Monday, 23 April 2012

Short and to the Point: Branch Names

Gordon Wyllie MindGenius
This month I am going to discuss the importance of using short branch titles in your MindGenius maps. Without them, many significant benefits of your MindGenius maps will be lost.

The long branch title problem

We've all cringed at PowerPoint presentations which are full of large blocks of text instead of bullet points. Especially when the presenter just reads the slide verbatim, adding no apparent value to what has being visually presented.

Yet many people fall into the same trap when they create their MindGenius maps. They put in swathes of text into their branch titles and do not recognise that they have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the maps they have produced.

When people look at a map which has large amounts of text in the branch title they find it difficult to identify the key messages that are contained within the information presented. All the glue words that we use in verbal communication seem to hinder, rather than help, in the visual communication medium. The highlighter pen businesses profit greatly from this.

The inherent structure of the information is not readily apparent which hinders understanding. You have to mentally discard the glue words to identify and understand the structure, instead of your eyes communicating the structure directly to your brain. This significantly slows down the rate of understanding the content of your map.

In extreme cases, your map can appear unappealing to the eye. It is not memorable, just a series of large text blobs.

Long Branch Titles
A side effect of long branch titles is that it flattens the map structure shown in your Map Explorer and makes navigation through your map to find and view specific content much more difficult.

Short Branch Titles

Short branch titles 

There are significant drawbacks in using branches with large amounts of text. Keep your branch titles short and to the point.

Easy to say, but it is not necessarily easy to do. There is always the temptation to add another word to make the branch title less ambiguous. However, before you know it you are creeping back towards the swathes of text scenario. The secret is in knowing when to stop.

Keeping your MindGenius branch titles short and to the point requires self-discipline but it does become easier with practice.

Here’s how I do it. I reduce the information I wish to communicate to its essentials by identifying the key words (e.g. nouns, verbs) or phrases by mentally highlighting them. I then create the structure of the information using parent/child branches structures. I don’t worry about losing the 'detail' or the 'finer nuances' of the information that are contained in the richness of our language. If needs be, I can put the grammatically correct representation of the information in the notes associated with the branch. The Note icon indicates to the reader that more information is available if they require it.

The previous map, with long branch titles would be changed to the following:

Try this 

If you want to practice developing your short branch title skills then try the following:
• Create a dummy parent branch,[e.g., type ‘A’ and hit return] and paste your wordy text into the branch note.
• In the Notes Editor Highlight the key words in the block of text.

• Then put a meaningful summary title in the dummy branch title and create a child branch structure to reflect the key words.

What branch title length? 

Now comes the big question. How short is short? What is the optimum number of words for a branch title? The mindmapping purists would say one word per branch title. I take a more pragmatic approach. I believe that the answer depends on the purpose of the map, its intended audience and the ramifications of the map’s information being misinterpreted.

The shorter a branch title is, then the more ambiguous its meaning to a reader can become. You could say that ambiguity is the ally of creativity and the enemy of deployment.

When you are seeking to be creative you do not wish to restrict the avenues of thought that people could pursue.

If I was facilitating a brainstorming session then I would tend to use single word branches where possible in the idea generation phase.

If I made the branch title ‘red door’ then the brainstorming participants may limit their thoughts to scenarios with red doors.  

If instead I made the parent branch ‘door’ and it’s child branch ‘red’ then the brainstorming participants have a much wider range of avenues of thoughts to consider such as other colours, other traits of a door, etc.

However if I was seeking to instruct someone on how I wish some procedure to be performed then I would want to ensure that they clearly understood what they had to do and that there was no room for misunderstanding. In such a case I would use a few words (up to five) words in the branch title to zero in on the specific aspect I wished to address and provide the detailed instructions in the note associated with the branch. I would also add some child branches to provide them with the key points associated with the detail.

So my rule of thumb for branch length is one word for maps used to facilitate creativity and the development of ideas and up to five words for instructional maps, augmented by details in the branch notes if required. But remember, it is a rule of thumb. Don’t let it get in the way of your map being fit for the purpose you intend it for.

So there you have it. Keep your branch titles short and reap the immense benefits that MindGenius maps can give to you and your organisation.

As ever, if you have any questions or queries, Ask Gordon

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Gordon, I must admit that I am guilty of pasting in whole paragraphs of text but having read your article,I will try to be more selective on the titles I add.

Anonymous said...

I like it, thank you. My last couple of mindmaps haven't been as thought/idea-provoking as I've needed them to be - and this is probably why!

Marcel Genestar said...

Thanks Gordon. Very interesting procedure to shorten the titles. I add a reference to the use of images. Too often I find maps with only titles (short or long, but always text). I think there is insufficient use of the power of the mind map. Honestly, for me there is no essential difference between a text presented in standard format or in a map format. However, the introduction of images or symbols creates a very different impact ..

Anonymous said...

Very helpful. I rarely use the branch note tending to go straight for a map. This makes good sense. Just started using version 4 trial. I think its great!

Anonymous said...

This article is very useful. Thank you. It highlights the difference between Buzan's original use of mindmaps as personal notes and their use for conveying unmediated information and illustrating talks in the dreaded powerpoint.

MindGenius said...

Thanks for your comments, glad the article was useful. Quite often people develop their own personal style of mapping and it's interesting to hear opinions on what works and what doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, great article. It was written for me. I will try to go with one key word.

MindGenius said...

Glad the article helped and remember, if you have any questions on it, Gordon is happy to answer them.

Anonymous said...

i have a related question. As a beginner with Mind Genius i had started out doing exactly as you suggest with notes, but then decided that i would attach documents that describe procedures to the branches. I have deleted the notes i'd made, but cannot find a way to remove the note icon from the branches. Is it possible to do this?

MindGenius said...

Hi, first of all you should make sure all text, including all spaces are deleted. I do this by selecting, Ctrl "A" then delete which ensures spaces are deleted too. Then I click to another branch and the Notes icon should disappear. Hope this helps.

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