Thing 08: Mind-mapping and brainstorming tools

Image of mind mapping by hand and by computer
Versions of Mind Mapping.
Image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Approaching a new research topic can often seem daunting: you often need to get to grips with a large body of diverse, complex and multi-faceted data. Want to get it all under control? Mind mapping and brainstorming tools might be just the thing! This week’s post has been written by Geoff Laurenson, Professional Library Cadet (Research and Collections) and Dr Leo Konstantelos, Research Data Curator, Digital Scholarship, University Library.


What is mind mapping and brainstorming?

Mind mapping is an informal way of classifying and representing parts of a single concept in a visually appealing way. Mind maps are meant to be easily understood, hence presentation is important. Coloured lines and different shapes are often used to highlight distinct elements. How your mind-map looks is up to you, so be creative! Mind maps can provide an easy means of explaining your area of interest to others. They can also be used to create summaries of notes, lecture plans, conference presentations or even to formulate creative projects. Mind maps are usually simple, but can evolve into more complex representations.

Brainstorming is a framework for identifying important elements of a topic. It allows you to think broadly without getting bogged down in the details of one area. Brainstorming is all about stimulating and recording the thought process surrounding a single topic. Brainstorming can also be an effective tool for breaking the ice in group settings, because it encourages participation and facilitates the collection of multiple perspectives.


Getting started

This week we look at two tools that can be used to create visually appealing mind-maps. Although there is a plethora of mind-mapping and brainstorming software, we have chosen tools that are free to use, platform-independent and integrated with collaborative and sharing environments.

Coggle for mind-mapping

Coggle is a simple, versatile and free web application that can be accessed directly with a Google account. The application allows users to create “concept trees”: non-linear, hierarchical representations of ideas, words or actions relating to a concept that visually resemble branches of a tree. Users can easily express their creativity by changing the colour and angle of lines, modifying text size and attaching images and web links to their mind maps.

Coggle offers a number of alternatives to share and disseminate mind maps:

  • Multiple users can be invited to work on a single, collaborative mind map. This feature is particularly useful for geographically dispersed teams.
  • Mind maps can be shared with others via a private link. It is also possible to give others read-only or write access to a mind map.
  • Mind maps can be shared with online social networks via Facebook and Twitter.
  • HTML code is automatically generated to facilitate embedding of mind maps into web pages.
  • Mind maps can be downloaded as png images of pdf documents. Options are available to export Coggle documents as plain-text outlines or Freemind files.

See what others have tried

To help you get started with Coggle and mind-mapping, we have created an example diagram based on the 23 Research Things@Melbourne blog, which can be viewed here.

Image of Coggle mind map of '23 Research Things' blog
Coggle mind map of ’23 Research Things’ blog

More examples can be found online, check Pinterest and for ideas.

Padlet for brainstorming

Padlet is a free, web-based interface that allows users to easily add content to their own brainstorming “wall”. The Padlet wall is a space to make notes, add URLS and import files (such as text documents, images, audio and video) that are relevant or connected to the topic that you are brainstorming about. Examples include planning a project, collecting research notes, managing deadlines and identifying useful research/learning resources.

Although Padlet walls can be kept as a personal brainstorming space, the application provides a number of ways to work collaboratively and share walls with others:

  • Multiple contributors can be invited to work on a Padlet wall.
  • Walls can be shared via a variety of social media platforms, RSS feeds, email or QR codes.
  • Walls can be exported in different formats, such as images, PDF files or Excel spread sheets.
  • HTML code is automatically generated to embed brainstorming walls into web pages.

See what others have tried

To help you get started with Padlet and brainstorming, we have created an example wall of a new PhD student at University of Melbourne, who needs to collect and manage information relating to the University and the program of study. The padlet wall can be viewed here.

Image of Padlet brainstorming wall: Research at the University of Melbourne
Padlet brainstorming wall: Research at the University of Melbourne

For more inspiration and ideas, visit the Padlet Gallery:


Privacy and confidentiality

As with any online platform that provides integration and dissemination functionality through social media, you should exercise critical thinking before sending your mind-maps and brainstorming spaces into circulation. If you have included private information (e.g. personally identifiable information) or confidential information (e.g. medical records, blueprints, internal draft documentation) that relate to you or others, then you should consider the appropriateness and legality of disclosure to third parties. You can find more advice on the Social Media Guidelines provided by the University of Melbourne.

Intellectual property

Mind mapping and brainstorming often involve bringing together the ideas of multiple contributors. It is important that content created in a group setting is clearly attributed to individual collaborators. Web-based platforms often include an audit log which records changes to the content over time and identifies contributors. However, this information may not be included when the content is exported or shared. If you are using these tools when working in a group setting you should consider documenting contributors separately to ensure this information is not lost. For further information and advice concerning authorship and publication practices, please consult the Office of Research Ethics and Integrity (OREI) website.

Security and sustainability

Before joining any of the tools presented here, make sure that you read, understand and accept user agreements and terms of service.

You should always bear in mind that these tools represent free services provided by a third party. It is primarily your responsibility to ascertain that the content you generate is properly backed up and maintained, particularly in the event that the third party providers decide to discontinue the service. In order to efficiently manage your research data (including but not limited to mind maps and brainstorming spaces), it is advisable that you generate a Data Management Plan; guidelines and templates are available at the Doing Data Better @ Melbourne website.

Copyrighted material

Before publishing or sharing your mind maps and brainstorming spaces, make sure that you check the copyright conditions of any material you have attached (including images, text documents, audio and video files). More information can be found on the University of Melbourne Copyright Office website.


Other resources

Bamboo DiRT on brainstorming tools.

Further reading

The University of Adelaide Writing Centre. (2009). Mind Mapping Learning Guide. Available online here.

Buzan, T. (2010). The mind map book : unlock your creativity, boost your memory, change your life. Harlow: Pearson/BBC Active.

Buzan, T. (2006). The mind map book. Harlow, U.K. : BBC Active.

Lupton, E. (2011). Graphic design thinking : beyond brainstorming. New York : Princeton Architectural Press ; Baltimore : Maryland Institute College of Art.

Curran, B. (2014). Engaged, Connected, Empowered: Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century. Hoboken : Taylor and Francis.


Geoff Laurenson, Professional Library Cadet, Research and Collections, and Dr Leo Konstantelos, Research Data Curator, Digital Scholarship, University Library.

3 Responses to “Thing 08: Mind-mapping and brainstorming tools”

  1. Rosie Yasmin says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thank you so much indeed for writing about such a useful and exiting tool to get many things and/or thoughts in one platform. I’ve just started my PhD; sometimes I become so overwhelmed with many useful links, platforms etc. that I need to get as a snapshot in one page, especially it happens when I want to be always on track of many useful sessions run by the Uni but I don’t have enough time to open many web pages (at least once/week) again and again. I’m going to use it from today!

    Thank you!
    Kind regards,

    1. Mark says:

      Hi Rosie,

      Glad to hear that you’re finding 23 Research Things useful. Let us know if you try out any of the tools; we’d be interested to hear what you think of them. Best wishes with your research.


  2. Peter Vesk says:

    Hi and thanks for the post, you might like to check this post I wrote a while back,

    cheers, peter

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