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SSI2-180: The French Revolution

What is a Concept Map?

A concept map is:

  • a visual tool for generating and organizing ideas
  • a way to explore different aspects of a topic
  • a method for triggering word associations

Use a concept map to:

  • aid thinking at the beginning of the research process
  • create a visual overview of a topic
  • develop questions on a topic
  • reveal patterns, themes, and associations between ideas
  • generate search terms to conduct research

Tools for Concept Mapping

You can create a concept map with pencil and paper or use one of these free online tools:

How to Create a Concept Map

Concept mapping is a great strategy to use as you develop your research question. 

Ask yourself: what do I already know about my topic? what am I curious about? what kind of information do I need, and where am I likely to find it?

From a disciplinary perspective, think about what kind of questions scholars and experts in that discipline are interested in, how they would ask those questions and what evidence they would use to make their argument.

Finally, consider what you know about the resources available to you, the types of sources that would be most helpful for you, and where might be most fruitful for you to begin your search. Are you looking for primary sources, such as historical newspaper articles? If you're following up on the scholarly conversation around your topic, do you need to look for work by historians? Political scientists? Sociologists? 


The process is simple: start with the subject of your research question in the center, then:

  • In the space around the central concept, write words or phrases for any relevant subtopics.
  • For each of your focus subtopics, add related terms/concepts to your map.
  • Continue to fill out your branches with ideas or questions about types of resources you may wish to start with. 

Do some background research on your topic to help create a concept map. Feel free to consult the Internet, an encyclopedia, course readings, or a librarian to help explore a topic. It may be through this background research that you will stumble upon a gap that you want to explore! Keep revising your map as you learn more about your topic.


Part 1: Work in small groups to develop a visual overview of your topic, including questions, themes, and associations between ideas. Add search terms and notes.


Part 2: Consult at least 3 different subject encyclopedias (online or in print) for information on your topic. For each entry, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is mentioned in all/most of the entries?
  2. Which academic disciplines are focusing attention on the topic? Are there any disciplinary differences in the way the topic is covered?
  3. What types of evidence are cited?
  4. To expand on the basic information you have gained, are there other terms/names you would like to research? 
  5. What additional sources does the subject encyclopedia point you to?


Part 3: Return to your group's concept map, fill in any gaps and refine your notes. How does the information you found in the tertiary sources inform or alter your understanding of your topic?