In much the same way as you would have used the various project management programs and templates, concept maps enable you to plot out a strategy or course of action. The main difference is that concept maps are visual representations of the various steps you’d take, whereas project management is laid out in more traditional outlines. While that is just one way of explaining what concept maps are and how they are used, the method for creating a concept map remains the same, no matter why you are creating one. To better explain what a concept map is, let’s look at two examples of concept maps and how they are used.
1. Linear Concept Mapping
In this particular type of concept mapping, it involves a visual representation of the steps involved in any given process. Imagine a series of boxes from left to right with one-way arrows joining the boxes in steps moving from left to right. Now let’s look at a supply chain concept map. Perhaps you would start with the manufacturer as the first box on the left with movement expressed with an arrow moving to the transportation method, which would be the second box when you create a concept map.
The third would be the distributor and the fourth another mode of transportation with the final box on the right being the retailer selling the products. If there is a breakdown in the supply chain, it would be easy to spot because there would be a slash drawn between the last known completed step and the one that didn’t receive or move products. It’s much easier to see when charted like this than to explain in words, and this is why ‘fixing’ the breakdown in the supply chain would be that much easier.
2. Basic Intersection Mapping
This type of concept map is best seen as two overlapping circles. There is an area of intersection where similarities are listed and then two areas on either side of the intersection where differences are listed. If you are asked to create a concept map in which there are known similarities in various processes, for example, you could list the known similarities in the center intersection and other steps in processes that differ on either side of the intersection. This will give you a starting point to build a production line, for example, that could easily be converted depending on which product you were going to manufacture on a given run.
Visualization Is the Key
While these are just two basic formats for concept maps, you can see how there would be many other ways to draw a process so that it can be easily interpreted. Some people do better with visual representations than with words but even beyond that, concept maps are faster to see and analyze. Actually, you can create your own concept map with any way you can conceive of visual representations and if it can be sequenced step by step, it’s a concept map!
What Makes a Good Concept Map?
While a concept map is a graphical tool that illustrates the relationships between concepts and ideas, a good concept map means that both the design and the content are high-quality, allowing the audience to clearly see how the range of processes and topics are connected.
To create a good concept map, there are some key rules to follow. These include:
- Each concept should only appear once. With the same concept appearing more than once, the concept map will quickly become confusing.
- A hierarchical structure should be the basic principle of any concept map.
- Consider adding images or examples to enrich your concept map’s content.
In a good concept map, the concepts are usually single words enclosed in a box. These are then connected to other boxes by arrows. By the arrow, a word or brief phrase is written to define the relationship between the connected concepts.
Typically, a concept map will be made by placing a word at the top or center of a page in an oval or box and using arrows to link it to other words or ideas, clearly demonstrating the relationship between them. When creating a concept map, take the following steps for the best results.
- Brainstorm relevant topics:
Before you start drawing or creating your concept map, consider a list of essential topics that are related to your project or assignment. For example, if you are creating a concept map about farming, you could come up with a list of items such as farm animals, barns, equipment, fields, workers, etc.
- Prioritize the words:
Once you’ve brainstormed lots of topics and concepts related to your assignment or project, choose the concept that is the most important and essential to all of the others. This will be the topic or idea from which all of the others will stem. Sometimes it’s obvious, and sometimes it may take some consideration.
- Link in order of importance:
Like the most important, and then the second most important words from your list. Make sure that they are connected, and connect less important words to the second most important.
- Explain the relationships:
Finally, once your terms, ideas, concepts and words are all connected, add a word or phrase to explain the relationships between them. Be sure to include readable sentences that explain the conceptual relationships between two concepts; ideally you should ensure that if somebody without knowledge of the topic reads the map, they will have a better understanding of it as a result.
Concept maps are becoming more and more popular in literally every industry as well as in outlining course work within education. The entire process is broken down into steps or sequences that are represented with shapes or pictures for easier and faster interpretation. All of the above could have been expressed much quicker with a concept map and that is actually your key takeaway. If you are looking for speed of comprehension, the best route is with visual concept maps.