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9 Mind Mapping Mistakes Most Beginners Make and How to Avoid Them

9 Mind Mapping Mistakes Most Beginners Make and How to Avoid Them

Looking for a collection of no-nonsense mind mapping tips that you can easily implement to boost your visual mapping skills? Then look no further.


Below are 9 mistakes I summarize to help you become an experienced mind mapper.

Mind mapping for beginners

  1. Write down your goal
  2. Contents first, styling later
  3. Separate drafting from polishing
  4. Organize your mind maps with clear visual clues
  5. Combine mind maps with other diagrams
  6. Present your mind maps vividly
  7. Copy from masters
  8. Create or share mind maps in groups
  9. Use mind maps widely across disciplines

Mistake 1: Lost in Details

Your ideas can grow big. When they unravel, you might get lost on the way. Brainstorming does not work unless everyone is giving constructive and relevant insights. Note-taking and infographics are rigid and limited in the way they display information.

Remember that mind map is a vessel, a medium to carry your ideas. If you stuff it with random thoughts, it is like a bottle of sauce randomly mixing with different ingredients. It may give you some serendipity, but it is wandering away from your original goals.

Solution: Write down Your Purpose

Yes, brutally plain. Put a topic on the top of your map with your purpose inside. Alternatively, write it down on some sheets before putting it somewhere you can quickly see. Every time you look at your goal visually, your brain gets reminded.

Mistake 2: Obsession with Styling

Instead of getting your mind busy with the content of the mind map, you bury yourself in comparing font sizes and branch colors.

Sure, the graphic design is important. But separating content creation with styling is a common practice across many different industries. Even in design industry!

Multi-tasking might give you a sense of accomplishment, but that’s false productivity. It severely interrupts your thinking process. Research after research have shown that even a short interruption can induce excessive stress for people. One study calculates that productivity loss of workplaces can be up to 40% !

Solution: Content First, Separation of Concerns

Content is always the key. Anything else comes the second.

If you still struggle to stay away from styling a mind map, try to choose tools that help you auto-style the maps. In XMind, we have themes and quick-styling to free yourself from styling anxiety.


Mistake 3: Befriend with Perfectionism

No, perfectionism is not your friend.

Having unrealistic expectation is a sign of amateurism. There are a lot of tools and tips about mind mapping. They are helpful, but you cannot grasp them all when you are a beginner.

Also, perfectionism derails you from what you NEED to what you WANT. Your time is precious, so is your attention. Once you waste them, your passion for mind mapping might go away.

Solution: Separate Drafting from Polishing

"People call me a perfectionist, but I'm not. I'm a rightist. I do something until it's right, and then I move on to the next thing."
James Cameron

Mediocracity is not a problem to a draft. Drafting is about putting your thoughts in your mind to the paper (or a map). Editing is about improving your wordings and layouts. You should not do two things together. Otherwise, it will never end.

Even if you start with a terrible map, Call it a milestone when you finish drafting. Then revise it time and again.

What's more, the process of map-making fuels your thinking. Researchers have proposed theories that the process of map-building helps students to have a better memory. Pre-constructed maps(aka the results of the map), however, do not enhance learning performance.

Though “Perfect” does not exist, revisions never end. Good mind maps must have undergone stages of improvement, including structures, contents, and graphic designs.

Mistake 4: Messy Clustering and Confusing Organization

Although you can create a large mind map, its readability suffers.

I’m not saying that we should avoid big map at all costs. Mind maps are great for capturing big-picture views, but you need to prune out the useless branches before you get that.

Pruning is not what you should care about when drafting. But when you start to sort things out or present your mind map, pruning would be a “must-to-have”.

Solution: Discipline Your Design with Principles

  1. Be conservative in keeping topics. After brainstorming, be liberal and determined to move out redundancy.
  2. Follow some design principles. We elaborate principles and related features in this post .
  3. Seperate a large map into multiple sheets if the topic number is more than 50. XMind provides New Sheet from Topic for that purpose.


Mistake 5: No Combination with Other Diagrams

What is a mind map? A mind map is a tree chart with a central theme. That means mind maps have their limits (though not many people can reach that).

The mind map is just one of the countless tools. With combination of other tools, you have countless possibilities.

Solution: Combine Mind Map with Other Diagrams

XMind builds in various auto-generated diagrams. Say, Org-Chart, Timeline, Fishbone, and even Matrix.

To go further, combine mind maps with concept maps. They are similar but with different advantages. Mind map helps free-thinking and word association. Concept map is stronger in showing logical relationships and finding content gaps.

The steps are:

  • Create a mind map
  • Use relationships to connect one mind map topic with a floating topic.
  • Then add the linking phrase on the connection line to explain the relationship.

Further Reading:

Mistake 6: Stiff Presentation

Mind maps, unlike linear outlines, are better at audience engagement in casual presentations. However, when the first mind-mappers start, they often resort to creating brutally boring mind maps. We human are fun-seekers and want things to be dynamic and exciting.

Solution: Make Your Mind Maps Come to Live

XMind provides many handy features to make your maps lively. Adding GIFs , colored branches , and stickers can easily make your charts eye-catching. Diving specifically into one chapter guides your audience to focus on specific sections. By inserting attachment files -like audio and video-in your diagrams, you can engage your audience more during your presentation.

Mistake 7: Repetitive Creation

Some say that forcing yourself to create mind maps everyday builds up your creativity. But it makes no sense if you are repeating one idea again and again.

When you realise your mind maps start to look the same for days, you might consider to challenge yourself a bit. The challenge is not just a concern for visual design but also your understanding of specific ideas or information.

Solution: Copy from the Experienced

Copying from the masters is the most effective way. “Copy” seems to be naturally negative. However, the legendary creative artist Twyla Tharp does not agree.

In her best-seller book The Creative Habit , she summarizes her core secret in creativity as getting “busy copying.” She thinks that

"following in someone else’s footprints is a vital means of acquiring a skill."

Communities like Mindmap Gallery and Biggerplate are platforms full of inspirations. Searching “mind maps” in the topic-specific communities like freeCodeCamp and Cardano Education might be more straightforward for problem-sovling.

Start from the templates is also a good option. We curate a lot of beautiful templates for various scenarios:

Further Reading:

Mistake 8: No Group Mind Mapping

Mind mapping brings forth self-reflection, and it keeps your mind decluttered. But from our research, we also find that mappers are not fully utilise the power of group mapping.

In one of our research, what we found is that over 50% of our users only keep mind maps to themselves. Some are solo mappers, some are not. What's the big deal? What's interesting is another data -- over 30% of users interviewed are praising grouping mapping experiences, including those self identified as solo mappers!

Why is it such case? What we found out is that complex problem solving requires opinions and knowledge from different expertises. And if we can avoid groupthink (forced and unwise consensus), then we enjoy group wisdom (wise consensus).

Sounds familiar? That's what brainstorming is promising. But good brainstorming requires smart process that avoids social conformity. I elaborate more in the brainstorm template post, but the brief process is follow 👇.

Solution: Share and Collaborate in Groups

Researchers from the University of York has experimented on three different types of collaborations and discovered that working real-time on the same map is not the optimal method. Instead, distributed collaboration (DC below) shows the most promising learning enhancement result.

The mechanism of DC is basically letting the group to edit mind map one-by-one without social anxiety. To achieve that, the group needs to prepare two things: the sequence of editors and editing time unit.

Let's suppose the team has decided Ada and Sully would be the 1st and 2nd editor, and the time unit is 5 minutes. During the map building, what will happen is:

  1. The team comes up with the problem statement and put it in the central topic. Then everyone shouts out a big list of questions and write them down in the first level of topics.

  2. Ada starts to edit and add solution ideas to the map, others can only read the question map. No discussions allowed.

  3. 5 minutes have passed. Ada releases her newly edited map to the team and passes the editing permission to the next editor, Sully.

  4. Sully repeats Step 2 and 3. And other teammates can only read the Ada-edited map.

  5. Continue until every one in the group finishes editing.

The group performs exceptionally well in combining self-contemplation with group wisdom. XMind provides several ways for you to achieve distributed collaboration on mind mapping.

Mistake 9: No Mind Mapping for S.T.E.M.

Maybe after reading some blogs or reports, you tend to have a feeling that mind maps are only for creative disciplines. However, studies have repeatedly proved that mind maps are also useful for more structured subjects like chemical engineering , medical science , patent law , and more. Knowledge itself has commonality.

Solution: Try Mind Mapping on “Not-Suitable” Disciplines

List out areas in which you think is entirely impossible for mind mapping, and try to create mind maps for them.

It is inevitable that many of them turns out to be trash. However, even one or two that works will turn to be gold and help you think out of the box.


To sum up:

  1. Write down your purpose
  2. Content first, separation of concerns
  3. Separate drafting from revising
  4. Organize by clear visual clues
  5. Combine your mind maps with other charts
  6. Make your mind maps come to live
  7. Copy from the experienced
  8. Share and collaborate in groups
  9. Use mind maps across different subjects

Above is our guide for mind mapping techniques. How about your experience? Chat with me on Twitter

Try Xmind Free
Avinash Priya
Jan 21, 2019
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