Structuring Essays Using Mind Mapping

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

In writing an essay, the most difficult part can be thinking of ideas and then putting them in order. This lesson will help you understand how mind mapping might help you create a more organized composition.

The Situation

You have been assigned to write an essay for a class. Perhaps you have been assigned a topic and have been asked to take a position on that topic. Or, sometimes even more difficult, you have a wide range of topics from which to choose. Either way, it is now your responsibility to generate ideas on your topic and organize those ideas into a coherent whole. Remember, one of the four main characteristics of a well-written essay is coherence, which means that the essay flows smoothly and makes sense to the reader.

The Problem

The problem here is that it is not so easy to decide how to organize the many thoughts you may have (or find through research) about this topic. Whether this essay is purely your own ideas and opinions or involves outside sources, you must take all the information and fit it together in a concise and understandable format. Unfortunately, sometimes our brains do not work this way. We think of various ideas that all pertain to the topic, but may not fit together easily.

For example, perhaps you are writing about the subject of juvenile diabetes. This is a fairly large topic with much information to be found. You might find information about genetics, environment, diagnosis, treatment, and long-term prognosis. You might also have a certain way you want to approach the topic. For instance, perhaps you have a sibling who has grown up with diabetes. You want to include the emotional aspect of the topic using your personal experience. So now you have to make some organized order out of the many parts of the topic.


Sometime in your student career you have probably tried brainstorming ideas by making some sort of list or outline. You may have also tried the method of free writing, in which you let your mind wander freely over the general topic and write down whatever comes to mind.

The problem with outlining is that it presumes you already know how you wish to organize your thoughts and ideas. In the pre-writing stage of an essay or research paper, this may be far from the case! And, though free-writing can be quite useful if you are stuck at the beginning with no ideas at all, it still leaves you with ideas scattered and undefined, with no connections between them. Now what?

Still Not Organized

An Alternative

There is another technique now available that might help you to not only find but organize your ideas. This is mind mapping, first made popular by British television personality Tony Buzan during a 1974 BBC TV series he hosted called Use Your Head. Since then, versions of the technique have been used by school systems, corporations, and individual instructors to help people follow the natural pathways of human thinking.

The basic concept of a mind map is to place your central idea in the center of a blank paper. The generation of ideas then branches out like a tree, using connections between concepts to organize those ideas. One of the most exciting elements of this tool is that your brain automatically follows this type of pattern, and all the cognitive functions of your brain can contribute to the whole.

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