Synthesizing Concepts: Mind Mapping and Tabulation

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A useful first step to organize information or arguments into a linear story is to visualize the relationships between ideas, by clustering similar concepts, drawing connections between related ideas, and identifying patterns that emerge, including unexpected trends, links or hierarchies. This module presents a number of tools for organizing information to help you identify and understand relationships between concepts and synthesize new insights. 

The activities below will guide you to… 

  • Learn how to organize concepts using a mind map. 
  • Learn how to organize literature using tabulation. 
  • Discover resources to visually organize concepts individually or as a team. 

Mind Mapping 

Mind mapping is a visual tool that can be used to identify complex relationships and connections between related information and to prioritize the importance of information. A mind map can be used as a brainstorming tool in which you branch out as many concepts as possible from a central idea (see resources for tools and information). The mind map can then be revised and redrawn multiple times, organizing the branches in different ways to identify new connections and to represent hierarchical features by grouping ideas around common themes. Mind maps provide a useful snapshot of what you are thinking at a given time, making them useful to go back to.   

Suggested Activity – Organize Your Research with a Mind Map 

Estimated time: 40 minutes  

  1. Create a mind map of the rationale behind your thesis. Include any information and supporting evidence that you would need to explain your rationale and thesis to a peer. Do not exclude any ideas and do not be worried about making a mess: you can start over multiple times. Organize the final version of the map into common nodes. 
  2. When you think you are done with your mind map, add 4 more points.  
  3. With the mind map in mind create a one-minute speech describing the key points of your thesis. Compare the main ideas of your speech with those in your diagram. Where did you start on your map and how did you navigate through the ideas? Should you start in a different spot or navigate the ideas in a different order? 
  4. Revisit your mind map and circle or add key terms that are important to your research.  

Next Steps… 

  • You can also incorporate colour into your mind map to visually connect related ideas.  
  •  Post-it notes can also be used as nodes of a mind map to easily re-organize the map.  


One strategy to organize research articles and summarize data is tabulation, which can be used to keep track of your reading and analyze the literature. When doing this it is critical to have specific questions in mind that you are asking of the literature. The table can then be used to gather and organize evidence to answer this question. 

Suggested Activity – Organize Your Literature in a Table 

Estimated time: 30 minutes  

  1. Think about your research area and how you could compare articles in a table. Create column headings to identify points of comparison. Use the activity examples as a guide.  
  2. Select at least one article from your field and populate your table. 
  3. Keep filling out your literature table and set aside a time in your schedule each week or month to update it. 

Activity Examples

Tabulating Literature
Data Table Examples Examples of populated data tables with detailed comparisons of literature.


Mind Mapping
1 Use Mindmeister’s online mapping tool to get started.
2 Miro is another online tool that offers a variety of mindmapping, affinity diagramming and other visualization templates.
3 TEDx talk on how mind mapping helps learning and memory recall (~15 mins).
4 talk on how diagraming allows us to understand systems and relationships more easily to synthesize complex ideas (9 min).