Paper writing, and the pre-writing process, is one place where the combination of being a visual thinker, having a B.A. in English, and a M.A. in understanding how brains function, process, and learn definitely pays off. In this post I want to share some tips about how to launch the paper writing process by accessing visual and word-association parts of your brain.
When Paper Structure matters, Start with a Mind Map
For visual thinkers, mind mapping can be a way to draft a well structured papers without having to do any typing! If you frequently find yourself hours into the process of writing an important paper and realizing your paper, though approaching the word limit, has no structure or well defined points, a pre-write mind map might be a paper writing technique that could shave hours off your next paper.
Typically my pre-paper mindmaps are done in pencil and an absolute mess, but the mind map below is an example of how this system can work for me on a day when I need to get a paper drafted and also recognize that to care for myself well, I need some art time.
I like that mind maps allow me to combine both productivity and a need to slow down and create something with care and beauty – instead of relaxing with something mind-numbing, I can sit down and let my mind wander around my topic as I color in my map. Often this space and permission to wander adds insight and depth to my final paper.
mind maps allow me to combine productivity with a need to slow down and create something with care and beauty.
I most often use mind-map brainstorming when I need to integrate information that doesn’t necessarily mesh well (for example, a paper prompt that asked me to explore how Standard Medicine and Indigenous Therapies intersect and diverge) or when my paper topic is a Case Study and I need to brainstorm diagnosis and treatment plans before drafting my paper. Mindmapping helps identify themes and commonalities in a way that a typical paper draft doesn’t. As you draw connections between ideas and concepts that interact, the structure of your mind map begins to inform your main points, and how you’ll discuss themes, commonalities, and differences.
Mindmapping helps locate themes and identify connections in a way that typical paper drafting doesn’t.
In the pre-paper mind map shown above, a case study on an imagined client named Brendan, the items in blue-mint are aspects of the client the instructor asked students to address. I start by taking these aspects from the assignment or rubric and spacing them around my page. In this case, my main headers are: “What is the behavior communicating,” “What is Brendan’s attachment style?” “Presenting Problems,” “Areas of Development,” “Areas of Counter Transference that could cause problems,” “Cognitive Aspects” and, “Treatment Plan.”
Once the elements the rubric has assigned that I address are plotted, I begin to fill in the mind map with details from the text of the case study. If I were mapping a research paper I might map ideas, theories, and evidence that are relevant to my research topic and include direct citations, if I were mind mapping for a paper on a piece of literature, I might include quotes and page numbers along with my thoughts. (On this mind map, the small numbers next to a box indicate what page of the case study the data is taken from)
Using Mind Maps to Outline a Paper when an Instructor’s Assignment is Vague
Often a teacher’s prompts are so clear you can use the instructions as your paper’s outline, but sometimes a teacher’s assignments can be very vague. Mind maps help me figure out what I think about a topic- and as I begin to plot my thoughts on a page, lots of bubbles around one idea or lots of lines connecting back to one point often inform what concept I eventually turn into a thesis and main points. Here’s an example of a mind map for a paper I felt really at a loss on how to start: a research paper for a counseling class in seminary about “who or what God is and how he or she relates to humans”.
“lots of bubbles around one idea or lots of lines connecting back to one point often inform what concept I eventually turn into a thesis and main points”
Mind Mapping is helpful on doodle notes taken during class as well- especially if you are a visual thinker. As an instructor explains interconnected headings and subheadings, try giving yourself space to enclose and draw connections between the ideas:
Use color in mind maps to show levels of importance, such as the difference between main points and sub points.