Use Visual Maps to Organize Your Ideas

Categories: Academic Writing Month, Presentation, Visuals, and Creativity, Tools and Resources, Writing and Editing

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November is Academic Writing Month #AcWriMo at Methodspace! The theme this week is: Getting Organized. The previous post explored ways to use outlining; this post presents visual options.


I am a visual thinker, so prefer to illustrate my ideas and plans. Visual maps can be helpful when you are brainstorming ideas for your writing project, or when you are trying to organize and plan how to carry out your project.

When you look at the resources listed below and others available online, you will discover two major strategies: concept maps or mindmaps. Concept maps are used to depict and name complex relationships between concepts. They are typically used to represent—and develop—knowledge. Concept maps are ideal for teasing out and illustrating the ideas you want to discuss in your writing. Mindmaps are used more generally to visually organize information.

Educator and theorist Joseph Novak was the originator of the concept map. I was fascinated by his ideas when I had the opportunity to study with him as a graduate student at Cornell University. His book, Learning How to Learn (Novak & Gowin, 1984), is one of the few books that I have kept through countless moves. Here are links to the free C-Map software product and related articles.

Mindmaps are used more generally to visually organize information. The idea of mindmapping originated with Tony Buzan, but has been adapted in various ways by users and software developers. Styles range from hierarchal to free-form, and often include images and side notes.

I tend to use the term visual mapping and draw from both styles. Choose the approach that works for you, whether you are trying to visualize the conceptual framework or the project plan for your writing.

Microsoft Visio can be used to create visual maps, however, you can find other tools that include collaborative features or the ability to export your map as a picture file, Powerpoint slides, or Word outline. Three options to explore are: FreeMind, which is (obviously!) a free software tool,  Inspiration, which is more oriented towards teachers, or MindManager, which is more oriented toward organizational or business contexts. I used MindManager to create the above map, so have discovered you can contact them for an educator discount.

Share your maps, resources, and ideas for visual organization tools for writers at #AcWriMo on Twitter, or use the comment area.


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