastically promoted his conception of radial tree, diagramming key words in a colorful, radiant, tree-like structure.
Buzan says the idea was inspired by Alfred Korzybski's general semantics as popularized in science fiction novels, such as those of Robert A. Heinlein and A.E. van Vogt. Buzan argues that while "traditional" outlines force readers to scan left to right and top to bottom, readers actually tend to scan the entire page in a non-linear fashion. Buzan also uses popular assumptions about the cerebral hemispheres in order to promote the exclusive use of mind mapping over other forms of note making.
When compared with the concept map (which was developed by learning experts in the 1970s) the structure of a mind map is a similar radial, but is simplified by having one central key word.
Buzan suggests the following guidelines for creating mind maps:
This list is itself more concise than a prose version of the same information and the mind map of these guidelines is itself intended to be more memorable and quicker to scan than either the prose or the list.
As with other diagramming tools, mind maps can be used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid to studying and organizing information, solving problems, making decisions, and writing.
Mind maps have many applications in personal, family, educational, and business situations, including notetaking, brainstorming (wherein ideas are inserted into the map radially around the center node, without the implicit prioritization that comes from hierarchy or sequential arrangements, and wherein grouping and organizing is reserved for later stages), summarizing, as a mnemonic technique, or to sort out a complicated idea. Mind maps are also promoted as a way to collaborate in color pen creativity sessions.
Mind maps can be used for:
In addition to these direct use cases, data retrieved from mind maps can be used to enhance several other applications, for instance expert search systems, search engines and search and tag query recommender. To do so, mind maps can be analysed with classic methods of information retrieval to classify a mind map's author or documents that are linked from within the mind map.
Farrand, Hussain, and Hennessy (2002) found that spider diagrams (similar to concept maps) had limited, but significant, impact on memory recall in undergraduate students (a 10% increase over baseline for a 600-word text only) as compared to preferred study methods (a 6% increase over baseline). This improvement was only robust after a week for those in the diagram group and there was a significant decrease in motivation compared to the subjects' preferred methods of note taking. Farrand et al. suggested that learners preferred to use other methods because using a mind map was an unfamiliar technique, and its status as a "memory enhancing" technique engendered reluctance to apply it. Nevertheless the conclusion of the study was "Mind maps provide an effective study technique when applied to written material. However before mind maps are generally adopted as a study technique, consideration has to be given towards ways of improving motivation amongst users."
Pressley, VanEtten, Yokoi, Freebern, and VanMeter (1998) found that learners tended to learn far better by focusing on the content of learning material rather than worrying over any one particular form of note taking.
Hemispheric specialization theory has been identified as pseudoscientific when applied to mind mapping.
Mind mapping software can be used to organize large amounts of information, combining spatial organization, dynamic hierarchical structuring and node folding. Software packages can extend the concept of mind mapping by allowing individuals to map more than thoughts and ideas with information on their computers and the Internet, like spreadsheets, documents, Internet sites and images. Note-taking software such as Microsoft OneNote often incorporates mind mapping capabilities. It has been suggested that mind mapping can improve learning/study efficiency up to 15% over conventional note-taking.
In 2009, Mohamed Elhoseiny et al. presented the first prototype that can generate mind maps out of small text to fit in a single screen. In 2012, it was extended into a more scalable system that can work from larger texts.
The phrase "mind map" is trademarked by Buzan's company for the specific use for self-improvement educational courses in Great Britain  and the United States. The trademark does not appear in the records of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.