The Structure of a Concept Map

The Hierarchical Structure of a Concept map

In the practice exercise on learning to use CmapTools, you were given a set of proposition to build a concept map. Given the small number of propositions, you would think that there would not be very many variations on building the Cmap. Given the following set of proposition from one of the exercises:

Mind enables Consciousness

Mind enables Perception

Mind enables Thinking

Mind is characteristic of Humans

the following is the Cmap we constructed:


Mind 1

The Mind (1)


By convention, concept maps are read from top to bottom, unless indicated otherwise by arrows in the connections. This is because concepts are, in the majority of cases, represented in a hierarchical fashion with the most inclusive, most general concepts at the top of the map and the more specific, less general concepts arranged hierarchically below.

In the Cmap above, note that all propositions start with the concept Mind but none end with the concept Mind. In the majority of concept maps, there is one concept that has all its connections going out of the concept and no connections going into the concept. In this case its the concept Mind, and we call it the root concept, or root of the concept map. 

Concept maps tend to have one single root concept. In rare occasions it can have more than one, but unless its done purposely, it usually indicates a bad structure of the map. We can also have concept maps without a clear root concept, as in cyclic maps, which are covered in another tutorial.

The following version has basically the same structure, but with the 'enables' linking word written out three times, one for each proposition. The hierarchy is the same, with the Mind concept as the root concept at the top and the other concepts below it.



Mind 5

The Mind (2)




Contrary to the convention that concept maps are to be read from top to bottom, there is no convention as to whether they should be read from left-to-right or right-to-left. Usually the structure of the map itself will call the attention of the eye and lead the reader to certain parts of the map before others.

The following version is a mirror image of the The Mind (1) Cmap above:


Mind 2

The Mind (3)



The arrows clearly indicate the direction in which the propositions must be read: from the bottom up. Even though they could be considered equivalent, one of the characteristics of concept maps makes version (1) above the preferred option: In a concept map, concepts are organized hierarchically with the most general concepts on top and the more specific concepts at the bottom. This hierarchy begins with the root concept, which is meant to be the more general concept, and, to a certain extent, and indication of what the concept map is about.

The concepts ConsciousnessPerceptionThinking, and Human, are all used in the map within the context of Mind. Even with this small number of propositions, it is clear that the concept map is about the Mind. Within any domain of knowledge, there is conceptual hierarchy among the concepts. For example, in a concept map about plants, the concepts leaves, roots, flowers and branches are all interpreted within the context of plants: one does not think that the concept roots would be used in terms of its definition regarding quadratic equations. However, if we are to construct a concept map about leaves, then leaves would be the more general concept, most likely the root concept, and plants would be a more specific concept underneath leaves. So the hierarchy of the concepts depends on the context, on what the concept map is about, and as we'll see later, on the focus question that the concept map intends to answer.

Lets assume that we really wanted to construct a concept map about Humans, and that the concepts given were just the beginning of the construction of a larger map. With the given propositions, a concept map about Humans might looks something like:


Mind 4

The Mind (or Humans?) (4)



Humans is now the more general, root concept. But notice that the proposition between Mind and Humans now reads upwards. We would recommend that for this concept map this proposition read Humans are characterized for having a Mind (or something similar). In the following Humans (5) Cmap, Humans is the root concept, and Humans is a more general concept than Mind (the concept map is now about Humans) and therefore appears above in the hierarchy.


Mind 6

Humans (5)



The following is another variation of the original Cmap. In this case the root (main) concept is located in the center and the other concepts are around it -- in this case because of the small number of propositions they only appear at the left and right. Although correct, this representation does not follow the convention of having concept maps be drawn from top to bottom, and its hard to easily determine the relative hierarchy of concepts in the map. Furthermore, as we will see later in this tutorial, having the root concept in the center and the rest of the concepts around it causes problems when trying to add crosslinks.


 Mind 3

The Mind (6) 

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