In this article we’ll show you how to use mind maps for essay writing. Mind maps can not only make this often dreadful task a whole lot easier, but also save you a huge amount of time. If you want to learn how this simple yet effective technique works, just follow the steps as outlined below.
What Is a Mind Map?
A mind map is a diagram that displays information visually. You can create mind maps using pen and paper, or you can use an online mind mapping tool such as MindMeister. Whatever you use, the rules for creating a mind map are simple:
1) Write the subject in the center of your paper / canvas.
2) Draw branches that point away from the center. Each branch symbolizes one thought or idea related to the subject. Use meaningful keywords to write these ideas onto the branches.
3) From each branch more ideas can branch off.
4) Use colors, icons and images whenever possible. These function as mental triggers and can help spark new ideas in you, which is important during brainstorming sessions.
Now that you know how to create a basic mind map, let’s go over how you can use mind maps for essay writing.
Step 1: Using a Mind Map to Find a Good Topic for Your Essay
If you have the opportunity to choose the topic for your paper yourself, try to find one that’s been covered by other researchers before, but still gives you a chance to come up with new findings and conclusions. If you choose a topic that has already been explored in depth by a gazillion other researchers, you might be hard pressed to develop a unique perspective.
Ideally, the topic should be something you are also personally interested in, or at least something you can relate to in some way. This will make the whole task of writing your essay a little less dreadful. The best way to find such a topic is a brainstorming session.
How to brainstorm topic ideas in a mind map
Create a new mind map and simply write “My Essay” or “My Paper” in the center of the map. Now, start adding ideas around the center. These can be things your professor suggested, related subjects you discussed in class, or anything else relevant to get you started.
Next, note down your own areas of interest and see where they intersect with the former. Once you have a few good ideas for the subject of your paper, you can start weighing them against each other, noting down pros and cons. Eliminate topics until you’re left with only one. This will be the topic of your paper.
In the example below, the only requirement that had been given was to write a paper about literature from the English Renaissance. You’ll see various famous writers of this time mentioned in the map, as well as various aspects of their work that could be examined in a paper, such as the symbolism, dramatic conflicts or themes.
Step 2: Start the Research Process
While working through both primary and secondary sources, it’s quite easy to get confused about the numerous arguments and counterarguments. Many students get frustrated and waste a lot of time just trying to figure out how to make all the different pieces of information fit together into a coherent text.
What you need, therefore, is a system to collect and structure all this information in one central place, so you can easily review the materials while you write.
How to collect research in a mind map
Create a new mind map for each source (book, article, essay) you read and take notes in this mind map while you work through the text. Alternatively, you can use one single map where you list all your sources and create child topics for every page/paragraph/quote you want to use in your paper.
In the map below, you’ll see that – based on our initial brainstorming session – we chose ‘Love in Romeo and Juliet’ as the topic of our paper. For our research map, we wrote this topic in the center and created individual branches for each source we read. Next to the book title, we noted down the topics covered in the source, its central question as well as important passages that we thought we might want to quote in our essay.
Here are some practical tips to set you up for success:
- Use colors, arrows and icons to indicate connections between the arguments and quotes.
- Be sure to add the page numbers to the topics in your map so you can quickly go back to do some more fact checking if necessary. If you’re working with online sources you can also attach their links directly to the topics in your map.
- As you go along, you can restructure the sources according to topics, which usually provides a better overview of the material you have available for each section of your paper.
Here’s another example of a research map. This is the map we used to take notes while reading Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the subject of our paper. As you can see, we created branches for each of the text passages we wanted to analyze in the essay.
Step 3: Outline Your Paper in a Mind Map
Before you start with the actual writing, it’s very important that you first create an outline of your paper. This will help you create a coherent structure of your arguments, counterarguments, examples, quotes, and the sources you want to reference in each argument.
You can quickly review this outline whenever you get sidetracked in your writing process, or when you’re unsure about how to continue. A mind map is a great format for such an outline because it provides you with a visual overview of your thesis statement and the entire text structure.
If you’re using mind mapping software such as MindMeister, you can also…
- Link the individual topics in your map with the respective research maps you’ve created.
- Add notes and deadlines to each step to make sure your writing stays on schedule.
- Export your finished outline as a Word document and use it as the basis for your paper.
Using mind maps to plan and outline your essay will not only make the writing process a lot easier, it will also enable you to work through sources more efficiently and help you find information more quickly. Of course, you can use mind mapping for all types of writing assignments – from essays to short stories and from book reports to blog posts. Try it out!
See also: The Student’s Guide to Mind Mapping
This is a guest post by Sam Pealing. Make sure to visit his website EnglishForStudy.com for more academic English help!
I admire international students. Seriously. If you’re a non-native English speaker doing a degree or doctorate in English, then I take my hat off to you.
I get a lot of questions about writing essays, and I’ve taught hundreds of students how to write effective essays (which get good grades). One of the most common mistakes that I see is a lack of opinion.
Most of the time, students describe a situation, but they don’t give their opinion or stance. This can really damage your grade because lecturers are always looking for ‘critical thinking’. If you don’t give your opinion in your essays, your lecturers can’t see your critical thinking.
To put it simply: If you don’t put your opinion or stance in an essay, then you’ll probably lose marks.
In this article, you’ll learn 10 effective phrases that you can use to give your opinion in your essay. I’ve also created a free lesson pack which will help you to practice the phrases in this article. CLICK HERE to download it.
Introducing the Phrases
If you’re looking for a quick fix for your essay, these phrases should help you to start putting your own opinions in your essays.
But, before you rush over to your essays to start putting these phrases in, there’s something you need to know.
If you’re writing an academic essay, you will need to support your opinions with strong evidence. This is especially true if you are using some of the stronger phrases.
This evidence can be a journal article, a lecture, a textbook, or something else which is a trustworthy source of information.
In a more informal essay, like one in an IELTS or TOEFL language test, you don’t need to support your answers with strong evidence. Your experiences or opinions will be enough.
Quick note: I know! You’re ready to see the phrases.
This won’t take long and it’s really important.
1. For these phrases to be really effective, you’ll need to review your grammar. Shayna has some great videos on her Espresso English Youtube channel.
I recommend these:
2. If you want to know the structure of a good essay paragraph, check my post here.
Informal English Phrases
These phrases are suitable for language tests such as TOEFL or IELTS. In an academic essay, these phrases will probably be too informal because they are too personal.
“In my opinion, + [your sentence]”
- In my opinion, a good education is more important than a good car.
“I believe that + [your sentence]”
- I believe that schools should encourage students to walk or cycle to school rather than drive.
“In my mind, + [your sentence]”
- “In my mind, no-one should have to pay for medical care.”
More Formal Academic Phrases With ‘That’
These phrases are more suitable for academic essays. If you are unsure whether you should use an informal phrase or an academic phrase, use an academic one. If you think your writing might be informal, read this post to learn more.
The patterns here are quite straightforward. Just add your sentence after ‘that’.
“It would seem that + [your sentence]”
Use this when you support your opinion with evidence.
- “It would seem that children learn best when they are feeling comfortable.”
“It could be argued that + [your sentence]”
Use this when you want to challenge an existing opinion.
- “It could be argued that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in this situation.”
“This suggests that + [your sentence]”
Use this when you don’t want to fully commit to an opinion. You’re giving yourself some distance.
- “The evidence suggests that people who speak more than one language have more job opportunities.”
“This proves that + [your sentence]”
Use this when you are confident with your opinion. This phrase is quite strong*
- “This proves that the best way to lose weight is through a controlled diet and a good exercise program.”
“This supports the idea that + [your sentence]”
Use this one when you are supporting an opinion that you have already made.
- “This new research supports the idea that successful English learners look for opportunities to use English.”
Other Ways to Express Opinion
“Although [idea you disagree with], [idea you agree with]”
Use this when you want make your opinion seem balanced.
- “Although reports suggest that cigarettes could help people to lose weight, there are too many serious health problems associated with smoking.”
Note: The ‘although’ pattern is very effective because it shows two sides of the argument. In the example, I support the idea that smoking is bad for your health –BUT- I recognise that it could have some benefits.
Structure your ‘although’ sentence like this: Although, [weaker argument you disagree with], [stronger argument you agree with].
Using Adverbs, Adjectives and Nouns
You can use adjectives to show your opinion.
- “This research was poorly conducted with a lack of control.”
The adjective and nouns in the example are negative. You can get some good ideas from this video on Extreme Adjectives. Note: try not to use any emotional adjectives.
Make Your Own Phrases!
Of course, these phrases aren’t the only ones that you can use! You can find more –or– you can create your own by combining different patterns.
Here’s an example of #7, #9 and #10 used together.
“Although it is difficult for older adults to learn a second language, an important study by Smith (2014) proved that the elderly can successfully learn new languages.”
What Should You Do Now?
So now you should have a better idea of how to include more opinions in your essays. But that’s not all; there are probably some new words here that you don’t know.
So here’s what you should do:
- Choose three of the opinion expressions and phrases that you want to try.
- Practice writing sentences using them (if you don’t have a topic, try this: should students do homework? You can see examples of this in the lesson pack)
- Get the Lesson Pack for this lesson (which contains the vocabulary and the phrases from this lesson) CLICK HERE to download it.
About Sam Pealing
Sam Pealing is an English language coach who specialises in two important areas: 1. helping you to get great grades at university, and 2. helping you to become an effective and confident English user. If you’re feeling frustrated or confused with English, Sam has created the perfect email course for you! You can join his course here –or- you can read more by him on English For Study.