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What Is a Concept Map?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated Feb 10, 2024
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A concept map is a visual resource for organizing pieces of an overall concept or idea. Alternately, some experts describe the individual pieces of a concept map as single concepts. These individual pieces can also be described as semantical units or units of meaning. A concept map helps to organize parts of a holistic idea and display them for comprehension.

Part of a standard concept map is its hierarchical structure. Some might think of this as describing or organizing a hierarchy of people, but in a concept map, this typically includes a hierarchy of individual concepts. Hierarchy allows for prioritizing various elements of the concept map by placing them in strategic locations. Hierarchy can also have to do with causality, where important outcomes may be prioritized in the concept map as they relate to other outcomes or individual ideas.

Another characteristic of concept maps is a focus question. This kind of thesis provides a central explanation of what purpose the concept map serves, and why it is made. The total content of one of these visual diagrams should lead to a resolution of the thesis through the organization of related elements.

Concept maps typically use boxes or circles connected to one another by arrows that indicate conceptual flow. Many of these are called branching maps when individual units branch out into multiple possibilities or outcomes. Although these resources are similar to other charts, such as flow charts, maps or topic maps, they tend to have their own specific characteristics and components, where a particular style is common to many instances of this type of diagram.

Many describe concept maps as resources that are helpful for assisting creativity or for developing new ideas. Because this kind of chart portrays individual parts of a whole in a visual way, it may help humans to expand on an abstract idea or plan a vague idea more fully. Experts sometimes talk about concept charts as instances of collaborative knowledge modeling or knowledge transfer resources.

In terms of language, concept maps can often model semantic units and their associations. What this means is that individual words or phrases have specific meanings that can vary depending on context. For a more complex set of communications, concept maps can be helpful in diagramming semantic meanings and connections.

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