Hold that thought: Mind Mapping with MindGenius

Understanding, organising and retaining information can be challenging. While studying and working we often need to compose and organise our written work, understand complex topics and retain information. Mindmapping can be an excellent tool to help us meet these challenges.

Depending on the task at hand mindmapping can be useful for almost everyone, but can be particularly useful for Neurodiverse profiles such as Dyslexic learners.

Mindmapping is a way of graphically representing a topic, concept or problem, so we can visualise it, making it easier to understand. Mindmapping is a versatile technique which can have many applications. Here are some examples:

Brainstorming

Mindmapping is a great way to brainstorm. You can use it to better capture your thoughts or start exploring a topic. You may find that it can help to stimulate and generate more ideas.

Capturing all of your ideas can reduce the load on your working memory. Once you can see your ideas together on one page, you can then edit and arrange them into a more organised structure. This is also useful for group brainstorms, try it on our large screens in the group study rooms and technobooths.

Planning and organising

Bring order to chaos. Before you start a task it’s a good idea to plan how you are going to do it. Mindmapping can help you plan written work such as an essay. With most digital mindmaps, as you build your map you can add more substantial notes to ideas. This means that when you export your finished mindmap into a Word document you have a logical outline structure and some content to get started with.

You could even use a mindmap to plan your research or literature search in an academic database, plotting out which keywords, synonyms and antonyms you are going to use.

A mindmap breaking down a keyword search of " a comparison of the effectiveness of exercising versus a health diet in reducing obesity in children".
A mindmap to plan a database search [click to expand].

Revision

Make your revision notes into a map. When trying to recall information it’s easier to remember the spatial layout of a map rather than linear notes. Add additional memory hooks, such as colour and images, which can prompt you to recall the associated concepts.

Breaking down complex ideas

Some topics are complicated such as land law, who is related to who in Wuthering Heights, or potential Brexit  scenarios, requiring flow charts and maps to make visual sense. It’s difficult to keep all that information in your head or to understand the connections when going backwards and forwards though linear notes.

A mindmap of Wuthering Heights characters and their relationships.
The characters of Wuthering Heights [click to expand].

So, how can I start mindmapping?

To me, Mindmapping has no strict rules, but there are some basic guiding principles you may wish to follow to keep your map effective:

  • Put your topic or essay title in the centre this is useful for keeping you on track or remind you to answer the question in hand.
  • Use single keywords (or very short phrases) so you can see at a glance what the map means when you come back to it. Key words are easier to digest and remember if you are using the map for revision. Keywords are also useful because at the mapping stage our ideas may not be fully formed sentences, but we can still easily capture and build on them.

Using MindGenius software

MindGenius 2019 software is now available on any City student Windows pc.
Staff can download the software onto their City staff desktop computer via the Software Centre. MindGenius is excellent for project management and has some advanced features to facilitate this, such as the ability to create a Gantt chart from your map at the click of a button.

MindGenius Functionality

The software is simple to use with “type and return” functionality to build you map. You can also:

  • Add attachments to keep the documents you are reading for a project or essay organised by linking them to relevant branches within the map.
  • Add notes: Add more substantial notes to each branch. As mentioned, this feature is excellent when planning an essay.
  • Export to Word: You can export your finished mind map to Word to create draft written work. In Word you will have a linear structure to work with along with your added notes.
  • Export to PowerPoint: You can use the software to help plan and create presentations.
  • The mental connection tool allows you to link ideas on different areas of you map and describe the relationship between them.
  • Categories and Filter: You can use colours to code or categorise ideas across your map. If your map becomes quite large and complex you can filter by category to concentrate on particular themes.
  • Templates such as the SWOT and PEST analysis can help encourage exploration of a topic and apply critical thinking to it.
  • If you’re really not sure where to start there are guided brainstorm tools, such as ‘solution finder’ and ‘question sets’.

A real life example

I find mindmapping incredibly useful for organising complex, but otherwise unordered ideas. To write this article I planned it first in Mind Genius.

I started by brainstorming in an unstructured way, getting every one of my ideas down on the page (which is very cathartic!). This reduced the load on my working memory. I also used the Who? What? Where? When? Question set to stimulate more ideas and identify gaps in my thinking.

Once all my ideas were on the page I could move on to organising and structuring the information using the drag and drop functionality to group ideas which came under the same theme.

Then I could think more critically and reject any of the weaker or less relevant ideas. i.e. in this article I’m not going to talk about other mindmapping software so I have deleted those branches on review.

A mindmap bout mindmapping, many ideas have been added with no real structure.
Stage 1. An unordered mindmap. [Click to expand]

A mindmap about mindmapping with more structure
Stage 2. An ordered mindmap. [Click to expand]
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Stage 3. Mindmap exported to Word as outline text. [Click to expand]

Need Help?

If you need help or have any questions about Mind Genius contact us. We’d like to hear what you think so please add your comments below or share with fellow students how mind mapping works for you.

Dramatic discovery of medieval manuscript

Last year two members of library staff discovered an unknown manuscript in the City Library Special Collections. The two members of staff, Rob Hodgson and Simon Bralee, unearthed the manuscript whilst auditing the collections.

Calendar
An illustrated calendar from the manuscript. Note the number of the days in each month in the inner circle, the names of the months in the middle circle and the names of the Zodiac signs in the outer circle.

The text

The manuscript contains two texts – the Algorismus (or De Arte Numerandi) and the De Anni Ratione – written by Johannes de Sacrobosco (aka John of Holywood or Halifax) The Algorismus was the first major text of the Western tradition that dealt with, and examined, the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals. It became a key text of the medieval European university curriculum. Before this date, roman numerals were used. Hindu-Arabic numerals allowed a major advance in mathematics and made possible developments like mathematic calculation of physical properties, double entry bookkeeping and the Dewey Decimal Classification.

The De Anni Ratione is a criticism of the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was the calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE. Due to the complexity of calculating when to add intercalary days (think 29th February), the Julian calendar was prone to error. Sacrobosco was influenced by medieval Arabic astronomy. His theory – to take a day out every 288 years – was later largely discredited probably because he did not have access to more accurate astronomic data (also based on Arabic astronomy). The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, country by country in a slow process over a period of 350 years from 1582 to 1923. The changes did not take place in Great Britain until 1751-2.

Both texts were very popular. This means that copies of the text were not uncommon.

An arithmetic circle

 

The manuscript

Both texts are in Latin. This was usual in the medieval West until a very late date. For example Newton’s Principia, published in 1687, was written in Latin. The opening words of De Anni Ratione are: ‘Compotus est scientia considerans tempora ex solis et lune motibus’ [‘The science of calculation are considered from the motions of the sun and moon…’].

Throughout the text the scribe of the manuscript used abbreviations. This allowed more text to be placed on less parchment and made the book cheaper. The abbreviations followed standard practice that was used throughout the medieval period in various languages. The word Compotus has been abbreviated to Compot with a superscript symbol looking (“like a backward ‘c’ or an exaggerated apostrophe”) to represent the final letters ‘us’. First lines are written with red ink. This is called the rubric and makes it easier to read.

Note the fancy initial letter on the first page and splashes of red throughout the text.

The book shows two different styles of handwriting (called hands); one in black and red and another one in a chocolate brown ink. The chocolate brown ink seems to be written around the black text and may be the notes of the first reader. This kind of text, found in manuscripts, is called marginalia. It can be very valuable to historians to reconstruct the histoire des mentalités or weltanschauung of a medieval university. You may sometimes see this form of writing called scholia. These are comments or explanations on the text intended for future reading. Scholia is sometimes copied alongside the main text.

Some learned marginalia at the side of the main text.

At the side of the manuscript you can see several regularly placed holes. These would have been placed there by a copyist or more often the apprentice. The copyist could then draw lines across the page to help them write neatly.

Notice the holes pricked into the right hand side of the page. These are to help the scribe write in straight lines

The book contains several holes. Manuscripts are notoriously easy prey to parasites. The word bookworms originally referred to insects who bored through pages of the book. You can sometimes trace their routes through books. Holes that appear after the creation of a manuscript are called lacunae (a single hole is called a lucuna). The word lacuna is sometimes used for gaps in text or missing words. If you look closely at the holes in this manuscript however, you will notice two very interesting things. First the text has been written around the hole and secondly the holes show signs of repair. These holes are not lacunae but were in existence when the book was written. The reason for this is because during the preparation of parchment the skin of the animal was dried and stretched. Any miniscule holes in the animal’s skin at the time of death would stretch in size. The older the animal, the more holes the parchment would likely show. Expensive manuscripts would often use younger animals. Vellum, the luxury writing material of the medieval period, was prepared from calf’s skin.

A rip that shows signs of having been in position at the time of writing.

The book is 18 cm by 12 cm book of 10 pages. The two texts are quite short. The Algorismus is about 5 to 10 folios.  Given its small size and relatively cheap manufacture the book is likely to have been the edition used by a University teacher or even student.

A most learned image

The discovery

Rob Hodgson who discovered the book is the City Law School Law Librarian. A barbate, well-dressed scholar with intelligent keen eyes, he did not expect to find such a treasure as he began auditing the special collections. Asking him about his discovery he says Truth be told whenever I catch the heady aroma of red rot in the air I’m always on the look-out for manuscript leaves used as pastedowns or a Wynken de Worde printers mark … but I never expected to find a full manuscript!” He was trained as a Rare Books librarian at UCL and has had substantial knowledge and experience of rare books. His previous role at The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn Place Inn Library saw him supporting legal practitioners (barristers) and students. The Library also contained a collection of manuscripts and rare books upon which Rob cut his teeth. At City Library he curates the Rare Books collection.

Rare Books as a term correctly means books printed between 1500 and 1800. Books printed before this are called incunabula. Movable-type printing in Europe was developed by Johannes Gutenberg from around 1450. Similar technologies had existed previously in China. Printing in this manner made the production of books quicker, easier and cheaper. Before printing, books were hand copied. Handcopying was more expensive in terms of time. It was also prone to mistakes. As it is felt mistakes accumulate over time, medievalists often trace the mistakes found in different manuscripts of the same text to form family trees (or stemma) from the surviving manuscripts. Through this they can identify, as closely as possible, the original texts. Not only were Sacrobosco’s texts popular enough to be regularly copied they were also printed at a very early date. Algorismus was printed in 1490.

His apprentice Simon Bralee was even more shocked by the discovery. A Coptologist by training, his schoolboy Latin nevertheless helped crack the code and identify the texts found in the books. “Nothing like this was ever to be expected in the Special Collections”, he says when I meet him over a coffee at the Courtyard Cafe. “What struck Rob most about the book was not that it was old, but that the spine looked so new in comparison with the other books on the shelves. Even before he opened it, he had said he wondered whether it was a manuscript”.

Librarian holding book.
Simon reading the manuscript.

Taking the book down from the shelves and opening it carefully, turning the pages of front matter Rob realised straight away it was a genuine manuscript. The hair on the pages, the smell of the pages and the holes at the edges all identified it as a manuscript. After a brief examination of the manuscript the Archives group sought the professional advice of Justin Clegg from the British Library. Justin identified the date and provenance of the manuscript from the handwriting found in the text. He gave a date of late fifteenth century and suggested it was likely from a university setting. The text has not yet been professionally edited.

Rob is sanguine about discovering more rare gems. He says “This may be the springboard I need to start my quest to locate one of the missing copies of Codex Amiatinus and return it to Tyneside… you never know what might be hidden inside a generic Victorian library binding !” Here’s hoping.