Why I Hated Mind-Mapping, And How I Overcame My Bias

Different people call them different things – mind-maps, webs, concept maps – but they really all refer to the same concept. The point of mind-mapping is to get all the information about some topic onto a piece of paper, and to use lines to connect them. It’s a graphical (pictoral) way of representing information. Of course, this is a good idea in theory, because the brain needs to make these connections in order for it to retain information. However, I always felt that mind-mapping is  for people whose brains work graphically. And mine doesn’t.

I am a very linear person. I like lists and outlines. When I take notes, I make lists of points, often with indenting to show sub-points. If I can, I actually go so far as to outline. (You know, the one with the Roman numerals, and the letters, and the numbers, that all have a specific hierarchy and lots of indenting. I love that.) I always assumed that mind-mapping just doesn’t work for my way of thinking.

To be honest, part of my prejudice against mind-mapping is probably due more to the fact that I’ve never been taught how to do it, than to it actually not working for me. I’ve never really done it. When I teach it to students at the tutoring center I work for, I glance over their work to see if they got the major points, then declare it “good enough” because I don’t really know what I’m looking for.

One of my classes this semester is a small Philosophy class. The professor runs it in a discussion-oriented format. We are reading An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume, and we sit in a circle and talk about it. Now, how am I supposed to take notes on a discussion?

I tried lists of points, but the problem is that it’s impossible to know if I should leave room after a point to add more information, because of course I can’t tell if someone will say something useful later. One day, my notes were simply a list of disjointed points, that probably won’t help me at all when I go back to them to study for the midterm.

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I realized that mind-mapping is probably the perfect way to record information in a discussion-formatted class. I flipped a piece of notebook paper over on its side and wrote the topic of the day in the middle. As the class progressed, I added relevant information on the sides and connected them to the parent topic with lines. My result has all the information regarding a (very short) section of the book on one page, which I can go back later an turn into an outline, if I want.

IMGP6797.JPGThis is the final result. I have a random point floating around in the bottom there because I wasn’t sure what to link it to. It’s not really related to yesterday’s topic, but it was important to remember for the future.

I know there are many websites and programs designed to facilitate this, but I don’t take my computer to class anymore. For one thing, I find that putting pen on paper goes faster than finding the right button to click to tell the computer what you want it to do (although I do type faster than I write). Also, as a general rule, if I have my computer, I’m not taking notes or even paying the slightest bit of attention to the class. Facebook and Twitter – they call.

I learned some things yesterday. First, I learned that I can’t discount a note-taking technique just because I’m not familiar with it. Second, I learned that sometimes new ways of doing things can result in better note-taking and, in turn, better recall.

Finally, I learned that it’s easier to draw rectangles around my points than the traditional circles. And it looks nicer.

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