Although mind-mapping software has been around for a while, sometimes the rigid structure makes it difficult to get loose ideas down quickly. Scapple, from the makers of the brilliant Scrivener, is a free-form, non-linear application for capturing your thoughts. It’s the closest software can get to a piece of paper and a pen – but you never run out of space.
Scapple is available for both Mac and Windows. I’m basing this post on the Windows version, as there are already a few tutorials out there for Mac users. It works broadly the same on both platforms, though.
You start off with a blank canvas and then double-click anywhere to create a note. Alternatively, you can drag in notes from Word documents or even images. To connect notes, just drag and drop one onto the other. By default, they’re connected by a dotted line, but you can also choose directional arrows. With handy shortcuts you can easily create linked notes above, below, and to the left or right.
Notes can also be stacked if you prefer a more ordered appearance. Either use Ctrl+Enter to create a stacked note underneath your current note, or select some existing notes and press Ctrl+’ (apostrophe) to stack them.
Selecting multiple notes is simple – just draw a box around them. To group them more permanently, you can add a background shape. Add more by dragging them into the shape.
The Inspector (already familiar to Scrivener users) allows you to format all the text with different fonts, colours, and styles. There is also a variety of bubbles and backgrounds from which to choose.
In this example, I used Scapple to brainstorm a guide I wrote for new PhD researchers. I was able to type any concepts or questions that popped into my head, then think about how they fitted together afterwards. I dragged in the Zotero and Evernote logos to remind me to mention them. This ended up being quite big, so you might need to click the image to see the details. Had I done this on a piece of paper, I’d have quickly run out of space and had to get busy with the sticky tape. Also, it’s a breeze to reorganise the structure if I decide that a topic belongs in a different section.
The really big advantage, however, is what happens next.
Using Scapple with Scrivener
If you’ve seen Scrivener, you’ll know that one of its many joys is the ability to break documents down into small sections. Well, you can actually import your Scapple document into Scrivener (using the OPML format), and each of your notes becomes a document within a project.
Alternatively, you could export it as a PDF and display it alongside your writing using the split-screen feature.
It’s also possible to drag and drop a note from Scapple into your Scrivener Binder.
Even if you don’t use it with Scrivener, you can still export your Scapple as an image or text document for use in another application. Unlike a piece of paper, you can repurpose it in many ways (and you can’t spill a cup of coffee on it).
Scapple costs just $14.99 for either the Mac or Windows edition. They offer a generous (non-consecutive) 30-day trial, giving you plenty of time to find out whether it’s right for you.
If you’re writing anything longer than a few thousand words, I recommend giving Scapple a try.