Mindmapping and Writing

Ale’s goal of getting her thoughts in order before she starts writing made me think of something I’ve been meaning to share here. Literature and Latte, the folks who brought us Scrivener, recently debuted a new app for mindmapping: Scapple. I’m far beyond the planning stages of my own project, but during this recent thought-provoking conference at Michigan I started organizing some thoughts on the intersection between the American carceral state and my own research on African American AIDS activism. Here’s a slightly more polished version of what I put down:

Created with Scapple.
Click for larger version.

Here I devised a kind of visual logic using the different note shapes that Scapple offers. Rectangles are abstract concepts, with the governing concept of the carceral state having a thicker border than the others, round-cornered boxes are concrete examples, and the bubbly cloud-box-things were meant to represent a process–ACT UP Philadelphia reaching out to halfway houses and drug treatment programs as part of their drive to bring in new membership, which in turn changed their civil disobedience tactics.

I like to use mindmaps in my teaching to help students organize their knowledge (h/t Melanie), but I can also see how this would be useful in sorting out a project in the early stages. How do y’all organize your thoughts before you write (if you do)?

See also:

ProfHacker on Scapple

Flavorwire: Charts and Diagrams Drawn by Famous Authors


2 thoughts on “Mindmapping and Writing

  1. Dan and friends,

    I do a similar mind-mapping thing, but I need to do it by hand (I also take almost all notes by hand and need to write most of my first drafts by hand … I find it hard to form original thoughts when typing) . My iPad w/ a stylus has been really helpful for this because I can play around with different colors and be really creative with it. However, the biggest thing that I’ve changed in terms of organizing this year has been Evernote. I love it. Though it does not have a bibliographic tool, most of my sources are so old that this doesn’t even matter. I can also upload my hand-written notes into my Evernote notebooks and Evernote will make them word searchable (this I find is pretty much the coolest thing ever).

    For my last chapter, I found it really helpful to use Evernote to create virtual notecards. I used my desktop screen and opened each usable note (i. e. source) in a separate window and then made them small so that I could fit about 20 on my screen at any time. I then organized them both chronologically and thematically and found that really helpful while drafting. I’ve always found actually writing notecards really cumbersome, but I think it’s still really the best way to organize sources when writing. So, this is a much more efficient and really pretty cool way to do the same thing!

    Does anyone else also use Evernote?

    • I mostly use Evernote to clip things from the web (like recipes) and the odd thing that I can’t grab with Zotero, which I use to manage my sources. I never liked making notecards, either, and never really got into that as a way of organizing my thoughts. I know own of the things that some people really like about Scrivener (I’m not shilling for Literature and Latte, I swear) is that you can toggle to a “notecard view” and move things around on the screen. With Zotero, I generally go into a chapter folder or select a particular tag and sort all of the sources that come up chronologically, and that gives me the beginning of a rough timeline.

      Speaking of which, someone posted this link on H-Sci-Med-Tech in response to a question about timeline tools: http://chnm.gmu.edu/tools/timelines/

      I haven’t tried it, but everything that comes out of CHNM is pretty good. If you check it out, let us know how it goes.

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