Reading mind maps is interesting, because it allows us to see what and how other people think. By reading mind maps of others we gain a better understanding of the way mind maps are made. Let’s take a closer look.

Central theme

The central theme in the middle is a thought, a problem, title, theory or just an idea. From the central theme associations radiate out.

Sun central image connected to 5 different colored associations

Fig.1 Central theme & associations

Reading order

The mind map is always read clockwise from 02.00 till 10.00 and from the inside to the outside.

image of a clock

Fig.2 Clock reading order

So read in numeric order:

Numbered associations show the clockwise reading order

Fig.3 The associations are read clockwise and from the inside to the outside

Ordering principles

Every mind map is different with its theme and associations. But also similarities and patterns can be found in the way associations are ordered.

1. General to specific

Associations can be ordered from general to more and more specific.

Yellow associations are connected to Tuscany

Fig.4 General ——————->more specific———————–> specific

General associations can be made more and more specific by adding details.

Associations are added to Florence; the symbol lily and Renaissance

Fig.5 Specifics are added to Florence, the symbol lily and renaissance

Other examples:

a green and blue line of connected associations for trips and plane

Fig.6 Examples general — — —> specific

2. Abstract to concrete

Another way associations can be ordered is from abstract to concrete.


"activity"is connected to "sport" and "sport" is connected to "cycling" and "swimming"

Fig.7 Abstract ———> more concrete——> concrete

When the associations are ordered from abstract to concrete, the word “is”,  “is a” or “are” can be used between them. The reading order is backwards from right to left.

an arrow from right to left guides the associations swimming and cycling to sport and sport to activity

Fig.8 Cycling or swimming “is a” sport and sport “is an” activity

When something becomes more concrete, an image can be formed it. It’s something you can hold or do. 

Another example:

Abstract association (food) is made more and more concrete (cheese)

Fig.9 Mozzarella “is” cheese and cheese “is” food

3. Whole to parts

Associations can also be ordered from whole to parts. 

the word"family" is connected to 4 members "Julius", Zoë, Finn and Anna

Fig.10 Whole & parts

When associations are ordered whole and parts, the word “is a part of” or “are part of” can be placed between the associations. The reading order is backwards, from outside to the centre.

The whole and parts belong together. The “family” only exists when it has members. 

Arrows from right to left and the word "is part of" is placed between the members and family

Fig.11 Julius “ is a part of” family

"Car" is divided in parts engine, wheel & frame. These parts are divided into subparts again.

Example; a car has many parts

4. Techniques

In a mind map associations can be ordered in three different ways:

three types; general/specific, abstract/concrete and whole/parts with two examples

Fig.13 Three different types to order associations

There is a simple technique to distinguish them:

“is a”

If you can say “is a” between two associations, then there’s an abstract/concrete relation.

“is a part of”

If you can say “is a part of” between two associations, then there is a whole/parts relation.

The whole and parts also belong together (that’s different from abstract/concrete)

If you cannot relate the two associations in the ways above, then you are probably dealing with a general to specific relation.

5. Patterns 

Patterns can often be seen in mind maps. The first level associations (or concepts) that are directly associated with the central theme are usually more general, abstract or whole.

Central image sun with first line associations: Tuscany, family, accommodation, transportation and activity

Fig.14 General, whole and abstract concepts directly surround the theme

Associations further away from the theme become more specific, concrete or parts.

Only second & further associations appear around the central theme to show the distance

Fig.15 Specific, concrete and parts associations are deeper in the mind map

6. Mixing different types

Within a mind map different types of ordering may be mixed.


Circles show different types of ordering

Fig.16 Mix of abstract/concrete and general/specific


Circles around associations show abstract/concrete and general/specific

Fig.17 Mix of abstract/concrete and general/specific


Circles show different types of ordering

Fig.18 Mix of whole/parts and general/specific

Story telling

Every mind map tells a story with it’s theme and associations. It’s like a book. The central theme is the title. The associations from the theme are the chapters. The chapters are worked out into paragraphs and subparagraphs. 

Image of a book connected to chapters, paragraph and subparagraph

Fig.19 The mind map is like a book

Answers versus questions

A mind map usually consists of answers given to questions. The questions themselves are mostly not in the mind map. For a better understanding these questions can be reconstructed. The questions are often 5-w questions: what, why, who, where and when? 

When a 5-w-question is successfully reconstructed, the answer in the mind map becomes more clear.

In the mindmap "Holiday" w-questions are added

Fig.20 Each chapter of “Holiday” has one or more w-questions

Color & images

Color makes the mind map more interesting. It gives the mind map strength and makes it easier to read. Images guide attention and contain much more information than words.

Image of an orange sun

Fig.21 The central theme “Holiday” is represented by a warm orange image. The symbolic sun matches intuitively and will flood your brain with memories of holidays past.

Different colored lines help to separate the different areas of the mind map. Color gives extra strength to the associations and it can have a meaning of it’s own.

The complete mindmap "Holiday" shown with it's associations, colors and images

Fig.22 The color green is used for “activity” because of it’s intuitive connection with health.

Images like the people, house, airplane and bike help remembering and distinguishing between the areas. These images often appear on the border of the mind map, because concrete and specific associations evoke images.