Research is a big part of life. Even if it isn’t a part of your job, you will still have times in life where collecting information on a topic can give you an advantage in making decisions or preparing for your next move.
In my own life, I research new tools, work concepts, topics for blog posts, building a house, organizing finances, even getting a new dog.
But the type of research we’re used to doing, the type we learned in school, isn’t very useful to me. I realized a long time ago, that I think better in images. And what is a better way to organize information in the form of an image than mind mapping?
I’ve been using mind mapping for a long time. It started out with a paper and pen. Paper and pen mind maps were pretty limited. I could get the basic idea of a topic down on paper and get the general overview of the topic I was working on, but if I came across any new information that didn’t already have a space on the page, rearranging or reorganizing was nearly impossible. Also, you can’t incorporate links and videos into a paper mind map. Talk about limiting!
As technology advanced, so did my mind maps. Early mind mapping software was definitely an improvement over paper and pen. I was really excited to give these a try since I had found the medium to be so valuable to me. I’ve tested many mind mapping tools over the years.
Testing all these mind mapping tools brought me two important perspectives.
- I began to form a vision of a new way of mind mapping that would go beyond a basic mind map to combine the best of deep research with mind mapping capabilities.
- I started to form a list of the “must-have” features in a mind mapping software that could meet my exacting needs.
This led me to devise the special method of research I use today: Creative Research. But more about that later.
To understand, and truly appreciate, the potential of how my current method of research works, we need to learn a little bit more about mind maps, and why they work the way they do.
A mind map is a diagram that uses visuals to represent a topic in the center, with all of the related sub-topics coming off of that center topic. Mind maps can be arranged in different ways to use shapes, colors, and images to give a quick visual overview of the topic and related subtopics.
You may have used a mind map in the past. You were probably required to create one during your time in school as a project or assignment. As fun as it may have been to create a visually stimulating mind map to earn a grade, it’s possible you didn’t see any practical use for mind mapping in your everyday life.
There are a few possible reasons why you didn’t adopt mind mapping as a regular way of gathering information, for instance:
- Perhaps you were never taught the ways mind maps can be used and the different variations that exist.
- It was pre-technology and you didn’t like how much time it took to draw out the mind map, only to find you couldn’t easily change it.
- Maybe you’re not a visual learner, so mind mapping doesn’t come naturally to you.
Things have changed a lot since the days of drawing a mind map on a piece of paper. The mind mapping of today is not what it used to be. The type of technology that now exists makes mind mapping a great “new” resource for doing Creative Research.
Where did mind mapping come from?
There are examples of diagrams resembling mind maps tracing back centuries. The term “mind map” was coined in 1974 by British author and education consultant, Tony Buzan. His book, The Mind Map Book, put forward and popularized his idea of Radiant Thinking, which is the idea that your mind thinks in a “radial tree” pattern that starts at a central point and radiates outward.
Following this line of thinking, a mind map is a physical representation of the radiant thinking pattern of your brain, or it is a mirror of how your brain thinks. Using a mind map, you can get a complete view of a topic, versus having to scan from left to right and top to bottom in order to read the same information.
How can mind maps be used?
You can use mind maps for thinking tasks, learning tasks, decision making, research, blog post ideas, career planning, group brainstorming, visual presentations, project managing, and some even promote it as a way to visualize and arrange your goals.
There really are limitless ways this tool can be used. What you use mind mapping for will be unique to your life, needs, and preferences. This adaptability is one of the things that makes it a great tool for many people and many applications.
Why do our brains like mind maps?
A picture is worth a thousand words. This saying is the perfect description of what makes mind maps so brain-friendly. It means a complex idea, that would take many words to relate, can be conveyed in a single picture.
There are many studies that show that images are more easily remembered than spoken or written words. There’s even a name for it. It’s called the Picture Superiority Effect.
There are also numerous studies on the effects of color on learning and recall. Findings reported in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition showed that subjects who were shown identical photo images had better recall when the images were in color versus black and white.
Even something as basic as shapes have been shown to increase understanding of spatial relationships that relate to measurement, algebra, geometry, data analysis, and probability.
Our brain is adept at pattern recognition, and mental processes like perception, attention, and memory are interrelated. There are numerous studies to show that images, colors, and shapes lend to a greater ability to learn and remember than just text alone.
All of these conceptual features, along with Radiant Thinking, are used when creating mind maps, which leads us to studies showing positive effects associated with using them.
A user study conducted by Glennis Cunningham in 2005, showed that 80% of students thought mind mapping helped them understand science ideas and concepts. And a 2017 study done with medical students in Puducherry, India showed that students who used a mind map to learn a passage of information had a mean score that was significantly higher than the opposing group learning the same passage through reading text.
Creative Research: Mind mapping brought into the future.
This brings us back to how I incorporated mind maps into my research process.
Throughout much of my life, mind mapping has been very useful to me. I’ve used mind mapping for as long as I can remember.
In so many of my endeavors, I have needed to gather information to get the best results. From my time at university to my day job, and even planning content for the Paperless Movement, doing research has been essential. But the typical style of research didn’t give me the best results, so I developed a way of researching using mind maps. I call it Creative Research.
I define Creative Research as, “Collecting information from any digital source into a mind mapping app, with no interruptions of the thought process caused by tool switching or format changing.” This method of research has become central to the way I work.
When I’m actively researching, I don’t want to be interrupted in my thinking flow. I’m brainstorming about stuff. I’m researching things, and I don’t want to be interrupted by switching devices. I don’t want to be interrupted by file restrictions. I want to use a mind mapping app to collect and view anything I see when researching for a specific topic: Images, Text, URLs, Files, Videos, Audio files, etc.
What makes using a mind map app perfect for this kind of research is everything I pull together into my mind map can be used and viewed directly in the mind map without having to redirect to another page, which interrupts my train of thought. Having research consist only of text with links that I have to click on and navigate away from my main page causes a major distraction for me.
Isn’t all research creative? How is this different?
The reasoning that all research is creative is sound and true. To do research, you need to keep a wide-open mind to pull information from unrelated places and see connections that didn’t previously exist.
The way I use the term Creative Research differentiates it from the typical academic-style research of gathering and arranging text. The difference is twofold.
- I can gather information quickly from many sources with no interruption in my train of thought due to the ability to simply add it to my mind map, versus typing things down, downloading files, switching apps or programs, etc.
- The information is organized and structured differently. Instead of blocks of text, my Creative Research makes use of images in the form of a mind map to give me a complete picture of the content of the compiled research at a glance, instead of having to sit and dive into the reading text to spark a memory or build an understanding of the body of work.
This method also makes quick work of linking related “research” papers together. The simple use of a hyperlink to another mind map topic, again, quickly gives an overview of what that entire block of research contains, and it doesn’t take a lot of sleuthing to understand how the two linked pages relate to each other.
This entire process of using images and the ability to link info together, and even build upon related topics, is the key to connecting the dots when doing research. I can literally look at my research and see the connections.
Not only is the visual aspect of this research creative, so is the ability to see connections between topics and subtopics, and easily rearrange them to explore other possible connections. Using this method of flexible research inspires amazing new ideas and brings together more comprehensive bodies of work. It allows you to integrate words, themes, and topics with colors, shapes, pictures for easier memory formation and recall.
The result is a dynamic, interactive piece of research that not only gives you an overview of your topic and shows the relationships of the elements of your research, it’s also interactive. Now that’s what I call a living document.
The best mind mapping tool for Creative Research.
I get a lot of questions about which mind mapping software is the best. I’ve been searching for the best mind mapping software for a long time.
Most mind mapping tools are very basic, replicating the process on paper with the advantage to drag around the topics and subtopics and change text or give styles to the shapes. But in order to meet my requirements, a mind mapping tool couldn’t simply be a digital version of the same things you could do with a paper and pen. To make this research method come to life, I searched for software with these features:
- Accessible on any device (e.g. Macbook, Windows Desktop, iPad, and iPhone) Important so I can capture new thoughts related to an existing mind map in any situation.
- Simple Drag and drop of a vast variety of file types from any source
- Free positioning of topics and subtopics
- Intuitive shape customization, positioning, and styling
- Interactive Linking of objects (click on subtopic and jump to a related one or to source)
- Cross-linking of mind maps
- Video import support (e.g. adding youtube videos with timestamps)
- Apple Pencil support
- Paper Sticky Note Capturing
- Commenting on shapes
- High Reliability
After two years of searching for an app that contained all of these features, I finally found a tool called Miro that provides all of these features and even more. Miro is my go-to software for doing Creative Research.
If you’d like a deeper look at Miro, and why I think it’s the best app on the market at this time for mind mapping and Creative Research, check out the blog post, Best Mind Mapping Tool, and take a look at the webinar I created for the Paperless Movement Inner Circle.
As far as the Creative Research method goes, this is what works best for me. Because this method is so flexible, each person can take it and adjust it to meet their individual needs or research style.
But what if mind mapping just isn’t your thing? Or what if you have mind maps, but you still rely heavily on written notes?
An amazing way to add a mind map effect to your written notes is through Sketchnotes.
I’ve mentioned this before, but to recap: Sketchnotes are images you draw along with your written notes that give you a quick overview of what your notes are about. This way, you can quickly scan your notes and know which topics they cover, without having to dive in and start reading the text.
I have found Sketchnotes to be very helpful, so much so, that I included a grid in the top corner of the note sheet in my Digital Journal Designer for this very purpose.
To summarize: Using images helps us get a lot of information in a short glance. When they say a picture is with a thousand words, that is true. With an advanced mind mapping tool, like Miro, you can create a mind map around your research and link to original sources, import photos, link to files, PDF’s, videos, and so much more—without task switching and breaking your train of thought—resulting in a more complete record than you would have created if you had typed a report-style research paper.
And even if mind mapping isn’t your research tool of choice, you can still benefit from using images in your research by incorporating Sketchnotes to give you an instant download of the topic of your paper, at a glance.
The power of images, boosted by technology. Now that’s what I call Creative Research!