How to Create a Mind Map in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel

Basic mind map in PowerPoint

Whether you’re brainstorming ideas, gathering thoughts, or working through concepts, a mind map is a fantastic visual tool. It allows you to see the big picture clearly to make adjustments or add more to it.

Using the built-in features in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, you can create a mind map in any of the three applications with ease.

Note: While there are ways to use Microsoft Word for free, should you not have access to Microsoft Office, you can try one of these dedicated mind map apps instead.

Make a Mind Map Using SmartArt

One of the easiest ways to create a mind map in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel is using Microsoft’s SmartArt feature. With it, you can pick one of the preset diagrams and use the SmartArt features to make a mind map in just minutes.

SmartArt works the same way in all three applications. Choose the spot in your document, slideshow, or spreadsheet where you want to insert the mind map.

  1. Go to the “Insert” tab and select “SmartArt” in the Illustrations group.
SmartArt on the Insert tab in PowerPoint
  1. On Windows, you’ll see a separate window open.
SmartArt options in PowerPoint on Windows
  1. On Mac, you’ll see a pop-out menu of options.
SmartArt options in PowerPoint on Mac
  1. Select the diagram you want to use. While you can choose any SmartArt diagram you like, there are two that work particularly well for a mind map. This includes the "Horizontal Hierarchy" and "Diverging Radial." Let’s look at each one.
Smartart diagrams

Tip: You can also create a Venn Diagram in Microsoft PowerPoint.

Horizontal Hierarchy

This diagram starts with a single idea on the left and branches out to the right. It’s a good option if you plan to have many topics and subtopics.

  1. Select “Hierarchy” and then choose “Horizontal Hierarchy.”
Horizontal Hierarchy SmartArt graphic
  1. When the diagram appears, you can enter your text one of two ways. First, you can select a box and type your own text where you see the "Text" placeholders. Second, you can click the arrow on the left side of the diagram and use the Text Pane which works like an outline.
Text Pane and placeholders for the Horizontal Hierarchy diagram
  1. If you use the diagram, you can add boxes and levels using the "Create Graphic" section of the ribbon on the “SmartArt Design” tab. Select a shape to add a related one and open the "Add Shape" drop-down menu. You can add a shape after, before, above, or below the current shape depending on the level you want.
Add Shape drop-down for a SmartArt diagram
  1. If you use the Text Pane, you can add boxes by pressing Enter or Return after each entry. Then, use your Tab key to indent one or more levels. Alternatively, you can go to the "SmartArt Design" tab and use the "Promote" and "Demote" buttons in the "Create Graphic" section of the ribbon. As you type your text, you’ll see it display in the diagram.
Promote and Demote on the SmartArt Design tab

Diverging Radial

This diagram has its central idea in the middle with branches circling around it. This one works well if you only want one layer of topics that include details.

  1. Select "Relationship" and then choose "Diverging Radial."
Diverging Radial SmartArt graphic
  1. When the diagram appears, you can add your text the same two ways as the above diagram. Either enter your text in the circles or open the Text Pane and type your text there.
Text Pane and placeholders for a Diverging Radial diagram
  1. The difference with this diagram is that when you indent your levels using the Text Pane, you’ll see bullet lists appear beneath the topics inside the circles. This is handy for detailed topics with lists or itemized ideas.
Text Pane indents for a list

Customize the SmartArt Diagram

You can use a different color scheme or choose a style for your SmartArt mind map. Select the diagram and head to the “SmartArt Design” tab.

  • Open the “Change Colors” drop-down menu to pick a color scheme from primary theme colors, varying colors, or accent colors.
Change Colors menu for SmartArt
  • Open the “SmartArt Styles” box to pick a design like an outline, subtle effect, or 3D option.
Styles for SmartArt
  • If you want to change the font style, size, or color, select the text within a shape. Then, use the floating toolbar (Windows only) or the "Font" section of the ribbon on the “Home” tab.
Font options for a SmartArt mind map

Good to know: A professional tool for creating diagrams is Microsoft Visio. We have compiled free alternatives to Microsoft Visio. You can use most of these for creating mind maps.

Make a Mind Map Using Shapes

If you’d like more control over the design of your mind map, you can opt for using the Shapes feature rather than SmartArt.

This lets you insert and customize shapes, add connector lines, and easily copy and paste the elements to make the process faster and simpler. You can also decide the layout you want to use as it’s a freeform option.

  1. Select a place where you want the mind map, go to the "Insert" tab, and open the "Shapes" drop-down box.
Shapes on the Insert tab in PowerPoint
  1. Choose the shape you want for the central idea of the mind map like a rectangle or circle. When your cursor changes to a crosshair symbol, draw the shape in the size you want.
Shape inserted for a mind map
  1. To add text, either double-click the shape and type or right-click it and pick “Edit Text” in the context menu.
Edit Text in the Shape menu
  1. You can then insert a shape for a first-level topic the same way. You can use an identical shape or choose a different one to make it stand out.
Next Shape inserted for a mind map
  1. When you’re ready to connect the first two shapes, return to the "Shapes" drop-down menu and pick the "Line" connector. You can also choose one of the other options if you prefer.
Lines in the Shapes menu
  1. Draw the line from the central shape to the topic shape. You should see circles on the borders of the shapes, making it easier to connect them.
Line inserted for a mind map
  1. You can follow this same process to create the rest of the first-level shapes and connect them. However, there is a handy shortcut you can use if you’d like to simply copy and paste them. Select the topic shape and optionally the connector.
Shape and line selected in PowerPoint
  1. Hold Ctrl on Windows or Command on Mac and place your cursor over the shape. You’ll see your cursor display a box and plus sign.
Cursor with a box and plus sign to copy a shape
  1. Drag away from the original shape, release your mouse and then the Ctrl or Command key. You should then see an exact copy of the shape or the shape and connector.
Shape and line copied for a mind map
  1. You can copy and paste additional shapes and connectors this way to save time. Then simply drag the shapes to arrange them as you like and move the lines to connect them to the central idea.
Mind map created using Shapes in PowerPoint
  1. Continue with the processes here to add more topics and lines. If you want to customize the colors of the shapes or lines, select one, go to the “Shapes Format” tab, and use the options in the "Shape Styles" section of the ribbon.
Shape Design tab Styles group in PowerPoint

Mac users: Have you tried these drawing apps for macOS, yet?

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between SmartArt and WordArt in Office?

SmartArt is a feature that provides graphics. Like you see here, you can create diagrams, lists, matrices, and pyramids. WordArt differs in that it provides decorative font. You can choose from styles with effects like shadow or reflections.

Where can I find mind map templates for Microsoft Office?

There are a few websites that offer free and paid mind map templates for the Microsoft Office applications.

Are there apps specifically for making mind maps?

You can find a nice selection of mind map apps available for Windows, Mac, mobile devices, and the web with both free and paid options. If you plan to work with mind maps often or for a variety of different purposes, this is a good way to go.

All screenshots by Sandy Writtenhouse.

Sandy Writtenhouse
Sandy Writtenhouse

With her BS in Information Technology, Sandy worked for many years in the IT industry as a Project Manager, Department Manager, and PMO Lead. She wanted to help others learn how technology can enrich business and personal lives and has shared her suggestions and how-tos across thousands of articles.

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