How to Build a Mind Map in Microsoft Word

Saikat Basu Updated 03-09-2019

Our thoughts rarely go from Point A to Point B in a straight line. More likely, they flit about like a firefly caught in a jar. This is where a tool like a Mind Map comes in use.


A mind map is simply a diagram that helps to connect related ideas or concepts around a central thought. It is a great idea-capturing device to bring some order to the chaos that’s our brain. A paper and pen is the easiest tool to get started on your first mind map. But today, we will take a shot at making a mind map with Microsoft Word.

Why Mind Maps Work

By putting down ideas or thoughts on a mind map, the brain is encouraged to think from every perspective. A mind map also encourages brainstorming Turn Your Brainstorm Into a Mind Map for Maximum Insight Recording your brainstorm in a mind map could help you gain deeper insights. And it's easy. We show you how to combine both strategies for research, planning, and innovating. Read More . Your brain will start to think about the relationships between ideas rather than look at them as a hierarchical list.

The bottom line about mind mapping is that it’s all about “visuals”—associate words with each other and add imagery to help your brain make sense of large chunks of data.

How to Make a Mind Map in Microsoft Word

There are specialized apps for creating mind maps. But if you don’t have any mind mapping software, then Microsoft Word can also be used to draw a quick mind map. But first…

Simple Rules for Effective Mind Maps

  • Think of the central idea and write it down in the middle.
  • Think of related ideas and place them radially around the central idea. Connect all ideas with meaningful relationships. Use lines, colored lines, shapes, pictures, etc. to graphically describe ideas and relationships.
  • Leave lots of space between ideas because new filler ideas and relationships will come in as the mind map grows.
  • Go with the flow.

A basic mind map with keyword and ideas


Get Familiar With the Illustrations Group in Word

We have seen how easy it is to create flowcharts in Word How to Create Flowcharts With Microsoft Word The Easy Way Want to learn how to make a flowchart in Word? It's easy with the right technique. This introductory article explains how. Read More with the help of basic shapes and connectors. Extend it with icons, pictures, SmartArt, charts, or even videos. And the finished mind map in Word can become a professional document in its own right.

Step 1: Switch to Landscape Mode

The landscape mode gives the most horizontal area to work with. In a New Word Document, select Layout > Orientation > Landscape. If you want to finally print it, select the right Size in the Page Setup group.

Mind Map in Word-Set Landscape Orientation

Step 2: Combine Available Shapes in Word

Most of the tools we can use lie in the Illustrations group on the Insert tab. Click on Shapes which has all basic building blocks for a mind map.


Insert shapes for mind map in Word

You can use simple shapes like ovals or rounded rectangles to represent the central ideas. Then, label all shapes with a Text Box.

Stretch out and connect the shapes with lines and arrows to represent relationships.

Like all other elements, you can copy and paste shapes, thus helping to put down the main ideas rapidly as nodes and sub-nodes.


An example of a mind map in Word

Step 3: Start Mapping With Shapes and Text Boxes

All elements can be elaborated using the full range of the Shape Styles. Drawing the first shape brings up the contextual Shape Format tab. The best thing is that a mouse-over on any tool gives us a live preview of how the diagram is turning out.

The Shape Format tab in Word

Step 4: Format Your Shapes

To change the properties of the shape, right-click on the selected shape and select Format Shape from the context menu.


Format mind map shapes with a right-click

Any options for Lines connects all the nodes and sub-nodes. Lines are also Shapes and their look or angles of rotation can be similarly changed from Format Shape or from the Ribbon (double click on the shape to bring up the Format tab).

Format lines and connectors in the mind map

Step 5: Label Shapes and Lines

You can label shapes and lines with text to define the relationships. However, in earlier versions, Microsoft Word limits text orientation to vertical or horizontal. In Word 2016 and 2019, go to Insert > Text > Text Box and insert a Simple Text Box, which you can subsequently rotate to your preferred angle.

Mind maps can be illustrated with images sourced from your desktop or online. Instead of pictures, you can also tap into Icons to represent processes and workflows.

Go to Ribbon > Insert > Illustrations Group > Icons.

Insert icons to describe your mind map in Word

While inserting images or icons, use the corner handles to define the size of the image. You can also adjust the transparency and colorize the icons to match them with the color theme of your mind map.

Use corner handles to define shapes and icons

Step 6: Add Notes and Links to Your Word Mind Map

Creating a mind map in Word can be extended by adding hyperlinks to external sources. But what if you want to add more detailed notes to the mind map?

A workaround to add notes or attachments within the Microsoft Word file is not there, though you can use OneNote to make Linked Notes.

The OneNote Linked Notes feature allows you to dock OneNote on one side of the open Word document and take notes. Whatever notes you take in OneNote gets “linked” to the particular Word document.

To start taking Linked Notes in Word, go to Ribbon > Review > Linked Notes.

Linked Notes in Microsoft Word

OneNote will open next to your mind map and ask you to pick a Notebook, Section, and Page for your new note with the Select Location dialog box. Choose a new page or an existing page to begin.

Start your notes in the OneNote window on the right. OneNote embeds a thumbnail image of the page, a text excerpt, and a link to the document the note is linked to. You can click on the thumbnail to open the associated mind map anytime.

To stop your note-taking session, go to the upper-right corner of the docked OneNote window. Click the chain link icon, and then choose Stop Taking Linked Notes.

Microsoft Word as a Mind Mapping Tool

Microsoft Word (and even Microsoft PowerPoint) is useful as a rapid tool for building a mind map. It’s more flexible than pen and paper because you can easily update it by adding or rearranging the topics.

You can copy it to the other Office programs and if need be, even print it out. Presenting it with PowerPoint or email sharing are added options.

But make no mistake—Microsoft Word is not a dedicated tool for mindmaps.

Mind mapping tools like FreeMind have greater flexibility. Just to cite one feature, it’s not possible to collapse and open the branch nodes in Microsoft Word. But, the crux of the matter is that Microsoft Word can make mind maps and we have shown you how to make one.

Want another tip to boost your thinking? Try these Microsoft Word templates to start brainstorming 8 MS Word Templates That Help You Brainstorm & Mind Map Your Ideas Quickly Free Word templates are not just about beautiful documents, perfect resumes, and cover pages. They can be vital for brainstorming and mind maps too. Here are eight Word templates for your ideation needs. Read More .

Related topics: Microsoft Office 2016, Microsoft Office 2019, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Office Tips, Microsoft Word, Mindmapping.

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  1. Joseph JJ
    September 6, 2019 at 7:24 am

    This is an interesting idea. I'd be worried about the lack of speed. When I mind-map it's because I want to get ideas recorded in rapid succession.

    I'd suggest you might be better of using one of the "Smart Art" illustrations built into word. This way you can select the text-input area, and navigate around your growing mind-map using Tab, Shift+ALT+Left, SHift+Alt+Right etc.

    Just a thought.

  2. Jane Jacobs
    January 19, 2018 at 7:54 am

    I think Edraw MindMasater is the easiest tool to build up a mind map on Microsoft Word.
    This software supports to exports documents into MS Office file formats, such as Word, PPT, Visio and Excel. Users can create the mind map they like with Edraw MindMaster, and then export the map to .DOCX format and open it in Word as vector document. Cool!

  3. Vicky
    March 24, 2017 at 4:26 am

    This is great thank you simple and just what I was looking to do, I don't want to download another package for one assignment :-)

    • Saikat Basu
      March 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

      Precisely my point. We can get more out of our regular tools for sporadic tasks.

  4. dave tribbett
    March 25, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Below is a post that represents some very cool maps of the internet, science and complexity. These are more than maps, they are works of art.
    Another, very cool interactive map of science is here:

  5. Saikat
    March 9, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Hi Dan,
    I did mention - "the simplest tool could be a paper and some pens. The second simplest when you don’t have software installed"

    MS Word is an emergency life buoy for a lot of things when you don't have specialized software and no net connection at hand. That was the point of the post. Personally, I have used it and PowerPoint in the corporate scene to illustrate an idea rapidly.

    Yes, Freemind is the app if you are looking for the software. There are a host of online tools too. We have covered a lot of them.

    As for Tony Buzan, I would love to meet him even at the cost of my extermination :)

  6. Dan
    March 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    If Tony Buzman found out you were trying to use Word for mind mapping, he'd probably shoot you in the face. Seriously, talk about the wrong tool for the job!

    Unless you prefer putting forks in your eyeballs, try Freemind:

  7. Riyad
    March 4, 2010 at 5:19 am

    I tried this out on my Office 03 (waiting for office2010). I dunno how different it would be on 2007 but it take up alot of time. Linking up boxes over and over seem quite tedious. And I can't set a default text size other than 12. Cons aside, its more legible and changeable than my handdrawn mind maps. just time consiming.
    ANYONE KNOW A GOOD FREE MINDMAPPING APPLICATION FOR WINDOWS? the few I looked at require payment for a full featured version.Ta

    • Saikat
      March 9, 2010 at 10:22 pm

      Hi Riyad,

      Try Freemind. It is free and very easy to learn.

      • Riyad
        March 12, 2010 at 4:56 am

        Thanks saikat
        I tried out freemind, and the free version of xmind and found the latter a little easier (eg tab instead of insert for child node, multiple charts per workbook). the main disadvantage with xmind-free is you cant drag nodes to wherever you want.
        I didn't know there was mind mapping software. it sure beats my paper scrabbles that are hard to decipher. Thanks for introducing this stuff.

        • Saikat
          March 12, 2010 at 11:03 am

          Check out the online ones too. There are lots of them. You might find some of them easier to use.

  8. Michael
    February 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Never thought about doing it this way - used expensive, dedicated tools for a while but now I use XMind exclusively. It is free and very powerful. If you really want to exercise the full power of mind mapping use a tool made for it.

    • Marc Couture
      February 25, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      Xmind is a great tool. There is also a "portable" version available that you can use on a USB key, avoiding the Internet access or installation problems noted in the article.

  9. Dave
    February 25, 2010 at 7:34 am

    This is a wonderful article, thanks for including it. I got to the office today thinking, "I need to make a mind map for a presentation in a couple days." Good timing!

    Anyway, I wanted to add a recommendation. Start by adding a "New Drawing Canvas." (Insert -> Shapes -> New Drawing Canvas) It makes moving pictures and objects around SO much easier.

  10. nakliye
    February 25, 2010 at 3:14 am


  11. Marc Couture
    February 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    As an avid mindmapper, I would not recommend using a tool such as Word to create maps, if only to avoid constantly interrupting the creative process with Word's kludgey drawing tool implementation. Moving ideas around, connecting ideas together, adding supporting links and supporting documentation, all are simply too time consuming if not using a dedicated software package like Mindmanager, Freemind or other similar tools.

    • Saikat
      February 24, 2010 at 10:01 pm

      I agree. But there have been instances where I found myself without a web access and no mind mapping software installed. MS Word and PowerPoint helped me out to create a 'professional' looking one and present it, instead of presenting a list of points. MS Word is a bit of a Jack of all trades, master of none, in that regard :)

    • TheGrammarFreak
      March 1, 2010 at 5:22 am

      Freemind. Word is no good for mindmaps, it just takes too long. Freemind is free, and full of keyboard shortcuts to make it quick.

  12. Roland Grey
    February 24, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Great article, never thought of using word in this way. For those that want a great dedicated tool, I can recommend Online and a great tool.

  13. Roland Grey
    February 24, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Great article, never thought of using word in this way. For those that want a great dedicated tool, I can recommend Online and a great tool.