Guide to understanding thought maps

What is a thought map?

A thought map is a visual way to document existing knowledge about a particular subject or topic. Within a business or team, knowledge is often siloed, and some information is never formally recorded—it only exists in employees' minds. Thought mapping helps you extract, record, and organize this information.

Once you make a thought map about a certain topic, project, or process, you don't have to worry about information slipping through the cracks due to forgetfulness or employee turnover. Although they may seem similar, thought maps are not the same as mind maps. Mind maps have a defined radial structure, while thought maps tend to be more complex, with more ideas branching off the main concept.

Thought maps have a similar structure to concept maps, with some of the same elements, including a focus question or main concept, linking words and phrases, cross-links, and a hierarchical structure.

When to use a thought map

Thought maps provide a visual framework for recording and analyzing complex ideas and thoughts. Visualizing a concept and its various components makes it easier to understand and retain the knowledge.

Professionals across various industries use thought maps to organize and visualize ideas. Some example use cases for thought mapping include:

Recording workflows

You can use a thought map to guide team members through important business processes and workflows. With a thought map, you can anticipate questions that could pop up and provide answers, which helps streamline the process and set your team up for success.

Anyone who handles complex technical tasks—a software developer, for example—could use a thought map to help train new team members.

Enabling creativity and problem-solving

Thought mapping can inspire creativity and enhance problem-solving skills. The thought map format encourages you to disseminate information, helping you organize what you already know and freeing your mind to pursue new ideas. The exploratory nature of thought mapping leads you to look beyond what you already know and seek creative, alternative solutions to problems.

A research and development specialist could use a thought map to explore ideas relating to new products and new markets.

Sharing information and results

Thought maps provide a way to communicate ideas and concepts to organizational shareholders. After organizing your research and ideas in a thought map, you can produce easy-to-follow reports that can be displayed or distributed among team members, leaders, and clients.

A marketing manager could use a thought map to organize and present information relating to marketing campaign efforts and results.

Benefits of thought mapping

Thought maps help you get your thoughts out of your head and into an organized, shareable format. Some of the key benefits of thought mapping include:

Improved memory retention and recall

Thought mapping and other visual aids are proven to assist with memory and information recall. Placing ideas in a visual framework provides additional context and helps your brain make stronger connections between concepts.

Enhanced understanding

The visual format of a thought map also makes ideas easier to understand because complex concepts are broken down into individual steps and parts. This means thought maps are a great tool for training and teaching because they help convey information logically and visually.

More effective solutions

A thought map helps you explore and evaluate various approaches to a given problem, helping you find the best solutions to your business challenges. The format encourages you to follow your ideas all the way to their conclusions to discover solutions you might not have discovered otherwise.

A clear path toward success

Thought maps act like road maps pointing you in the direction of success. A well-organized thought map can show you exactly how to proceed toward your ideal outcomes and reach your short and long-term goals.

How to make a thought map

A thought map allows you to organize your thoughts into actionable and shareable ideas. To create a thought map, follow these simple steps:

  1. Identify a central topic to explore. Start with a broad concept you want to investigate thoroughly.
  2. Create branches from the central topic to subtopics. These branches will help you explore specific aspects of the main thought.
  3. Continue building out your thought map with additional branches. Add more specific subtopics that branch off from your first tier of subtopics. Continue adding more branches and tiers to explore each idea thoroughly.
  4. Finalize the map. Adjust formatting and perform fact-checking where necessary. Remember that your thought map may be used to explain information to other team members, so it should be neat and organized.
  5. Revise the thought map when necessary. After sharing your thought map or using it to explain your ideas to someone else, revise and add content where necessary. Thought maps are intended to be a flexible, dynamic resource, not something you make once and never return to. Be willing to make changes to make your thought map more effective.

Why use MindManager to make thought maps

With a thought mapping software like MindManager, you can quickly and easily create neat and well-organized visualizations. Key features of MindManager include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your workflow diagrams
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Numerous templates, tools, and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web
  • Ability to add rich data—links, images, and documents—directly to your diagrams and charts

With MindManager, you can add your valuable knowledge to a thought map while also pulling information from integrated apps and other sources. MindManager enables new levels of collaboration, boosting your team's productivity and keeping you on the right track toward reaching your goals.

Thought map templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with thought map templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project

Thought map FAQs

What is the purpose of a thought map?

A thought map is a way to organize your thoughts and ideas visually. Thought mapping helps you move ideas out of your head and into an actionable, shareable format.

What should a thought map include?

A thought map should include one main thought, concept, or idea with subtopics branching off it. Thought maps can have as many branches and tiers of ideas as you need to explore all options and outcomes thoroughly.

What is the difference between a thought map and a mind map?

Thought maps and mind maps sound similar, but there are a few key differences. Mind maps have a radial structure, while thought maps are more complex, with multiple subtopics and larger networks of branches connecting the various ideas.

Don't think twice—make a thought map today

A thought map is a visual framework for recording and sharing knowledge about a particular process, workflow, concept, or topic. Thought maps are a great tool for creative problem solving, process documentation, and presentations.

Thought mapping can be a powerful exercise for anyone with specialized information to share. Visualizations like thought maps can improve memory retention and recall, increase understanding of complex ideas, and provide a clear path toward solutions and success.

Visualize more with MindManager

MindManager allows you to record and distribute information that was previously siloed. With features like premade templates and an extensive image library, MindManager helps you communicate in new and unexpected ways. To start creating dynamic thought maps, try MindManager today.

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