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Concept Mapping and Brainstorming: Start

This guide includes resources to help you create concept maps and brainstorm new ideas.

Getting Started

Four Rules of Brainstorming

1. Generate a lot of ideas

2. Avoid criticising any of the ideas

3. Attempt to combine and improve on previously articulated ideas

4. Encourage the generation of ‘wild’ ideas

Brainstorming. (2011). In H. Thota, & Z. Munir, Palgrave Key concepts: Key concepts in innovation. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan Publishers Ltd.


Brainstorming Tips

Ask questions. Ask lots of questions. You can ask about how something works, who is involved, what something entails, why something is important and so on. When you ask questions, you stimulate someone to generate an answer. This answer may not be something that that person has consciously thought about before and may lead to further insights or more questions. This is literally the time when there are no 'stupid' questions.

Clarify your understanding. The why questions are very important in this process. The more you understand about the topic of the brainstorm the more you can ask about it. By asking "Why" for example: Why is it done that way? Why is that person in charge of the process? Why are these its components? You can gain an understanding of the constraints and motivations that existing within that topic.

Put yourself in multiple roles or perspectives. When you are asking questions, put yourself in a different role. What would a person in that role say? How would they feel about this? How would they view the problem?

Use a white board or large piece of paper to write everything down. Making lists and drawing pictures or diagrams are the main outcomes of a brainstorming session. The goal is to get all of the ideas out of our heads and into some tangible form. Once you have listed or drawn out the ideas then you can begin to combine and see relations between things.


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How to Create a Concept Map

Steps to create a concept map:

  1. Write out the main topic and everything you know about it.
  2. Organize the information into its main points.
  3. Start creating your map by drawing a bubble with the main topic and then adding supporting details around the bubble.
  4. Review your initial sketch for more connections between the concepts.
  5. Include any extra details, definitions, diagrams, or equations.
  6. Analyze and improve by adding any new connections or details.
  7. Keep improving and adding to it over time or try to explain it to someone.

How to Make a Concept Map

Tips for making a concept map:

  • Stick to one topic for your map.
  • Focus on answering a question with your map.
  • Begin by adding your main topic and then adding all the other concepts on the side in a 'parking lot' to be used later.
  • Begin making connections between concepts and label the connections with verbs, these connections are then considered propositions.
  • Keep looping through your parking lot, adding new concepts and new connections until you have the full picture.

Concept Map or Mind Map?

What's the difference between a Concept Map and a Mind Map?

Concept Map

A way of representing knowledge in the form of a diagram, with link indicating the relationships between concepts. The main concept is often at the top of the map and the other concepts are related hierarchically down from the main concept.

Mind Map

A diagram with nodes representing the main points of a topic (concept), with the links between them and any other relevant information also shown. The main concept is at the center of the map and the other concepts radiate outward from the center. There is less emphasis on defining the relationships between concepts in a mind map.

-- both in the Dictionary of information and library management (2006, 2nd ed.). London, UK: A&C Black.

Concept Mapping Tools

Concept or Mind Mapping tools are often software that allow the designer to add shapes and lines representing concepts and their relations.

Several useful, free tools are: 

Lucid Chart: a visual workspace that combines diagramming, data visualization, and collaboration to accelerate understanding and drive innovation.

Ayoa Mind Map ideas, create Kanban-style boards, plan agile projects & practice Design Thinking. Manage your ideas, tasks and to-do lists – all in one app.

FreeMind: a premier free mind mapping software written in Java. 

XMind a full-featured mind mapping and brainstorming tool, designed to generate ideas, inspire creativity, brings you efficiency both in work and life. Tens of million people love it.

Henderson, H. (2017). mind-mapping software. In H. Henderson, Facts on File science library: Encyclopedia of computer science and technology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Facts On File.