What Is a Concept Map and How to Do Concept Mapping (Actionable Guide for Beginners) (2023)

How to make a concept map?

If you haven't got a clear answer to it, then this guide is for you!

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This article is loaded with templates and best practices on each step of mapping. In short,to make a concept map, you need to go through: preparation, brainstorming, structuring, linking, and finalizing.

  • What is concept maps or concept mapping
  • Differences between concept maps and other graphic organizers
  • How to make a concept map

But first...

What Is the Concept Map, or Concept Mapping?

A concept map is a tool that visualizes relationships between concepts. It is useful to debunk complex information on a large scale. Research shows that it is helpful tocreate group mental model, identify gaps and loopholes, and enhance learning of science subjects.

Like many tools and methods, concept maps have style differences. The creator of concept mapping Dr. J. D. Novak, however, promotes hierarchical order and ONE focus question in one map. He also thinks that linking phrase is a must for every connection line.

An example of Novakian style concept map looks like this:

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Simple Novakian concept map template - click to read full screen and download in XMind Share

There are various ways to classify concept maps. Quantitative vs qualitative, free form or fixed structure, collaborative vs individual, demonstrative or analytic, etc..

But when people say concept maps, they usually refer to the qualitative, free-style, and analytic type - the Novakian style.

This tutorial is about creating the Novakian concept map and works best for individuals. But tips for other types are included as well.

Differences Between Concept Maps and Other Graphic Organizers

They are different from other graphic organizers in their free-form structures and emphasis on knowledge connections, which is why concept maps allow many-to-many relationships.

Since the differences are mild, people like to mix their usage with charts, mind maps, flowcharts, and timelines, etc..

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Concept map mixed with mind map: Career direction. Click to read full screen and download in XMind Share.

We compare more in-depth between mind maps and concept maps in this guide. You can access our free tool to check which diagram fits your projects.

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Elements (Jargons) of Concept Maps

The major elements of concept maps are nodes, linking phrases(verbs), cross-links, structure and propositions.

(Fun fact: all the infographics in this section are made in XMind)

Node, Linking Verb, and Cross-Link

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Every concept or idea is put inside a box (usually a rectangle shape.) These boxes are called nodes in concept mapping. Ideas and concepts should be as concise as a word or a short phrase.

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Not every links are cross-links. Only the lines between nodes from different segments are called cross-links.

Each link has its own linking verbs/phrases to explain the node-to-node relationship.

The # of links is an important metric to identify major concepts. They should have more than 2 or 3 links connected to and from other nodes.


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Proposition of a concept map entails two nodes and their linking verbs. A proposition is the smallest unit of a map. Even so, every unit is readable. That is, a proposition should form a meaningful sentence.

Proposistional structure is also a characteristic of concept maps.


Concept maps can be widly free-form. But the ideal form would be hierarchical structure.

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Hierarchical structures put most important concepts at the visual center. It can be at the top, in the center, or on the left. Then align nodes according to their importance accordingly.

Focus Question (and Underlying Assumptions)

Focus question is the problem or issue that the map is aiming to debunk. Clarity of the focus question influences the difficulty of making and using of the diagram.

Underlying assumption is the model you use to analyze the focus question. It is nice to have, but hard to figure out at first. Skip it if you have no clues at first, but do think about it during revisions.

Underlying theory and focus question provide the context for a map. As concept maps are highly contextual, the clearer they are, the more fruitful is the concept mapping.

(Video) How to Create Mind Map - 5 Best Mind Mapping Software That Help Study

How to Make a Concept Map

Step 0 is choosing drawing medium. Paper is great for initial analysis and digital canvas is good for ongoing revisions. You can check out our article on the pros and cons between handwriting and typing for details.

Step 1: Prepare - Focus Question and Research

Pick one topic that you are interested in and ask a critical question about it. This is your central topic and focus-question, which typically starts with "How", "Why", and "What".

Remember, the concept map is free form (aka complicated). So better to be humble in choosing a question.

Do LOTS OF research if you are new to the topic, so that you prepare yourself with a decent number of ideas. If it is a casual study, scan through the top 5~8 results of Google search will do.

In the following steps, I will use "How to get work done when you are not motivated" as an example.

Best Practices

  • Manage a macro concept map by linkingits nodes with micro diagrams. That way you can avoid to crowd the canvas by too many details. What Is a Concept Map and How to Do Concept Mapping (Actionable Guide for Beginners) (8)
  • Start by a narrow AND interesting question. How to fall asleep within 5 minutes? Why am I so tired?

Step 2: Brainstorm - Concept Generation

List out all the related points you can come up with.

Notice that at the brainstorming phase, you should skip judging on redundancy, relationships, or importance of the listed items. The objective is on the number of concepts. By the end of this phase, you may generate around 20~50 nodes. This number fits the most common sizes of paper/monitor screens.

You can document your ideas in spreadsheets, for that makes your large-scale concept scoring and ranking as smooth as a breeze.

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Best Practices

Concept mapping is NOT note-taking in boxes. You should keep the concepts concise and clear.

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If you write too much inside one node, the map has low readability. So be merciless to redundancy at this stage. Besides, I find splitting the notes into propositions very handy.

But, it is not good writing too little, either. For confusing concepts, you can put a brief definition in parens within the box and connect it to a node that states the importance.

If you create a map for public use, then consider the expertise of the audience. Readers' familiarity with the topics affects your word choices and the necessity of adding definitions.

Step 3: Structure - Concept Organizing

This step involves two actions: grouping and scoring. As these actions go back-and-forth to each other, I list them as one united step.

Concept grouping requires putting related or similar nodes into piles. You can achieve that by putting all ideas on one Post-It notes and organizing them on paper.

I prefer doing it in XMind in mind map structure, as it is very easy and quick to move ideas between branches.

(Video) How To Go From Mindmap To Outline

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After copying contents from spreadsheet to XMind, you can get all the concepts inside one canvas.

Then drag and drop similar items into one group and name their parent topics. In XMind, you can multi-select these topics and use Command+Enter (or Ctrl+Enter on Windows) to quickly create parent topics for them.

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Connect to other parent topics if an item fits into multiple groups. Also highlight them, as they might be important topics.

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Scoring requires weighing each of the concepts on some scale.

The nodes are rated upon a 1-5 range for their relative importance, with 1 meaning the least important and 5 the most.

While scoring, you can reorganize groups or put back omitted words.

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Best Practices

  • Try to build up the visual hierarchy. Hierarchical order gives clarity to the map. Align nodes according to importance in (preferably) top-down order. Center-out order is acceptable. Visually separate important nodes by color or font size differences.
  • Document your marking rubrics for the concepts. When you become more experienced of the subject, you can re-examine the selection of ideas.

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  • Mark highlighted topics at least at scale 3.

Step 4: Link - Linking Words and Cross-Links

Find out connections between ideas and connect them with Linking Phrases.

The effort to select linking words helps you consolidate the relationship between nodes. Sometime you may find it challenging to find appropriate linking phrases. This difficulty is helpful, as it signifies your confusions on the link.

Examples of linking phrases include:"shows", "defined as", "covers", "as demonstrated by", "makes", "can be", "for example", "leads to", "determined by", "important because".

After you generate primary links,create cross-links that illustrate relationships between same-level nodes of different branches.

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Best Practices

You have to be selective on link choices. Notice that two things are always connected, but only essential links are helpful to trigger insights and move the needle.

(Video) 10 Mind Maps to Transform Your Life & Mindset

Step 5: Finalize - Continuous Revision

Congratulations! By this stage, you are close to the final!

Finalizing your map works like going through series of Q&As. It entails three types of evaluations: structure, content, and graphic design. The former two should take disproportionately more time than the last one.

Structure investigation has two parts: the visual clarity of the structure and accuracy of relationships.

  • Visual clarity of structure:
    • Are your central nodes easily identifiable?
    • Sub-concepts branch appropriately from main ideas?
  • Accuracy of relationship:
    • Are linking lines connect in right directions?
    • Linking words accurately describe the relationship between concepts?
    • (Optional, only for digital maps) Hyperlinks effectively used?

Content assessment looks on the logics of the propositions and completeness of the map.

  • The propositions make sense?
  • Include almost all critical ideas (at least 20)?

Graphic design evaluation includes handling of design elements and creativity in expression.

  • Do the nodes and links fit visual proximity and alignment principles?
  • Do you use contrast to highlight important from the other?
  • Texts are easy to read and appropriately sized to fit the page?

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Best Practices

Revisions go beyond what is presented on the map. To name a few: the underlying theory, marking rubrics, linking phrase choices, and grouping decisions.

Concept Map Templates

Chemistry Concept Map

Including the concepts of the Mole, Molar Mass and Empirical Formula.

Useful for maps containing: complex linking verbs and multiple cross-links, but small amounts of nodes.

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Nursing concept map

Concept map for nursing, includes concepts: nursing diagnosis, education and more.

More hierarchical, clean style.Suitable for diagrams containing: large numbers of concepts but simple connections.

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Literature review for concept map research.

Concept mapping from bad to good.

Marking rubrics for the concept map.


What is a concept mapping? ›

What are concept maps? Concept maps are visual representations of information. They can take the form of charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, timelines, or T-charts. Concept maps are especially useful for students who learn better visually, although they can benefit any type of learner.

What are concepts examples? ›

Concepts can be based on real phenomena and are a generalized idea of something of meaning. Examples of concepts include common demographic measures: Income, Age, Eduction Level, Number of SIblings.

What is the purpose of concept map? ›

A concept map is a visual tool that helps you dig into an idea in detail. This diagram pushes you to explore subtopics, understand relationships, and organize your thoughts in a logical and systematic way.

What is a concept map and how do you make one? ›

A concept map is a way to visually display the relationships between different concepts, ideas, and pieces of information. Concept maps are hierarchical, with one main idea or focus question and several sub-topics, key concepts, and related ideas. Although they look similar, concept maps are not the same as mind maps.

Where can I create a concept map? ›

Use Lucidchart to create online concept maps from templates or from scratch—we have everything you need to get started. See why millions of users across the globe choose Lucidchart.

How do I create a concept map in Word? ›

How do you make a concept map in Microsoft Word?
  1. Set up a Lucidchart account. If you haven't signed up for Lucidchart yet, you can create an account in a matter of minutes. ...
  2. Create your concept map. ...
  3. Download the Lucidchart add-in for Microsoft Word. ...
  4. Insert your concept map!

What is the main structure of a concept map? ›

Most concept maps depict ideas as boxes or circles (also called nodes), which are structured hierarchically and connected with lines or arrows (also called arcs). These lines are labeled with linking words and phrases to help explain the connections between concepts.

What are the 4 types of concept? ›

Concrete or Perceptual Concepts 2. Abstract Concepts 3. Defined (or Relational) and Associated Concepts 4. Complex Concepts.

What are the four types of concept map? ›

The four most popular types are:
  • Spider maps, which are used to diagram concepts.
  • Flowcharts, which are used to visualize processes.
  • Hierarchy maps, which are used to visualize organizations.
  • System maps, which are used to visualize systems.
Oct 4, 2022

What are 4 key steps of the mapping process? ›

How to create a process map
  • Step 1: Identify a problem or process to map. ...
  • Step 2: List the activities involved. ...
  • Step 3: Write out the sequence of steps. ...
  • Step 4: Draw a flowchart using process mapping symbols. ...
  • Step 5: Finalize and share the process map. ...
  • Step 6: Analyze the map to find areas of improvement. ...
  • Flowchart.
Nov 21, 2022

What is the most basic mapping approach? ›

The most commonly used is the Mercator Projection; other popular projections are polar and a variety of equal-area projections.

What are the 3 most important things on a map? ›

Usually, this means including the main map body, title, and legend at the top. Context is important though, so your map could be organized differently.

What is concept in simple words? ›

: something conceived in the mind : thought, notion. : a general idea.

What is the easiest way to explain a concept? ›

According to Wiktionary, a concept is an abstract and general idea, an abstraction. It is an understanding retained in the mind, from experience, reasoning and/or imagination.

What is a concept in simple terms? ›

A concept is a thought or idea. If you're redecorating your bedroom, you might want to start with a concept, such as "flower garden" or "outer space." It's a general idea about a thing or group of things, derived from specific instances or occurrences.

How do you create a concept? ›

  1. Step 1: Develop a Problem Statement. ...
  2. Step 2: Select the Brainstorm Team. ...
  3. Step 3: Organize the Brainstorming Session. ...
  4. Step 4: Provide Background for the Brainstorm. ...
  5. Step 5: Break the Ice. ...
  6. Step 6: Individual Idea Generation. ...
  7. Step 7: Expand Ideas. ...
  8. Step 8: Select and Refine the Two to Three Best Ideas.

What are types of concept mapping? ›

There are four main types of concept maps: spider, hierarchy, flowchart and system.

What makes a good concept map? ›

Hierarchical Structure: A good concept map follows a hierarchical structure that helps to read the diagram from top to bottom. This means that broader and more important concepts are at the top and the most specific ideas are at the bottom.

Does Word have a concept map template? ›

You can speed up the process by using templates. A concept map word template makes creating a concept map as easy as drag and drop. You can use the templates below to create a concept map in MS Word.

How can I make my own map design? ›

Start by heading to maps.google.com. Click on the menu icon on the top left hand side of the screen and select “Your Places.” (The menu icon is just to the left of the search bar on the top left hand side of your screen.) Select the maps tab. Navigate to the very bottom of that window and select “Create a Map.”

How do I create an interactive map in Word? ›

To create an interactive map, just click on Insert > Chart. After the chart is imported to the sheet, just find the “Map” category and select the “Geo Chart” chart type. Then, you can make some final settings such as customizing map style, background colors, fonts, etc.

How do you create a concept map in Google Docs? ›

How to make a concept map with Google Drawings
  1. Open a new Google Doc.
  2. Go to Insert > Drawing.
  3. Use the shape icon to add shapes and the lines icon to connect them.
  4. Double-click the shape to add text.
  5. Click “Save & Close.”
  6. Double-click your drawing to return to the editor and make changes.
  7. Voila!

What are the three main parts of map? ›

Distance, direction, and symbols are the major components of a map.

What are the two main types of concept? ›

Two Kinds of Concept: Implicit and Explicit.

What are the elements of concept? ›

The <concept> element is the top-level element for a topic that answers the question "what is?" Concepts provide background information that users must know before they can successfully work with a product or interface. Often, a concept is an extended definition of a major abstraction such as a process or function.

What are concept mapping tools? ›

Concept mapping tools allow you and your students to visually depict a system of relationships by creating a map in which nodes represent ideas or facts, and lines or connectors between nodes represent relationships (for example, cause-and-effect relationships, category and sub-category relationships, and so on).

What are linking words for concept maps? ›

Within a concept map, a pair of concepts is joined by a linking word or linking phrase, such that a proposition is formed. Linking phrases are typically only one to five words in length so the whole proposition communicates, in a manner akin to telegraphic language, the relationship between the two concepts.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of concept mapping? ›

It makes students realize that understanding is more important than memorizing, and share each person's different knowledge and ideas. However, its disadvantages are time-consuming, more subjective, and it provides no explanation for the concept itself.

What are good questions to ask when mapping out a process? ›

What inputs (triggers) start the process or process step? Who are the suppliers (internal and external) of the inputs? What are the outputs from the process or process step? Who are the customers (internal and external) of the outputs?

What are the 5 levels of process mapping? ›

It takes five areas: your suppliers, your inputs, your process, your outputs and your customers. Value Stream-a specific map that helps to visualize and understand the metrics for the performance of major steps.

What are steps in process? ›

A process consists four major elements:
  • Steps and decisions — the flowchart. ...
  • Variability of processing time and flow — the pattern of processing times.
  • Timing and interdependence — when the arrivals happen, when people work, etc.
  • Assignment of resources — how many and where are they assigned.

What are the four functions of a map? ›

Therefore the corresponding terms for the four purposes of actual use are different: information, evaluation, action, and system generation. The matr ix of intended and actual map usages provided the frame for an uncompleted functional classific ation of many cartographic products (Freitag 1977).

What is mapping skill? ›

' Skills mapping is a graphic depiction of all the abilities that individuals in a department or organisation possess. This process entails assessing each employee's proficiency with a specific skill, particularly those associated with certain projects, positions and duties.

What are the techniques of map making? ›

Modern mapmaking techniques
  • Compilation from existing materials. ...
  • Generalization of detail. ...
  • Map production from original surveys. ...
  • Final steps in map preparation. ...
  • Scribing. ...
  • Nautical charts. ...
  • Automation in mapping.

What are the basic features of a map? ›

With the exception of mental maps, all maps share common properties or map basics that provide information to assist the reader in studying and interpreting the map. These include a title, scale, legend, date of publication, direction, borders, and information about the map projection.

What are the two main types of maps? ›

Hundreds of different maps exist, but they generally fall into two categories: reference maps and thematic maps.

How do I start making a map? ›

Decide where you are mapping. Think about what kind of extent and scale you want.
Good labels make a good map.
  1. Turn on labeling for the appropriate layers.
  2. Create a different label class for each style of text.
  3. Experiment with the labeling properties until they are as close as possible to your desired end result.
Mar 12, 2018

What is the best program to make a concept map? ›

If you need to create a very large or very complex concept map, then MindMeister is the best choice: it allows you to open and close branches of the concept map. Try doing so with this MindMeister map. MindMeister is a cloud-based tool: you don't need to download or install anything to use it.

What are 5 things a map must have? ›

Map Elements. Most maps contain the same common elements: main body, legend, title, scale and orientation indicators, inset map, and source notes. Not all are necessary or appropriate for every map, but all appear frequently enough that they're worth covering.

What are the basics of map? ›

A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about the world in a simple, visual way. They teach about the world by showing sizes and shapes of countries, locations of features, and distances between places.

What is another word for concept map? ›

A concept map, also known as a conceptual diagram, is a visual tool that describes relationships and connections between ideas and, well… concepts.

What is the easiest mapping software to use? ›

10 Best Online Mapping Software 2023
  • Maptive — Best Mapping Software for Businesses. ...
  • Mapline — Best for Simple Visualization. ...
  • EasyMapMaker — Best for Basic Mapping. ...
  • ESRI ArcGIS Online — Best for Spatial Analysis. ...
  • BatchGEO — Best for No Frills Bulk Mapping. ...
  • Espatial — Runner Up Business Mapping Solution.
Sep 22, 2022

Does Microsoft word have a concept map template? ›

Inserting Shapes or SmartArt graphics and customizing them can take a lot of time and effort. You can speed up the process by using templates. A concept map word template makes creating a concept map as easy as drag and drop. You can use the templates below to create a concept map in MS Word.


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