Mind Mapping Research

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The mind map is a powerful graphic technique which can be applied to every aspect of life where improved learning and clearer thinking will enhance performance, such as in note-taking, brainstorming, memorising or analysing. Mind mapping could also however be beneficial in qualitative research.

A mind map starts life as a single blank sheet of paper. A question, title, or central concept as an image or diagram is then placed in the centre of the page, with sub-headings or related themes branching off (created as ideas come to mind in brainstorming etc), with each branch having an associated image or word on it. These branches can then be sub-divided or related to other branches. There is guidance for maximising the use of mind maps, but there are no set rules. Each user is free to develop their own system or code of shapes, colours, lines or symbols. Concepts or themes can then be linked or integrated with each other on both paper and in the users mind.

Qualitative research is a tool for examining healthcare, which instead of attempting to explain why something happens as in quantitative research, seeks to understand the interpretations or motivations of those involved in the care, be they patients or staff, and is an important tool in helping to understand modern healthcare.

In qualitative research semi-structured interviews are often used, which are tape recorded. Traditionally these recordings are then transcribed into text and analysed for their content. A popular and useful theory of qualitative research is phenomenology where any preconceived ideas about the subject in question should be suspended by the researchers (easier said than done), in order that the true phenomena can be revealed. This is termed bracketing. The theory is that the subject can then be explored in a non-judgmental way by the researchers.


A mind map can be used to transcribe a whole interview on one piece of paper, therefore removing the lengthy process of transcribing, however there is a far greater benefit to using mind mapping in qualitative research. Whilst a mind map is made of the interview, qualitative analysis can be conducted, and quite possibly be done without the researcher being aware of it.

In phenomenology there is a term free imaginative variation' whereby the researcher has the ability to awaken possibilities' therefore becoming aware of features of the phenomenon which are essential, but not immediately obvious. If conducted correctly, mind mapping should lend itself well to this style of thought process, as it allows free thinking. This analysis can be done whilst listening to an interview in real time with the transcribing and analysis stages of research becoming blurred, whilst retaining validity.

Familiarisation' with the content of an interview, which is essential for a valid analysis could be achieved far easier using mind mapping than waiting for typed transcripts to be ready as in traditional research, by listening to the interview numerous times, as well as utilising the potential for a very short time delay between interview, transcription and analysis. There is also potential for real-time mind mapping of interviews during the interview, either by the interviewer or observer which can then also take into account non-verbal aspects of the subject.

Mind mapping may therefore allow researchers to transcribe non-verbal as well as verbal aspects of an interaction in real time, giving a realistic interpretation of all aspects of the interaction. Mind mapping can also aid the researcher in the analysis of the data by giving the researcher the ability to bracket' their own preconceptions, which is so fundamental in phenomenological research.

More about this author: Chris Tattersall

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