What is a concept map? The complete guide

What is a concept map? Simple answer: A concept map (also called conceptual diagram) is a visual representation of knowledge, which illustrates concepts and ideas and the relationship between them. The concepts are represented in a hierarchical structure.

Concept mapping is a very useful tool for organizing and structuring information.

what is a concept map

Concept Map vs Mind Map

Both concept maps and mind maps are graphical representations and they are commonly confused by many people. They resemble each other having topics and connecting lines, but there are a few major differences.

Firstly, in a concept map, the relationships between concepts are explained. There are labeled arrows that link the concepts and they describe the relationships between ideas.

However, in a mind map, there are connecting lines between concepts instead of arrows with labels. This way, a concept map offers you the advantage of giving a context to all the ideas. Moreover, it becomes easier to understand, especially when there is a complex structure.

Secondly, the two graphic organizers have a flexible structure, but the concept maps have the most flexible layout. You can move the concepts and ideas freely and arrange them anywhere you prefer and you can have many-to-many relationships. On the other hand, a mind map has a more rigid construction.

Both maps have the basic elements of the topic maps: topics, associations, and occurrences.

Because concept maps have the associations (connecting lines) as labeled arrows, they are more suitable for illustrating complex ideas. It is easier to understand a larger amount of knowledge using concept mapping.

You can depict the processes/elements very simply. This is why they are often used in education. These maps aid meaningful learning, being a great tool which eases the understanding process.

Read here more about the differences between concept maps vs mind maps.

Key features of a concept map

Many diagrams have a similar look. Even if a lot of them have the basic structure of the topic maps, they are different. There are some key features that make each type special. Here are the elements that make the concept maps unique:


The concepts can be anything starting from objects, events, processes to phenomena, plans or your favorite book. Basically, the key concepts are written on the map inside the topics. They will be connected with each other via arrows that will show the relationship between them.

Connecting words/ phrases

The relationship between concepts is represented by linking words or linking phrases. It can be one or more words. The arrows that connect the topics have a label where you can write these words or phrases. They explain and describe the association between the topics. However, they should be as concise as possible. In most cases, there are used verbs, for example “has”, “contains”, “needs”, “includes” etc.


The concept map’s structure can be characterized by 3 major elements:

1. Hierarchical structure – the diagram organizes the elements starting from the most general to more specific ones.

2. The layout is flexible – one of the differentiating factors from other topic maps is the free form structure. You are able to arrange the diagram from top to bottom exactly how you imagine it, without any kind of limitations. Besides the position of the topics, you can add as many relationships as you want between concepts. There is no restriction that only allows you to connect to ideas.

3. Propositional structure: two concepts are connected by one linking word (or short linking phrases). Together they become a meaningful statement. Therefore, a map is a visual representation of a set of propositions (meaningful statements) about a central topic. The fact that the linking words are in most cases verbs emphasizes the propositional aspect of this type of diagram.

Focus questions

Concept maps usually explain or illustrate a complex matter or subject. Therefore, there must be a focus question that defines the issue that these graphic organizers are trying to solve. It is important to keep in mind this focus question when you create a concept map.

Along with the hierarchical structure, it guides you to maintain a certain direction of your thoughts. Hence, you should think about these two features as reference points in the mapping process.

Cross linking

While making a concept map you will be able to identify relationships between concepts in different domains. Those connections are called cross links. This is why concept mapping is considered a technique that facilitates creative thinking, not only improving the understanding and learning processes.

Concept mapping benefits

Why use concept maps?

The human brain processes visual information better than any other type of information. To be more precise, 90% of the data transmitted to the brain is visual. Consequently, concept mapping is a very efficient technique. Moreover, it is very simple to use and you can also have fun while creating one. You can use it in different purposes and domains:

education concept map

Concept mapping for education

Concept mapping encourages a high-level of thinking and it’s an amazing learning tool. Meaningful learning can be sustained by it. Structuring the information in this type of diagram allows you to understand everything easier. It is a great tool for students. They can use it for taking notes, text summaries or learning complicated concepts.

Besides meaningful learning, these diagrams also have major benefits in memorizing. Because it is visual, it is easier for the brain to retain the information. This way, learning for exams can be simple and fun.

Concept maps are amazing for the little kids too. When you use online software, you can easily insert images or videos in your diagrams. Therefore, they can learn the animals, colors, or other simple concepts and ideas this way, finding it easy to remember.

Teachers can also benefit from this technique. A general concept can be explained to the students. The classes don’t have to be boring having a linear speech. Presenting information like this, you can notice a big difference. The level of attention and retention of information compared to prior knowledge presented as a regular course can surprise you!

Concept mapping for business

Being productive and efficient is important when it comes to working. Structure your tasks and to-do lists into a concept map and work smarter. Moreover, you can present project ideas to your team and make them understand better how you see things. The linking words or linking phrases will make everything clear and you can save a lot of precious time by avoiding pointless explanations. This way, the diagram provides clear communication no matter how complex the ideas may be.

The cross links can help you and your team members to think outside the box.

You can create a concept map to plan business meetings, manage processes, make analysis, organize files, structure HTML pages, problem solving, etc.

what is a concept map (2)
qu'est-ce qu'une carte conceptuelle

Concept mapping for personal life

Unleash your creativity and generate new ideas! Concept mapping is one of the best ways to become more creative and teach your brain to find ideas and solutions faster. Make brainstorming sessions starting from a general concept and see where your mind takes you!

Concept maps started to be amazing tools for personal development. Besides sparking creativity, these maps can help you grow as a person and improve your life significantly.

Create vision boards or simply set some new personal goals, learn more about your passions or improve your time management.

Always keep in mind the focus question (doing this already helps you have an organized direction of your thoughts). The cross links can make you think about some aspects from different perspectives, ones you’ve never looked at before.

Concept map software

Concept mapping on the paper vs digital version – which one is better?
“Putting things on the paper” was always a great idea, but nowadays the world is in a continuous development. Adaptability is one of the most important qualities in the 21st century. When it comes to concept mapping, adapting to the digital version is actually an upgrade!

Think about the conventional concept map on the paper. While connecting lines new ideas cross your mind. Now you want to write them down but you don’t have enough space. Or maybe you have so many ideas that they don’t fit on your paper. With a concept map maker, you can edit everything with one click. The space is limitless. Connecting ideas instantly and arranging them on the canvas as you want is more pleasant.

Moreover, you can add multimedia files and edit the words or phrases without using a rubber. Having all those resources increases the chances of having cross links that may give you new ideas.

In addition, you can save all the maps in one place and keep them organised and in hady.

How to create a concept map?

Concept maps are so amazing but how can you create one?
Start creating your one ones using an easy to use software: Mindomo.

Follow those two simple steps:

Step 1: After you log in to Mindomo, click on Create and select one of the themes for Blank concept maps. To see all of them click on “show all"

Step 2:
Write the main concept and continue to add more ideas. Let your brain be inventive! Create relationships between concepts adding the linking phrases and customize the map as you like.

To add topic – press ENTER

To add subtopic – press TAB

To move topics – drag and drop

To open the context menu (1) – click on the white triangle from the top right corner of the topic (here you have all the features to customize it as you wish)

To add multimedia files, notes, links, icons – select the desired panel from the left side of the screen:

(2) notes

(3) links

(4) images

(5) icons

(6) videos

(7) audio files

Learn how to use this concept map maker like a pro and how to create your own map from top to bottom. Watch this video tutorial:

Create your collaborative concept maps with Mindomo! Sign up with a free account and test all the features. Besides these, Mindomo offers more great graphic organizers and you can convert them to concept maps and vice-versa with one click.