Content with the Technical: Wait for it… Mind Mapping!

The immutable truth behind every technical and copy driven piece of writing is the same—good writing starts with good research. Today, I will show you how effective mind mapping can do all, if not most, of the heavy lifting for you—and in most cases all you’ll need to do is add verbs. 

Sounds pretty great, huh, but how does it work?

Let’s start with a quick TED Talk (no I haven’t been asked to give my lecture yet…  I discovered this one while working on a forthcoming poetry collection— Want to Learn Better? Start Mind Mapping | Hazel Wagner. Hazel does an excellent job of describing the basic footprint of a mind map, as well as some of the best practices for creating your maps. An important tip she reveals is the need to keep each individual thought cluster (the circles with the information in them) to a short three to four words. This is a memory trick, the brain’s ability to recall information becomes dramatically reduced when attempting to remember words numbered past four. 

Try it on your friends, give them a list of four words and then a few minutes later ask them to repeat the words back to you. Mark their progress and then give them a new set of four words, but this time add a fifth word, and you’ll see their ability to repeat them back to you drop significantly. 

I’m not here to talk about neural networks or cognitive thinking—so let’s press forward to some example maps.

Okay, I’ll give you a moment to appreciate the subtle beauty of the above drawing– those swirling circles… Let’s examine the basic premise: we are documenting everything we can about this particular step stool (process works for single products or larger product groups) and labeling different information by color for later use. If you notice, there are six main branches coming from the center (main topic): “Storage, Diamond Plating, Perforations, etc,” these will represent our main features. These features will be the root of our content entries. If you follow the path of any one of these anchors, for example, Diamond Plating– you’ll see brief phrases or keywords in either red or green. My coding system labels: features, the things that are designed and engineered into a product, such as the legs of a desk that make it function as a desk, in red, and benefits, the perks or compelling reasons for including those aforementioned engineered features, for instance those same legs used for the desk are also rated for heavy-duty weight capacity, easily enduring 450lbs, in green. So, we see “Tread” in red indicating it is a feature, this is a physical perforation of sorts on the individual step of the stool. And following that are both “supports laminar flow” and “reduce slipping risk” in green, dog-earring them for benefits (Benny!). 

This information was found in a number of tiresome ways: website entries (that need updating), product manuals, white papers, email correspondence with engineers and sales associates (gasps), and, of course, stakeholder meetings (collapse). 

But after all that hard work is done, look how easy it is to draft a couple 100-200 character 

(Amazon ready) bullet points:

DIAMOND PLATED TREAD drastically reduces operator’s risk of slipping from an elevated position, protecting both personnel safety and material integrity (151 characters w/spaces).

PERFORATED, DIAMOND PLATED TREAD helps maintain ISO 5 classification by supporting laminar flow through open-air design (119).

The above bullets unfortunately require more than a passing knowledge of those keywords (IE “enhance laminar flow”) and the only way that comes about is through lots of reading, conversations with subject matter experts (SMEs), and the worst thing of all… time. It also never hurts to have the products around to physically handle, and when possible, to actually use the product for its intended purpose. 

But does this system actually work, could a mind map be constructed on any piece of content (of reasonable length) that would make a few clear bullet entries of about 100-200 characters (including spaces) each?

What if I mind-mapped this blog? DO I DARE?

I do.

BAM!

MIND MAPPING is an incredibly versatile strategy used by writers of technical and copy content to effectively document their research findings 

MEMORY LIMITATIONS positions three – four keywords in each bubble as ideal to increase mental retention rates and elasticity

MEANINGFUL RESEARCH requires a working knowledge of the products such as website entries, product manuals, conversations with stakeholders and time

EACH BULLET EXAMPLE takes from the keyword box entry and connects the features and benefits (BENNY!) with contextual product additions

So, let’s take a look at the first example, “MIND MAPPING.” This bullet runs roughly 143 characters which is well within the 200 character count stipulated by Amazon’s general style guide (check specific product categories as counts and info demands may change). I started this bullet entry with the content from the last node on the mind map, the benefit. There is NOT a hard and fast rule for correct ordering: keyword, feature, and benefit– or any other order– benefit, feature, and keyword. Changing up this “formula” as you are drafting content is a great way of keeping your potential customers engaged. The next point on the map I use is the idea of “strategy,” which is a broad word that suggests a planned approach, in our case a planned approach to research. Next, I use my first piece of contextual additions, the idea that writers are the ones doing the writing… I know it’s a huge stretch, but if you can follow me here, you are GOLDEN. Rounding this bullet off, I use the keyword node from the mind map (the box entry) that anchors the bullet to the specific topic, and then wrap-up with the overall goal of mind mapping / technical / copywriting– to effectively document research findings (the goal of market writing!) 

The ALL CAPS initial words is another Amazon style guide feature– it is widely used, but not required.

There will of course be some initial growing pains when you try to incorporate this strategy into your own content creation, but I can assure you that the juice is well worth the squeeze. Before long you will be able to easily construct detailed maps that effectively communicate any number of points and then turn them into easy to digest bullet points. You’ll be increasing sales and rate of interaction (ROI) in no time!

Let’s keep this technical party going with an even closer look into research by examining intranet and internet content, with a brief look into our next blog topic– documentation management! 

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Published by Jeffrey Graessley

Jeffrey Graessley is an R&D technical writer, poet and blogger (right here) @ Content with the Technical! Subscribe for weekly updates every Sunday morning!

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