Article by Gideon King, founder of NovaMind
Topics are your core building blocks for your Mind Maps, so it is important that those building blocks are able to represent all the things you need to represent on your Mind Maps. One of the ways you can do this is by being consistent in your choice of topic shapes to mean different things.
NovaMind 5 has more topic shapes than any other Mind Mapping software. Some people seem to like to try to use every topic shape on every Mind Map they make, and others seem to not change topic shapes at all.
Below are my suggestions about how to use different topic shapes to denote meaning, and a tutorial on how to achieve this in your Mind Maps.
Important: Intended Audience
This tutorial assumes that you have used NovaMind to some extent already, and that you understand the basic concepts of both Mind Mapping and the outline view. It is not intended for people who are new to NovaMind and haven’t tried it out properly yet.
The formatting of your Mind Maps really up to you, and you can make up your own meanings for different topic shapes (or even just choose topic shapes purely for visual effect), but as a starting point, here are some ideas for using the different topic shapes:
- Rectangle: A solid idea, a fact
- Rounded rectangle: An option or possibility
- Chamfered rectangle (big chamfer): Something that happens before its subtopics
- Arrow: Something that causes the subtopics to happen
- Parallelogram: Information that is derived from other information
- Cloud: A thought or concept that is not completely defined
- Oval: A concept, idea, or overall topic
- Chamfered at one end and rounded at the other: An output or conclusion
- Chamfered top left: A document
- Line: Detailed information
I’m aware that some of these concepts are reasonably closely related, but please bear in mind that Mind Mapping is not an exact science, and that you will probably want to adapt this to suit your needs, if you decide to adopt something like this.
Callouts are sometimes used on Mind Maps to add visual supporting information for a topic. Callouts are represented in the outline of the Mind Map after all the subtopics of the topic it is attached to.
Although callouts sometimes have subtopics, in most instances it is best to limit it to either just the callout or the callout and one level of subtopics. If you are finding yourself adding more than this, you may want to question whether this should be either a full topic, or a floating topic or even a completely separate Mind Map. In any case, here are some ideas for callout shapes:
- Cloud: A related idea
- Rectangle: A supporting fact
- Oval: A supporting concept
Floating topics are used to represent other ideas that are not closely tied to the topic of the Mind Map, but you want to be visually represented on the same canvas. Floating topics are represented in the outline view after the Mind Map.
If you have something that is a fully blown Mind Map in its own right, it should be a separate Mind Map on a separate canvas.
Floating topics are particularly useful when brainstorming ideas when you don’t know where they are going to fit in with other ideas, and for grouping ideas and reorganizing information, but on a more developed Mind Map (I won’t say finished, because Mind Mapping is about being open to new ideas rather than “finishing”), in most cases there would be very few if any floating topics.
In most cases, floating topics themselves would be oval since they denote an idea that will be spelled out by their subtopics.
Shapes are a unique feature of NovaMind, which allow you to extend the visual look of topics in a number of ways. There is no need for the topic to finish at the topic boundary – you can enhance the topic with as many shapes as you like. They can be in front of or behind the topics, and can either push other topics out of the way or float behind or in front of the other topics. All the shapes can have text and images on them, allowing you infinite flexibility to enhance your topics. Most commonly, they are used to add images that are outside or overlapping the topic, or to add shape and text annotations to the topics. Shapes are not included in the outline view.
In this example Mind Map, the “information tag” is a rectangular shape attached to the “basic information” floating topic, and with text typed on it, and the “Mind Map description” is a shape attached to the Mind Map title so that it stays fixed relative to the title. You may want to exclude it from layout so that it can’t push other topics out of the way as the Mind Map grows.
Boundaries are used for visually grouping related ideas. NovaMind 5 supports 7 boundary shapes, 3 of which are rectangle based, 3 outline based, and one cloud based. Here are some ideas for using different boundary shapes:
- Rounded outline: Ideas that are strongly conceptually related
- Rectangle: A topic and all its supporting evidence
- Cloud: Grouping ideas that are related but not completely tied down
How to create this Mind Map
Firstly, we would suggest that you download the Mind Map, so you can click on the different topics and see the formatting.
Basic Topic Shapes
Windows: select the topic, click on the Format tab on the ribbon bar, and choose the Topic Shape option, as per the image to the right. Select the option you need.
Mac: select the topic, and show the Geometry: Shape inspector, as per the image below. Select the shape you need.
Adjusting the Basic Topic Shapes
Windows: use the Advanced Settings option on the Topic Shape menu to show the advanced formatting dialog as shown below. Depending on which shape you had selected, the options relevant for that shape are shown below the shape selection area.
Mac: the options are already displayed on the inspector, and the relevant ones will be enabled.
For the rounded rectangle topics used for options, you would adjust the corner amount to suit. For the “this happens before” option, you would use a chamfered rectangle and alter the corner amount to suit. For the cloud shapes, you can choose whichever of the 20 available shapes looks best for your thought.
Custom Topic Shapes
The “An output” and “A document” topics are both custom topic shapes. As with the ordinary topic shapes, the appropriate options are shown (Windows) or enabled (Mac). In the case of the “An output” topic, you would select the top left quadrant in the custom shape settings and change it to be chamfered, then adjust the corner amount to suit, and also do the same for the bottom left quadrant. Then the top right and bottom right corners, you would use the rounded corners and adjust the corner amounts to suit.
The “A document” topic is easier – you would just select the top left quadrant of the topic, set it to be chamfered, and adjust the corner amount.
Shapes are added by selecting the topic you want the shape added to, and then using the Insert / Shape options to insert the type of shape you want. If you decide you want to change the shape of the Shape after insertion, you can still do so by using the normal topic shape controls.
When you first insert a shape, it will be in front of the topics, and in front of all the other shapes. If you want to move it back to behind the other topics and shapes, you can right-click the shape and choose the “Send to Back” menu option. You can use the “Send to Back” and “Bring to Front” options on any shape to adjust its position relative to the Mind Map and the other shapes.
On the Mind Map above, there are two shapes – one called “Information tag” which is attached to the “Basic Information” floating topic, and the other “Mind Map description”, attached to the Mind Map title to act as a kind of label for the Mind Map itself. Normally, the shapes will push all other topics except the one it is attached to away, but in this case, I right clicked on the Mind Map description shape and chose to exclude it from layout so that it would not push any other topic out of the way, but would just float in front of them all.
To insert a boundary, select the topic you want to be at the root of the boundary and choose the Insert / Boundary option. You can then set the shape as follows:
Windows: use the Fromat / Boundary Shape option to choose from one of the pre-defined shapes, or choose Advanced Settings to show the formatting dialog for the boundary.
Mac: show the Geometry : Boundary inspector, and choose the shape you want and adjust the settings from the inspector.
This article gives you a suggestion of a way that you can use topic shapes to mean different things. Clearly there are also other ways of conveying meaning on your Mind Maps, using colors, adornments, images, priorities etc, so don’t feel you have to use topic shapes for this purpose. Whether you do use this or some other way of using topic shapes to denote meaning is up to you, so please take it as an idea and maybe try it out and tweak it for your own needs if you think the concept is useful to you.