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Why Use Single Key Words on Mind Maps

At school we were urged to write proper sentences with correct punctuation. Phrases were frowned upon and the use of single words actively discouraged. This notion persists into adulthood and business. For something to be understood it must be fully documented.

When it comes to Mind Mapping, business people often feel compelled to write sentences and, if using the software, these can be neatly written in box branches. How nice, precise and accurate.

This is utterly and completely wrong. It is based on a false belief that thinking is better served by grammatically perfect sentences. Let me explain why this is a falsehood.

First, we need to consider the ‘multi-ordinate nature of words’. Any word taken in isolation, outside of the confines of a sentence, can trigger countless connections. Let’s take he word “set”…

Chess set
Train set
Badger’s set
Jelly sets in a mould
Set sail
Set up
On your marks, get set, go!
Game, set and match
Mind set
TV set
Stage set
Jet set
Set piece
Set the scene
Set to music
Set in stone
Set the story straight

The list could go on and different people, with different life experience or cultural backgrounds would come up with different ‘sets’ of words.

Single words give rise to many more associations, greatly improving creativity.

What has this got to do with sentences? You may say, “If I want to analyse a problem I don’t want dozens of different meanings clouding my thoughts. I need precision”. The Problem with this is that you are confusing precision with closure. A sentence closes off thought.

It is easiest to demonstrate with an example. Imagine you were giving a presentation and unfortunately it went down like a lead balloon! It is all too easy to focus on the negatives and ignore any positives from the situation. You could write “I gave an unsuccessful speech this afternoon” in a box branch. This is a statement of fact. It doesn’t allow any alternative interpretation of the event or opportunities to explore how to improve next time.


However, if we break this down into single words and also split up compound words like ‘unsuccessful’ into its component parts of ‘successful’ and ‘un’ this gives us a network of branches, each of which can be explored further.


You can consider the successful aspects, the unsuccessful aspects, other factors about the afternoon and the environment giving a much fuller picture.


The session was after lunch so delegates had lower energy levels and less engagement. It wasn’t a complete disaster. 20% of the audience gave good evaluations. The slide choice worked well and all the technology functioned correctly. It is questionable if the topic was correct for the audience. Your jokes fell flat with awkward silences. The audience were not what you expected and you occasionally forgot the thread of the presentation. So lessons learned are to research the audience better and discuss with the meeting planner more in advance to pitch it correctly and to rehearse, plan and Mind Map what you’ll say to remember everything you want to cover. If possible, try to get a different slot than after lunch or include energy boosting exercises. Few, if any, of these insights would have been discovered if you simply used the initial box branch with a sentence.

In ‘The Mind Map Book’ Tony Buzan says, “Using single words in your Mind Maps enables you to see your internal and external environment more clearly and realistically, and therefore to be more ‘true’ to yourself. It also provides balance, allowing you to see the ‘other side’ of any issue. It is especially helpful for problem-solving and creative thinking because it opens your mind to all the options. The ‘single’ rule gives each nexus of your thought the opportunity to explore its own infinite possibilities. It sets you free!”

Whether analysing a setback, studying for an exam, solving a problem or planning something pleasurable, no matter what you use a Mind Map for, remember the importance of single words. Reserve sentences for writing letters!