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There are several platforms that support visual brainstorming and concept/mind mapping, or the mapping of how pieces of information relate to one another.  You can certainly do this with post its/paper and pen, but digital platforms can facilitate collaboration and re-organization.  Some images of a concept map can be found here and here.


Brainstorming is great for generating ideas, and concept mapping is ideal for highlighting the relationship between aspects of a more complex process, system, or parts of a paper/project.  For writing-based activities or multimedia projects, it can help students organize their thoughts visually, and keep track of ideas and threads to structure their papers/projects.  For concept-based activities, it can help students and faculty members identify prior knowledge, a breakdown in understanding, or areas for improvement.  It mimics the physical activity of brainstorming ideas or conceptual aspects on post its, and then organizing them into an outline or hierarchical diagram.


The tools for brainstorming and concept mapping listed below can be accessed with an Internet connection.


  • Ask:  What is the central word, concept, research question or problem around which to build the map?
  • Ask: What are the concepts, items, descriptive words or telling questions that you can associate with the concept, topic, research question or problem?
  • Use a top down approach, working from general to specific or use a free association approach by brainstorming nodes and then develop links and relationships. Use different colors and shapes for nodes & links to identify different types of information. Use different colored nodes to identify prior and new information. Use a cloud node to identify a question.
  • Gather information to a question in the question node. (


You can of course annotate, brainstorm and concept/mind map by hand (post its and pen/paper are great), but the platforms below facilitate sharing and collaboration, and streamline the process.

Brainstorming / Ideation Concept and Mind Mapping
Google Draw (free): easy creation of flow charts and brainstorming diagrams.

LucidChart (free for basic account): easy creation of a variety of charts and diagrams for brainstorming and visualization purposes. (contact us if interested in an educational account): easy & collaborative brainstorming platform.

Popplet (free for online; $4.99 for app): build and share idea boards.

Scrapple (purchase for $14.99): creation of easy-to-build outlines and flow charts to organize papers.  Scrivener ($45), made by the same company, allows for robust paper outlining. (free for up to 3 mind maps): online mind mapping tool.

Coggle (free/premium): collaborative brainstorming/concept-mapping tool; drag and drop unlimited images; revision history and track changes; Google Drive integration; discussion and commenting around maps

Free Mind (free): open source mind-mapping tool available

SimpleMind Free (free basic mobile version for Android and iOS): nice drag and drop functionality to create mind maps.

XMind (free for basic account): creation of easy-to-build flow charts & mind maps to organize ideas. Can store and share maps.