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Mind maps for creative thinking in research

Mind maps are controversial. Some people find them very useful indeed, whereas other people consider them an annoying waste of time - but please read on. If you then want to dismiss them, then so be it. Don't knock them though until you have tried them! Mind maps can really help creative thinking, and creative thinking can be crucially important in research.

How mind maps can be useful in research

The mind map technique can free the mind from the constrained and ordered viewpoint from which it has been seeing a problem or issue. A mind map provides an overview, which shows at a glance all the components of a problem or issue and the links between them. This tends to stimulate new and creative ideas.

How to work with mind maps

The first stage of a mind map with the first set of spokes labelled with the children's six questions and 'costs' and 'resources'.

The first stage of a mind map with the first set of spokes labelled with the children's six questions and 'costs' and 'resources'.

The second stage of a mind map with additional spokes labelled with thoughts stimulated by the first set of labels.

The second stage of a mind map with additional spokes labelled (not shown) with thoughts stimulated by the first set of labels. (These secondary labels are highly individual to the person drawing the mind map and are not shown.)

The last stage of a mind map with links between similar thoughts that have occurred on different spokes.

The last stage of a mind map with links between similar thoughts that have occurred on different spokes.

The diagrams show three stages in the production of a mind map. Its spokes are labelled with well-tried and tested routes to creativity. Six of these are the known as the 'children's questions': why? how? what? when? where? and who? The other two are 'costs' and 'resources'. Resources are what one has at one's disposal which cost nothing, and costs involve an outlay of some sort.

To use a mind-map, you would:

By this time, you may feel that a viable solution to the problem has already occurred to you. If not, put the sketches aside and wait to see if a solution pops into your head later. If it does not after a few days, look at the mind map again and try to amend it in some way to set your mind pondering about the problem in this free and unconstrained way.

General information

More creative thinking techniques

For all the creative thinking techniques that can be useful in research, see the panel below,

Creative thinking techniques on this website

The following pages give creative thinking techniques which can be useful in research:

© Pat Cryer


* 'Supervisor' is a shorthand for 'research degree supervisor', 'advisor' or 'tutor', and applies to varying extents for all research degrees: PhD, DPhil. MPhil, Prof Doc and even undergraduate and masters' projects. In some countries, notably the USA, a 'supervisor' is known as an 'advisor'.