The Rules of Mind Mapping: Are They Important To Apply To Your Mind Maps?

There are rules in everything—yes, even in mind mapping, which some would say is supposed to be a free-thinking concept!

However, Tony Buzan’s rules for mind maps are interpreted as guidelines by some (no prizes for guessing whether they followed the rules in their mind maps), and with good reason.

Does it really matter that your mind maps do not have a picture for their main ideas, or that you are unable to locate that darn option for changing colours in your mind mapping software?

Rules are meant to be broken. What they don’t say though is that you need to know the rules to break them. So, let’s look at the mind mapping “rules” so that we can know which ones to break!

Rule no. 1 states that you must start at the center of a blank sheet of landscape-oriented paper. This seems more intuitive and convenient, so I wonder why you might want to violate this.This is a good idea, if not a rule.

Rule no. 2 advises us to use a picture for the central idea of our mind maps. Here’s a rule many people are not too crazy about. While it might make mind mapping more interesting, and the mind maps more attractive, many percieve it is not always possible—for example, using a picture for abstract themes is tough for many. There is also the age old excuse “I can’t draw”

Rule no. 3 talks about using colours throughout the mind map. There is always the danger of a rainbow gone weird look with taking this rule too seriously. I’d just say—consider your purpose—is it a note-taking mind map, or a mind map meant to teach others something? You might want to tone down the neon green if it’s to be presented at an academic conference (unless it’s a mind mapping conference).

Rule no. 4 advises mind mappers to connect the main branches to the central image and branch out from that. Sound advice, and this seems to be one of the central distinguishing features of a mind map. If you’re going to call your creation a mind map, you’ve got to follow this one.

Rule no. 5 simply says, “Make your branches curved, organic and flowing, tapering outward.” Why will my mind maps be better if you followed this one? It’s simply because this design gently leads the eye to the branches from the central idea and other branches. This is important—remember those psychedelic colours? It also distinguishes your mind maps from flowcharts, especially with mind mapping software.

Rule no. 6 is a hotly debated one. It says, “Use one keyword per line.” Following this is getting more and more difficult, as mind mapping gets serious about its new avatar as a visual knowledge management and representation system. (Did I actually type out that phrase?).  Here is not the time and place to debate the benefits of doing this, suffice to say that when doing hand drawn maps for taking notes it is VITAL to focuse on one word per line.

Rule no. 7 asks mindmappers to use images throughout their mind maps. This is great advice, but not for all. If you’ve got to take down notes at a great speed, don’t try drawing images and expect them to be works of art – stick figures will suffice.  If you can, try adding images later.

Rule no. 8 is the one I like best: Develop your own personal style of mind maps. Mind maps are, in the end, about you. If lists work best for you, go for one with lists. If you can only work with green and red (each of us has his/her quirks), go ahead. Creating your personal style using mind mapping software may be a challenge—but not impossible.

Rule no. 9 states: Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map. Great idea—emphasis helps suggest a hierarchy in concepts, which is often of importance. Rarely, as we know so well, is everything equal in life!

Rule no 10, the last one, says, “Use ‘radiant’ hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches.” Embracing the branches is not just something environmentalists do, apparently! Let’s say your mind map has two branches that are somehow related. Bracketing them together by either shading them a different colour, or by enclosing them in an outline, is a great way to show the relationship between the two. Clearly, a practical guideline.

So, there you have it: The ten rules of mind mapping, and here’s one that really should be on the list: Have fun mind mapping. If you’re not having fun doing it, don’t!

PS – Make sure you download your free copy of “Get Started With Mind Mapping” that you will find at the top right hand side of this page.  It contains everything you need to know for you to get started using Tony Buzan’s creation – including the rules and example mind maps.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tim Fulford December 8, 2009 at 9:33 am

    This is an interesting post. I think that the ‘rules’ should be followed and seen as guidelines. I used to break them all the time until I was trained by Tony Buzan and became a Buzan Licensed Instructer and Master Trainer for Buzan Online. I now realise the increased freedom that following these golden guidelines give me.
    The I can’t draw I love…. everyone can draw, we drew before we learnt to write and we were good at it. We use images all the time, we can understand them and create them. However some people (those who say they can’t draw) are not prepared to try because they are embarrassed by their quality just as someone who finds difficulty in reading out loud or writing on a board in a public situation finds that embarrassing or difficult. Anyone who says they can’t draw in my sessions gets my attention and by the end of the session they are drawing and enjoying it. It never fails.

  • Matthew Lang December 8, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    I agree with Tim on the fact that the rules should be seen more as guidelines. However these guidelines are what mind mappers should be aspiring too.

    When I started mind mapping, I broke all the rules. In fact I still do, but mostly with software mind maps.

    Over time, I gradually weeded out my bad habits and now I pretty much follow all the rules about 90% of the time. Yes there are times when I add too many keywords or don’t use color, but it’s not very often.

    When starting something new, people can’t be expected to do it really well on their first attempt. Mind mapping is a skill that takes time to master and by aspiring to these guidelines, people do eventually become very accomplished mind mappers.