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Do mindmaps on a computer first or on paper?


This is a response to a Twitter question from @danieljohnsonjr, but it is an often-discussed subject, so here’s my take (140 characters was not enough!)

I most often use a computer for the first rough-out of a mind map, because it allows for continuing change, growth and maximum flexibility.  But this is probably because most of my mind maps are for my consulting business or clients.  Often I mind map to organize a lot of information.  Or to track information as I research a topic on the web.  Here too, a computer-based map (or 3D landscape in my case) is best.

And if you’re working on collaborative mapping with someone geographically distant, a browser-based online mapping tool beats hand-drawn maps any day.

But – but – but

Hand-drawn, paper maps really do have strengths in some areas and for some people.  The physical pleasure of working with bright colors and drawing your own images (however rough – like mine) can encourage creativity and be motivational. 

Choosing a hand-drawn map, which means you won’t have to worry about computer navigation or shortcut keys, can help with total focus when trying to carry out a detailed analysis of a subject.

The use of color, having items appear in the same place on the map (computer software often moves nodes to make space) and your own thinking about how to illustrate nodes (instead of  ‘pick a clipart image’) are said to help with learning.

Mind maps are such general purpose visual thinking aids, that there’s no simple answer to whether software or paper is best, though I’ve often seen claims to the contrary on the web.

I hope that helps.


PS – sorry there’s no mind map in this!  It was quickly done to answer the question.  I’ll add some later and put it in WikIT the mind mapping wiki.

  1. Personally I only use hand-drawn method; my advice – jump in whichever you choose – go for it & see the benefits 🙂

    I bet most Mindmappers who use computer based software also use hand-drawn maps, because regardless of drawing ability, it is the process of mindmapping that counts and what it can do for you. Even a text only mind map will expand your thinking.

    Summary? Try both!

  2. I’m all for starting my mind maps with paper. More often than not my mind maps never leave their paper state, but if they start to expand to a stage where I run of space then it goes straight into a software mind map.

    Like Paul says, it’s the process of mind mapping that counts and whatever process works for you then go with it.

  3. Peter Roberts says:

    Definitely, it’s the mindmap that counts. I use both paper and computer software. It partly depends which is available and partly on which feels right for the purpose. I must admit though, I usually end up with a computer version, if only for clarity and neatness, especially when I’m using it for giving a talk where I at least have to be able to read what I’ve written. While on the subject of talks, I used to write them no more than an hour before the talk, which meant they often felt unfinished. Now I create them as mind maps, they are usually completed at least a week before the event, have far more depth and a far better structure. A talk I’m giving next month which involves a large mass of material which needs organising before I can even think about preparing the talk would be almost unmanageable without mind map software to collate and then sort the data.

  4. I have been mind mapping are over 45 years now. Up until 1999 I did everything on paper. Around that time I started using software. Using the software always saves me so much time that I don’t feel I really want to go back to using paper.

    On occasion I thought to get out the old drawing paper tablet in my box of colored pencils and other coloring tools. Just for the creativity of it. I am just starting the paper version and then my mind takes off and I can get it down just enough, so I quit and go back to the software.

    Now that Mind Manager version 8 is out I’m even in more seventh heaven with using the software. Instead of going out during a mind map now on my drawing paper, I did have fun doodling and trying to draw. Much less pressure.

  5. @Catherine Congratulations! So you invented mind mapping, not Tony Buzan!? Over 45 years would mean you started in 1964 or earlier. Didn’t Mr. Buzan make mention of mind mapping first in his 1971 book Speed Reading? Even concept mapping, though it had roots in academic thinking in the 60s, didn’t appear until the early 70s.

    You should leap in there, claim the trademark and take full advantage of your prior art!


  6. Personally, I prefer pen & paper although I probably do more mindmaps with software when it comes right down to it.

    I find the information sticks in my head better when I do it by hand than if I use software. I once read that mindmapping creates new neural pathways in your brain, so maybe there’s a scientific explanation for why I remember hand-drawn maps better 🙂

    Doing it by hand also means I never run out of battery power when I’m sitting in a workshop taking notes, doing some planning at Starbucks or working somewhere else that I could use my laptop. It also doesn’t crash, the files don’t get corrupted and I don’t have to worry about whether the latest and greatest version of whatever software I like at any given time can open all my existing maps 😉

    Software is more convenient though, at least when I’m in front of my computer. So I tend to use it for things I want to flesh out quickly, or when I’m planning a project.

    As far as moving hand-drawn maps into software, I sometimes will if it’s a topic I’m likely to refer back to on a regular basis, but I definitely don’t convert everything.

  7. Mind Maps start in our heads surely and then become physical on paper or on the screen? Personally it depends what I am doing or where I am as to how the physical state starts. I was in a car dealers recently and ended up drawing a MM to show the dealer what I meant as it would have been in appropriate to digitally produce a MM, then shortly afterwards I was in a school and I was producing digital MM in a meeting planning some training. It really does not matter do it how you like and how you feel comfortable.
    As regards Catherine inventing Mind Mapping: Tony Buzan (great personal friend) did not invent Mind Mapping he ‘originated’ the concept. MM in some form or other has been around for many hundreds if not thousands of years. If you have not seen this most recent book then I highly recommend it Mind Maps of Business.
    Happy New year.

  8. Tim,

    I strongly agree: Circumstances, audience (if any), personal preference and tools available should be what determine the choice of medium for mindmaps.

    As for whether Buzan invented mind maps, well, he does claim that himself. Less than a year ago he said:
    “Ever since I invented Mind Maps, I have dreamed of . . . ” – – 04-Feb-09

    And wishing you a Happy New Year as well.


  9. This question came up in a LinkedIn group discussion, and Tim Fulford (who commented above) added a point: “I do like to combine the two methods and have hand drawn on a digital structure, it works well and can particularly help with recall for exams/study for example.”

    Seems obvious once you see it written down, and yet I’ve never seen any mention of that before. It’s a good idea and I shall be trying it.



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