How to Mapping Complex Ideas

It refers to concept mapping when you brainstorm with a goal. Mapping complex ideas requires breaking down overarching concepts into small chunks, using linking words and arrows to demonstrate how the ideas are connected. By stimulating creative and visual thinking, concept maps are helpful in any field.

For more information on concept mapping, check out our detailed guide on Concept Mapping Theory.

By using a concept map, you can better grasp complex concepts, gain a deeper understanding, and find new connections visually and collaboratively. With Cinema8’s drag-and-drop features, adjustable lines, and interactive tools, it's easy to map out any concept you have in mind.

concept mapping theory

Keep reading to find out how to map complex ideas to help you communicate, solve problems, and brainstorm with greater ease.

How to Map Complex Ideas in 5 Easy Steps

Project maps help simplify difficult concepts and visualize ideas. For easy construction of a brain map, follow these convenient 5 steps: 

1. Select the Main Idea

Before you begin designing your concept map, it’s essential to know the purpose of that map. You must know what concept you will be breaking into smaller chunks. For this, you will need to have a focus question or the main idea that you will be describing.  

You don't know where to start, try considering a part of the text, an activity in class, or a problem that should be solved. Perhaps we can begin by coming up with one question, which we will call a focus question, that explains clearly what the concept map will enable us to solve. This question will consistently be the focal point of the concept map, answering it with various supporting ideas. It is advisable to keep concept labels to a single word or a maximum of two or three words.

2. Choose a medium for drawing

People tend to use pens and paper or whiteboards to draw concept maps since they are readily available. However, you can not preserve your whiteboard drawings or   Many people just use pen and paper or a whiteboard because they’re readily available. Still, it’s not easy to save your whiteboard scribbles or turn a handwritten diagram into something professional after finishing it.

The software can solve all such problems. You can store your concept map for as long as you want, edit it as many times as you want, and make it look presentable for the readers. Cinema8 has fantastic features that will help you develop an engaging and simplified concept map. It enables you to create and save your diagrams digitally that are easy to edit, polish, download, and share. Moreover, you can also access them from any device that has an internet connection.   

3. Determine the Key Concepts

Now that you have the central concept and a medium to continue, you need to identify key concepts that relate to it. Enlist all the related ideas and rank them in order of importance - from general to specific. You can also refer to this list as a parking lot since it will be used to plot your map. Include at least 15-25 supporting ideas. 

Give each concept a brief description; one to two words are usually sufficient. You want your map to remain compact and text-light, so make sure your descriptions are concise.

4. Arrange shapes and lines

You should organize each concept hierarchically, keeping general concepts on the top under the main concept and the specific supporting ideas at the bottom. Adding shapes and lines to your concept map will help you correctly locate each idea on the map. 

On a concept map, you usually find links (text or linking words) on each line to show the relationship between general concepts and more specific concepts. An example of a verb might be “provides”, “moves”, or “encompasses.”

5. Finalize the Map

Whenever you link to a concept, pay close attention to the relationships you're showing. You might ask yourself:

  • Are all elements positioned correctly?
  • Would this idea or collection of ideas be more effective in a different location?
  • Is there a better way to describe this relationship?
  • Are these supporting ideas answering the focus question?
  • Have I covered all the details? 

These questions will test your knowledge on all topics and aid you in improving cognitive performance.

This map is a preliminary version that likely needs to be revised. Cinema8 provides the flexibility to rearrange shapes, include notes, and add attractive styles and formatting to your diagram. With Cinema8, you can create organized and specialized concept maps and other diagrams without downloading special software.

concept mapping

4 Types of Concept Maps and their Usage

All concept maps consist of the same basic elements - they're conceptual and connected. However, there are several different ways in which these maps can be arranged. Let’s uncover the most common types of concept maps and their uses. 

1. Spider Map

The map has an appearance similar to that of a spider web that is why it is called a Spider Map. In this, you will place your main concept in the center and branch outwards the other supporting ideas or subtopics in a circular format. You can branch your subtopics into further smaller subordinates and so on. 

When to Use it

Use it when you want to build your theme or idea around a single concept.

2. Flowchart

Most people have seen flowcharts before, but they might not know they’re a concept map. It shows the various steps in a particular process. Usually, the arrows indicate possible choices that you can make or actions that you can do — like picking your own path.

When to Use a Flowchart

Use it when making decisions or understanding a process.

3. Hierarchy Map

Hierarchy maps are concept maps that show the order of things. For example, look at the organizational chart of your company. That is a hierarchy diagram since it shows the roles and responsibilities of people according to their grades.

When to Use a Hierarchy Map

Use it when you want to know which elements are at the top of a system and which parts are at the bottom.

4. System Map

One of the most complex types of concept maps is a system map, as it depicts all of the various components of the concept and how they are linked together. Negative or positive correlations can be indicated by connecting lines with a "+" or a "-" sign. As a result, they often resemble webs; however, they are not necessarily oriented in an outward direction, as spider maps do.

When to Use System Maps

Use it when it is necessary to gain an understanding of the functioning of a team or a system.

When to Use Concept Maps

Although concept maps were initially applied to education, they have become increasingly popular in other fields as well in the past few decades.

Uses of Concept Maps in Education

Concept maps are used in the educational field both as a tool to learn and as an evaluation tool for assessing student progress. Here are the uses of Concept maps in education: 

  • Create meaningful learning opportunities by connecting students' existing knowledge with new knowledge they are learning
  • Organize information around a topic to facilitate quick analysis
  • Identify the areas for improvement in students' knowledge by assessing their understanding
  • Brainstorm effectively about a topic
  • Convey complex ideas in a simple way that's easy to understand
  • Organize instructional materials for courses or curriculums
  • Students can use it as a starting point for discussion
  • Assessing whether students' ideas are valid or invalid
  • Encourage students to think critically and creatively
  • Can be used to replace traditional writing assignments or note-taking

The concept map is particularly useful for evaluating ideas. For example, instructors can ask students to create concept maps when the semester begins to evaluate their existing knowledge. This activity can then be repeated throughout the semester to provide both students and teachers with an opportunity to evaluate what they've learned. A high cognitive performance is required for deciding which cross-links should be included, which helps assess cognitive ability as well. This activity is also useful for identifying misconceptions your students might have and rectifying them.

Uses of Concept Maps in Business

For business analysis, concept maps are a great tool. The concept map is a popular method for preserving, generating, and sharing knowledge in the business world. You can use maps as a tool for inspiration, idea generation, and implementation in business. These are excellent storyboard diagrams, which aid in inspiration and ideation. Using concept maps during implementation will help with documentation, instruction, and communication. It helps to:

  • Plan team brainstorm sessions to develop new strategies, business concepts, etc.
  • Support the development of new businesses in a creative and results-oriented manner
  • Providing expert business ideas, insights, and guidance to others in a systematic way
  • Providing assistance with the planning, drafting, and presenting of business documents

Uses of Concept Maps in Qualitative Research

A conceptual map is a methodological strategy used in qualitative research. It helps in qualitative research in the following ways: 

  • Useful for planning a research project
  • Organizes large amounts of text-based information into a manageable format while maintaining meaning
  • Analyze themes and the relationships between concepts within a study
  • Examine the data offered by interviewees during the research; assist the researcher in maintaining the actual meaning of that interview
  • Clearly and concisely communicate findings

Uses of Concept Maps in Healthcare

Using concept mapping, healthcare organizations can prioritize ideas, evaluate consensus, identify gaps, and create better action plans. This process allows for the different stakeholders within an organization to collaborate and develop effective plans, enabling them to come to a consensus regarding the patient's condition and determine how to proceed.

How to Mapping Complex Ideas

In healthcare, concept mapping can be used to:

  • Managing workloads
  • Prioritizing assignments of patients
  • Thinking critically about abnormal assessments
  • Creating a plan of care
  • Examining the relationship between symptoms
  • Revealing diagnosis
  • Training the medical staff

How to Develop a Concept Map

The following are a few additional things you should know before beginning with mapping your complex ideas. These include: 

Stick to the Hierarchy

A concept map with a hierarchical structure is easy to read and grasp the information. In this diagram, the most general concepts are at the top, followed by those which are more specific. The diagram can thus be read easily from top to bottom.

Maintain One Root Concept

Concept maps can generally have two main concepts; however, restricting them to a single concept can help the reader conveniently identify how the concepts are developed and connected. The concept maps can also be confusing if there are two root concepts.

Organize Concept Maps By Color

Colors aid in separating concepts across domains quickly. Besides making the map easier to read, the color-coding also makes it easier to recall information.

Learn more about color theory by reading our article on Color Theory - How to Use Colors in Design.

Linking Phrases/Words Should Make Sense

Two ideas and a linking word or phrase should form a meaningful sentence. Sometimes it is a phrase, word, or symbol like + or %. In whatever way you label it, ensure that it is easily understood.

Concept Maps Should be Based on Focus Questions

It will be easier to structure a well-organized concept map when you have a single focus question to answer. It will keep you on track and help include all the details that will answer that question and solve readers’ problems. 

Link to Additional Resources

Another advantage of developing a concept map with an authoring tool is that you can link to further resources and make it more informative. Concept maps can be enhanced with active links that allow the reader to dig deeper into the idea.


An ideal concept map visually helps you develop a detailed understanding of an idea. Through this diagram, you can explore subtopics, determine relationships, and structure your thoughts logically and systematically. 

Get rid of your messy, unreadable notes, and use a concept map that provides more profound, clear, and concise information you need. Add this brain map to your interactive videos to show the workflow of concepts and simplify complex ideas. Use Cinema8, a concept map tool, to visualize ideas easily.

In case you are still not sure how to map complex ideas, feel free to contact us for detailed guidance.