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What is a concept map and how do you make one

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Concept maps are visual tools for organizing and representing knowledge and ideas in a graphical format. They consist of concepts (or nodes) with connected lines to illustrate their relationships and hierarchy.

Concept maps are useful for organizing information, solving problems, and making decisions. They also help with information sharing and collaboration by allowing contributors to convey ideas in an easily understandable format. This format provides a deeper understanding of complex topics.

This guide will discuss concept maps, their key features, and how to use one to benefit your team's decision-making process.

What is a concept map?

A concept map is a visual representation that illustrates the relationships between different concepts, ideas, or information.

Concept maps typically portray ideas as boxes or circles, known as nodes, and organize them hierarchically with interconnected lines or arrows, known as arcs. These lines have annotated words and phrases that describe the relationships to help understand how concepts connect.

Concept map key features

While concept maps share similarities with other visual tools, they possess distinct features that set them apart. These characteristics contribute to their effectiveness in organizing information and visually representing relationships within a particular knowledge domain. 

Below are the essential components of a concept map and how they work together.


Concepts are the fundamental thoughts, ideas, or topics within the concept map. They serve as the building blocks for organizing information. For example, if a concept map represents a business plan, it could include concepts such as marketing strategies, financial planning, supply chain management, and other key components of the business strategy.

Linking words or phrases

Linking words or phrases describe the relationship between connected concepts. They allow the viewer to understand the flow of information and how the nodes interconnect. Examples of linking words or phrases are “is a part of,” “leads to,” “requires,” “is dependent on,” etc.

Propositional structure

Propositions are statements that combine two or more concepts using linking words. Also known as semantic units or units of meaning, they form the basis for generating new knowledge within a specific domain. Visually depicting interconnected propositions contributes to a greater understanding of the subject matter. In a business plan example, a propositional structure to connect two concepts could look like “marketing strategies increase brand awareness.”

Hierarchical structure

The hierarchical structure positions the most general and inclusive concepts at the top and arranges more specific concepts underneath.

Reading the concept map from top to bottom provides an understanding of concepts from broader categories to more detailed and specific ones.

In a business plan example, the overall business strategy would be at the top level, followed by sub-levels such as marketing strategy, finance, and human resources.

Parking lot

The parking lot is an area for unrelated ideas. It’s a ranked list, starting with the most general concepts and moving to the most specific. It serves as a holding space for ideas until you can determine their appropriate places in the concept map.


Cross-links represent connections between concepts in distinct areas of the map. They enable the visualization of relationships between ideas from diverse domains.

For example, in a concept map for a business plan, you may cross-link market research (part of marketing strategy) and financial forecasting (under financial planning), as insights gained from market research can inform your forecasting and budgeting decisions.

Types of concept maps

The implementation and arrangement of concept maps can vary. Here are four primary types of concept maps:

  • Spider maps: Also known as spider diagrams, these concept maps resemble a spider web. The central concept is in the center, and the related topics branch out. This type is most effective when delving into different aspects of a central concept.
  • Flowcharts: A flowchart is a visual depiction of a process or workflow. Its linear structure guides readers through the information step-by-step. (See also: how to make a flowchart).
  • System maps: Rather than connecting all ideas to a central concept, a system map concentrates on the relationships between ideas without a clearly defined hierarchical structure.
  • Hierarchy maps: Hierarchy maps illustrate rank or position. The primary idea or the concept with the highest rank sits at the top while lower-ranking ideas flow underneath in a structured manner.

How to make a concept map

To create a concept map, follow these steps:

  1. Identify your primary topic. Ensure that your topic is broad enough to allow for subtopics. You should position this central concept at the top or center of your map, forming the basis of the hierarchical structure.
  2. Identify the essential concepts relating to the central topic. Place these concepts in the parking lot—a temporary space to store ideas—and arrange them from most broad to most specific.
  3. Move the key concepts from the parking lot to the concept map, prioritizing the broadest ideas that directly relate to the main topic. Establish the connections between concepts with linking words.
  4. Double-check the map for accuracy, ensuring the relationships are clear and linking words are coherent. Use cross-links to connect concepts across different sections of the map.
  5. Expand and revise the map as you generate more ideas.

How to use a concept map

Concept maps have practical applications and offer various benefits in different industries. They help visualize the relationships between various concepts, providing a deeper understanding of complex subjects. 

Concept maps help individuals retain and understand concepts and their relationships by organizing and illustrating connections between ideas. While concept maps are popular in academia, their adaptability makes them a valuable tool in many fields.

Using a concept map:

  • Enhances understanding of complex topics
  • Organizes information
  • Facilitates critical thinking
  • Improves team collaboration and communication
  • Provides flexibility for generating new ideas and evolving existing ones

Content map examples

Businesses can use concept maps in various ways to enhance communication, decision-making, and knowledge sharing. Here are some ways businesses can apply concept maps:

  • Product development: Teams can use concept maps to organize and visualize ideas, features, and requirements in a brainstorming session.
  • Project management: By organizing tasks, mapping dependencies, and displaying the project timeline, teams can better visualize the project life cycle.
  • Sales funnel: Sales teams can use a concept map to visualize and optimize the sales funnel, mapping the customer journey from lead generation to conversion.

Use Confluence whiteboards for concept mapping

Concept maps are versatile and valuable tools that contribute to enhanced understanding, effective communication, and collaborative problem-solving.

For collaborative concept mapping, use Confluence whiteboards. Confluence whiteboards are an essential tool for any collaborative culture, enabling teams to create and work together freely on an infinite canvas. They bring flexibility to projects, supporting teams as they move from idea to execution.

Confluence whiteboards bridge the gap between where teams think and where teams do. Brainstorming with Confluence whiteboards helps teams organize their work visually and turn ideas into reality, all within a single source of truth.

Try Confluence whiteboards

Content mapping: Frequently asked questions

What is the difference between mind mapping and concept mapping?

While mind mapping and concept mapping are visual techniques for organizing and representing information, they have a few key differences. Mind maps organize thoughts for brainstorming and problem-solving, while concept maps organize thoughts to emphasize the connections between ideas. A mind map tends to be more free-flowing and lacks a hierarchy, while a concept map has a structured layout that represents relationships and hierarchy.

What is the best tool for concept mapping?

The best concept mapping tool depends on your collaboration requirements and ease of use. To bring your work together in a single source of truth, easily provide access to all contributors, and turn your ideas into reality, try Confluence whiteboards.

Can I collaborate on a concept map?

Yes, collaboration is possible on a concept map. A concept map is a productive tool for gathering insights from multiple contributors, especially when using a dedicated platform that supports collaborative editing such as Confluence whiteboards.

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