How to ease cognitive load with mind mapping and outlining

Outlining an essay or an extended piece of writing is an effective exercise that keeps writing concise and progressive. However, the approach taken to outlining may determine its effectiveness. Oftentimes, users may need to revise and organise their knowledge on a particular topic while outlining an essay. The conjunction of visual thinking such as mind mapping, with outlining becomes a clear and effective way to plan essays. Inspiration 11’s separate views facilitate clear and detailed thinking necessary to write great essays.

Outlining is a pivotal tool for planning and structuring extended written work – whether for academic or workplace purposes. Ordering information based on a hierarchy of detail improves the user’s understanding of these ideas, and subsequently their ability to verbally express them.

Naturally, every user will have a unique approach to essay planning, so users can choose to start in the environment that best suits them. Particularly, some users may prefer to start in the map or diagram view, to visualise and revise their subject knowledge. Other users may prefer to begin outlining, referring back to the map or diagram as they go. Being fully synchronised, users can easily switch between each view in a way that best suits their thinking. In any case, a combination of mind mapping and outlining significantly improves the student’s effectiveness to plan, and by extension, to write.

While alternating between both map and outline views might appear to make the planning process longer, visual-thinking in individual environments may be more time and task-efficient than attempting to mind map and outline on the same screen or jumping straight to the writing stage. Mind mapping and outlining on the same screen may become overstimulating, hindering the overall writing process.

One study, observing the use of mind mapping and outlining in high school science students, compared students’ construction of outlines both with and without creating a mind map. Hypothesising that “a visual representation would aid students”, (Trevino, C., 2005) the study found that the group of students who produced separate, corresponding mind-maps completed faster, more detailed outlines than the other groups. Creating a complete mind map, then, is conducive to quality outlining and writing. Visualising the subject’s structure and relationships eases the cognitive load of writing alone.

Inspiration 11 allows students to overcome this initial pressure of the blank page by following this effective model of mapping and outlining. For example, students can capture immediate ideas in a blank map without a structure using the Rapid Fire Tool, allowing time to process and understand them before building the structure afterwards with Inspiration’s free-form flexibility. The detail and retention of this recorded knowledge can then be enhanced using colour to signify different subtopics, images as visual reminders, and notes where more detailed writing can be contained and hidden without intruding upon the diagram. Topic knowledge is easily visualised in an uncluttered environment that prevents the overstimulation of mapping and outlining on the same screen.

The one-click outline view (above) produces a fully customisable outline from any user-created map (that also syncs with the map). Viewing the map and the outline independently is crucial to their effectiveness: the map focuses on visualising the order and structure of knowledge, where the outline focuses on formulating a clear written expression of this knowledge. This process demystifies thinking that would create cognitive overload if both views appeared simultaneously. By switching between the two, the user’s screen remains clear and stress-free. Alongside the ability to set default background colours for each view, ease of visibility is fundamental to focus and clarity of thinking during the planning process.

When finalising, students can easily export their work, such as to a Word processor, and choose whether this export includes the map with the outline. By having full control over the exported plan’s appearance, users can choose to view their diagram/map with their outline at the revision stage. As such, viewing both together may be beneficial only once the planning process is completed, when thinking is more firmly established.
Ultimately, using mind mapping and outlining independently optimises learning because each serves different stages of thinking. Inspiration 11 guides users through these stages, encouraging strong thinking and application, while eliminating overstimulation.

See Also:

Trevino, C., 2005. Mind mapping and outlining: comparing two types of graphic organizers for learning seventh-grade life science (Doctoral dissertation).