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.
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.
- Go to the “Insert” tab and select “SmartArt” in the Illustrations group.
- On Windows, you’ll see a separate window open.
- On Mac, you’ll see a pop-out menu of options.
- 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.
Tip: You can also create a Venn Diagram in Microsoft PowerPoint.
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.
- Select “Hierarchy” and then choose “Horizontal Hierarchy.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Select "Relationship" and then choose "Diverging Radial."
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Open the “SmartArt Styles” box to pick a design like an outline, subtle effect, or 3D option.
- 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.
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.
- Select a place where you want the mind map, go to the "Insert" tab, and open the "Shapes" drop-down box.
- 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.
- To add text, either double-click the shape and type or right-click it and pick “Edit Text” in the context menu.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- TemplateLab offers free mind map templates for Microsoft Word in addition to Photoshop.
- Template.net has mind map templates for Word and PowerPoint along with Google Docs and Slides. The templates are topic-specific which is a good option if you want one for education, photography, or business.
- SlideModel offers mind map templates for PowerPoint with options like six-item, concept, and sticky note mind maps.
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.
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