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Outlining Topics with Concept Maps

What are Concept Maps

Concept Maps are a way to graphically represent ideas and how they relate to each other.

Concept maps may be simple designs illustrating a central theme and a few associated topics or complex structures that delineate hierarchical or multiple relationships.

J.D. Novak developed concept maps in the 1970's to help facilitate the research process for his students. Novak found that visually representing thoughts helped students freely associate ideas without being blocked or intimidated by recording them in a traditional written format.

Concept mapping involves defining a topic; adding related topics; and linking related ideas.

Simple Concept Mapping

Because concept maps illustrate a central theme and related themes, using these maps help focus a topic and create search strategies.From a concept map, like the one illustrated on the death penalty it is possible to:

  • Narrow down your topic (e.g., death penalty and age)
  • Add a clarification term to focus the topic (e.g., death penalty and age and public opinion)
  • Create a search strategy using synonyms (e.g., death penalty or capital punishment; age or minimum age or juveniles; public opinion or public attitudes)



The concept map on Vincent Van Gogh would help you determine which idea to pursue (e.g., his biography, his mental health, or his art). You could then create a more detailed concept map once you have decided which aspect of Vincent Van Gogh you would like to investigate.