Sunday, November 11, 2007

FreeMind: The Grown Up Grade School Approach to Organizing Research

There is something exceedingly comforting about going back to the basics. This weekend I have done just that using a program called “FreeMind”. FreeMind is essentially the digital version of the brainstorming mind maps that I used to make when I was in grade school, in order to organize my thoughts and research ideas.

FreeMind starts with one “node” which is your basic idea, and then you can create as many nodes attached to that as you need, including different degrees of subtopics called “sibling” or “child” nodes. One can keep their FreeMind experience very professional and just have lines connecting words, or one can really make use of the program and enjoy the process by making it so all of the main topics have bubbles surrounding them. There are also multiple icons, such as question marks, numbers, and light bulbs, which can be added to thought bubbles to label which ideas are most important and which still need work. There is also the option of adding “notes” to specific nodes, where one could record any additional research needed on that particular topic.

I have been using FreeMind to organize my research for an exhibit I am proposing on the history of medicine. All of the sources I have been using so far have been from the web or excel spreadsheets, and I have easily been able to copy and paste artifact and archival reference numbers onto my digital mind map. In addition, I have been manipulating and maneuvering the FreeMind nodes as I find new sources, or as I change my mind about the order of importance of my research finds. This is the first mind map I have used in years, but I am definitely going to reintegrate them into my research habits, due to the efficiency in which FreeMind has enabled me to quickly organize my previously scattered thoughts.

1 comment:

Argey said...

You may want to look at Topicscape for a 3D equivalent to FreeMind. Several reasons:
- This has been designed to actively support web research. Drag a favicon from the browser address box, and it immediately makes a web archive file (mht) that lets you read the gathered material off-line (at the same time it automatically makes a live shortcut to the original site).
- It can import a FreeMind mm file with all its attachments and make a 3D landscape from it directly.
- It can build concept maps as well as mindmaps. So you can have the same node in several branches.
- You can export a Topicscape back to FreeMind.

There's a user story about how someone used it for academic web research here: