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Conceptual mapping is a process by which someone creates a visual aid to organize various ideas and concepts to show their relationships and connections. This is typically done by someone brainstorming about a project or problem to identify the separate elements and concepts related to it. These are written down as individual elements in the map, which is created like a network map rather than a road map. Each of these elements are then organized and appropriately grouped together during conceptual mapping, and then connected by various ideas and expressions.
There are different approaches and methods that can be used in conceptual mapping, though the end result is typically the same. This process creates a visual aid that can assist in further brainstorming, or in explaining a number of different concepts to other people in a simple way. One of the great strengths of a concept map is that even complex ideas can be expressed in a way that others can understand. They can also make connections between different ideas more apparent.
The first step in conceptual mapping is typically an initial brainstorming session in which a person identifies the various elements that are going to make up the map. If someone wants to create a map that demonstrates human development at a certain age, for example, then he or she may begin by identifying the different aspects of this process. This can include the age range, the types of subjects a person often learns at this stage, and outside influences that can impact such development.
Conceptual mapping then continues with the person using this initial list of items and writing them again as separate elements for the eventual map. This is often done with the center of the map being the most important concept, though some people place the most important component at the top and work down from there. Organization is important in conceptual mapping, though different people use the method that best works for them. Similar or related concepts should be written near each other, and as the process continues, certain ideas may need to be moved around.
Once the various elements and concepts are together, then conceptual mapping continues with connections between appropriate elements being drawn in. This is often done through lines that connect one concept to another, though arrows can be used for maps in which logic flows only in one direction. Words and phrases are often written with these connecting lines in conceptual mapping to indicate the significance or type of connection. This allows the map to demonstrate importance, the proximity of related ideas, and how those ideas connect with each other to form a conceptual network.