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Concept maps and mind maps: what they are and how and when to use them

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Concept maps and mind maps are great tools to help organize your thoughts and put complex ideas into some perspective. However, do you know the differences between each one? When to choose between the two and how to create a mind or concept map? 

Making these diagrams can not only be very useful but also fun and a great way for you to unleash your creativity. It can also be a practical way to overcome a creative block that is preventing your plans or ideas from moving forward. 

Get your colored pens, A2 size paper, and your inspiration, because after reading this you’re going to want to get scribbling! 

What are conceptual maps and mind maps? 

Concept and mind maps are two graphical tools for conceptualizing ideas. They provide a visualization of ideas or contexts in order to facilitate understanding or to help remember important points of detail. 

However, the two diagrams are not synonymous – despite their similarity. In the following text, we will explain the differences and similarities between them. 

Conceptual map and mind map: similarities 

The main similarity between the two types of maps is that they are tools for conceptualizing and visualizing ideas. Both are widely used as tools for studies, but they also are utilized a lot in the corporate world. 

In meetings, for example, you can use these designs to take notes and then remember what was discussed in the meeting. Or they can be an important aid in a brainstorming session, so that you can later retrieve the ideas that were presented and the connections that were made throughout the discussion. 

Furthermore, the conceptual map and mind map are schematic tools. In other words, they only bring out the concepts and the main ideas. You will never find a text full of long and detailed sentences. On the other hand, visual resources are free to use. Anything that helps you organize your mind map better can be valid: different colors, drawings, photos, whatever it takes to motivate your creativity.  

Differences between conceptual map and mind map

Although similar, the conceptual map and mind map have some differences that are important to be aware of. These differences may make one more suitable than the other for your needs on different occasions. 

The mind map is a diagram that resembles a tree: there is the main idea, which pulls in all the others through association. Starting with a key concept, you link others that are more or less directly related. The concepts are connected by the context, or by the universe or branch to which they belong. As you can see in the example below: 

The concept map, in turn, has a network structure. The ideas of one hub are often connected to those of another so that it is easier to see the relationships between the elements of the design. 

Another difference is in the syntax: whereas in the mind map only nouns are used, the concept map also has room for verbs. They are represented in the lines that connect one hub or concept to another, making the relationship between things more explicit. 

Because of its characteristics, the concept map is a very good tool for understanding complex subjects or ideas. It is even easier to understand by looking at the following example: 

How to make a mind or concept map? 

The good news is that there are several ways of making a mind or concept map. The most traditional one is with a good old-fashioned pen and paper. Take a large sheet of paper (we recommend A2 size) and pens of various colors and let your creativity run free to make the connections of the interlinking ideas. 

However, if you have a more digital way of working or if you need the final product digitized, there are also ways to make your mind or concept map through the help of technology. For mind maps, the app.mindmapmaker.org is a good free option, which allows you to save the file on Google Drive or the cloud of your choice. If you don’t have an internet connection, no problem because the app works offline. 

For your concept map, you can try making it on Learn About Concept Maps. Beyond having the basic resources for free to make your diagram, it also has materials that will help you organize it.

The Miro platform is also of interest, both for making conceptual maps and mind maps. In addition to having a board that is practically infinite in size, it allows you to collaborate in real-time. 

In addition, some tips are useful for you to get the most out of these tools, and we will present them below. 

Define a core concept

The work of making a concept map and mind map begins before you put the ideas on paper (or on the screen). The first step is to identify what is the main concept. In the case of the mind map, it will be the “trunk” of your tree. In the concept map, it may end up becoming a secondary hub, but it will be your starting point for the diagram. 

Identify secondary concepts

Next, you will need to define which concepts are related to your main topic to start organizing them in the diagram. In the case of the mind map, this can be a very dynamic process, and you may have to define these concepts as ideas are suggested – this part can be just as much fun as it is challenging. 

Organizing the shape

Lines, shapes, colors, all is information in your mind or conceptual map. To avoid confusion in the subsequent interpretation of the map, it is best to create a hierarchy and add labels for these visual aspects. Define what each color and shape signifies and the relevance of the different types of lines. 

Have good sources of information

In order to make good conceptual and mind maps, it is essential to have an adequate amount of information from reliable sources that allow you to have a broad view of the topic being addressed. In a business context, this can be achieved through the use of management software. 

STRATWs One is a platform that transforms your company’s management methodology into processes. In doing so, it allows you to establish which indicators are important for each process, as well as accompany them in real-time. 

Over time, this will provide information that will enable you to understand key aspects of your company.

Request your free demonstration and have the most up-to-date and organized data of your company!

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