12 December 2008

The power of mind-mapping

Mind-mapping software can help people build and track their ideas when working on projects or trying to learn something new.

The creative process is full of potential pitfalls. Handwritten notes are sometimes illegible and can be misplaced, reappearing days after they were needed.

But now there is mind-mapping, a new kind of software designed to help people build and track their ideas when working on projects or learning something new.

"Now I keep notes that I would normally have kept on paper on the computer, where I can move them around until I'm happy with the results," said Juergen Tausch, a professor at the University of Braunschweig. An instructor of behavioural biology, he's become a great believer in the technology and remarked: "I no longer use note pads."

Engage both hemispheres
In a mind-map, key words are laid out along branches, linked by colours, pictures, shapes or symbols. The idea is to engage both hemispheres of the brain by using verbal, logical, intuitive and visual cues.

At first, the main idea is laid out in the centre. From there, the primary and secondary thoughts branch out and are positioned on the branches according to their importance.

Many mind-mapping programs have similar functions. New branches are created at the press of a button. Typing without a plan results in the creation of a parallel organiser. Hitting the insert command generally creates a new, subordinate branch. The golden rule is to use one key word per branch.

There are about a dozen mind-mapping programs available. Some are free, but others can cost over R4 500.

MindGenius 2 Business from Gael costs 200 euros (about R2 700), MindManager Pro 7 by Mindjet sells for 300 euros (about R4 050), a Mac version goes for 150 euros (about R2 000) and OpenMind 2 Business by Matchware proved the best options, according to a test by c' t, a Hanover-based magazine. But there are plenty of cheaper academic versions.

Try free version
"Before spending a few thousand rands , check whether Freemind meets your needs," advises c't. The freeware program functions with Windows, Mac and Linux. Adding links is easy, but exporting Maps from the Office suite is not part of the programming. Nevertheless, some elements can be copied and pasted manually. (Freemind can be downloaded from this website.)

Mind-maps can be used for brainstorming and planning projects. And they are a useful study aid for people with a photographic memory, said Tausch. While there are indications that it is easier to learn with mind-maps although there is as yet no proof.

(Sapa/dpa, December 2008)

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