I have just started preparing to write a report on culture change within a municipal department. It’s a complex topic with many different strands of information and ideas, and I have 43 typewritten pages of notes from 20 interviews with key stakeholders.
I was not sure what my key points were so there was no way that I was ready to prepare an outline. Instead, I went through my notes and jotted down all the key words or themes. Then I drew a mind map to help me link all the different ideas.
A mind map is a graphic way to organize your thoughts. You start with your central theme and then branch out from it with all the different sub-themes. Then you start linking related ideas to the secondary themes. And you start identifying lateral connections between one idea and another so you connect them with a line as well. I find it a really effective way to group related topics, make the connections between different ideas, and identify the primary themes. Once that’s done, I’m ready to draft an outline – although so far my outline looks more like a flow chart than a table of contents as I’m still in the conceptualization stage.
Some people draw pictures on their mind maps, or you can use different colours of ink or highlighters. There are various online mind mapping programs,but I don’t think that would work for me. I am a very linear thinker when I’m using the computer (plus I have to focus far too much of my attention on trying to use the software program). It’s much easier for me to free associate if I’m scribbling words on a page and connecting circles with lines and arrows.
Buzan World provides helpful background information on mind mapping, and they have a super gallery of examples to inspire you (lots of colour and images).
Software Life suggests trying Mindmeister, which you can use individually or as part of an online collaborative team.
Blogtrepreneur recommends exploratree, which offers a wide range of ‘thinking guides.’ The guides offer a range of graphic formats to help you organize your thoughts – from traffic lights to a flower with its stems, leaves and roots to concentric circles. They looked like fun.
A related program that I have used is the Visual Thesaurus. Alternative word choices spread out from your original choice, and they’re grouped according to related meaning. You can try it out for free. It’s appealing as you can see at a glance all your different options.