- Education and Science
Concept Mapping to write a literature review
How do I write my Literature Review?
Writing a literature review is the next task in progressing with my Ph.D. Yes, I know, I should have been writing this all along! I have been reading and taking notes and I "know" that it all has to fit together somehow but how? This has been worrying me for some time because it's important to ensure that all the items fit in together, with cross references if necessary, and also to ensure that you are not just plagiarising someone else's structure! Copying someone else's structure is as much a form of plagiarism as copying their words. Sometimes, you just get lucky in finding a method that works for you. And I think I have found one that will work for me, maybe it will help you too.
I already have one paper published in conference proceedings and am currently (slowly) revising it for submission as a journal article. While revising it, I drew out a concept map of what needed to be included and suddenly realised that, with a few additions, the concept map gave me a structure for my literature review for that section! And a further realisation hit me - that I could use this method to create an outline for my entire literature review. Whoopee! So I am going to share this with you in case it helps you too. And even if you are not doing a Ph.D., the process of creating a concept map is fun, easy and makes a great way of structuring any writing at all that you want to do.
Not organised in writing
You first have to understand that I was never an organised person in terms of writing. I was brought up in the days before the concept of a personal computer was even thought of! My idea of writing an essay for school was to take the topic and sit and write until it was finished. This was before the days of computers, so reorganising an essay was a lot of work, unlike the use of cut and paste these days, as well as spell checkers. And I never did figure out the best way to write an outline, it just seemed a waste of time to me, because the outline was the same as the essay order that came straight out my head. I did science for senior school and my bachelor’s degree, so essays were not a big thing. It wasn’t until I was an adult, with children of my own that I found out about mind mapping and how brilliant it was, both for fun and for work, and that my children could use it to outline essays in a way that I had not known about. After that I found other graphical ways to map out thinking, including concept mapping.
Your first thoughts on literature reviews?
Let me know what your experience is with literature reviews
Do you have to write a literature review?
My first introduction to Concept Mapping was through a book by Joseph D Novak. You can see a paper on concept mapping in the link list below. He created the idea of concept maps back in 1972 when he was working on a research program studying children. He found that he could teach the ideas behind concept maps to children, even young ones, so the idea behind them is simple, however, the ideas that you can use them for can be as profound and complex as you wish. Since then, a number of others have expanded on their uses.
Further information on concept mapping and other useful info
More information and diagrams on concept mapping and writing a literature review and the software you can use to create it.
- Joseph D Novak
The start of concept mapping with Joseph D Noval
- A concept map ABOUT concept maps
This is a diagram of a concept map that explains what concept maps are and shows how they are organised.
- Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls
Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls helps you develop the research questions you need for your Ph.D. You need research questions to help you work out WHAT you need to research, to make sure it isn't too big (Life and the Universe), too small (how to bak
- Serif free download PagePlus starter edition
A Free download of the starter edition of PagePlus which you can use for desktop publishing and for creating your concept maps
There are just 2 basic items you need to know about concept maps in order to create one. First you need to know what a concept is and secondly, you need to know how the concepts are linked. This is pretty simple - a concept is an idea that we can label. It could be a noun, such as "cars", or "stars" or a description, such as "bright" or "fast". There are many other concepts we could add but they are all just "ideas" that we can think about. The links are what join two concepts together. So, if we have the concepts of "cars" and "fast", we could link them together with the words "can be". Concepts are drawn inside circles or boxes and the linking words are written on the line that joins these two concepts.
So you could write the word "car" inside one box, write the word "fast" in a box BELOW the first box and join them with a line that says"can be"
Together, the two concepts and the linking words form a "proposition", that says "Cars can be fast".
This may seem too simple but concept maps can be expanded greatly and express very complex sets of relationships. For instance, there is a link to a concept map about concept maps in the link module above.
The only other important thing to know about drawing a concept map is that you need to start it with a question. So I might have started the concept map on “cars” with the question, “What is a car?” A concept map that included the “stars” and “bright” concepts could have started with the question, “What is astronomy?”, or “What can you see in the night sky?”. There are many different questions that can be asked and a concept map can be used to explore the meanings and relationships between the concepts and to develop an understanding of what you actually know about cars and stars, or anything else.
How to write a literature review using a concept map
I am not going to use my own research for this example but will create an outline literature review using information about something I have NOT researched, so if your research is in this area and I get things wrong - please forgive me - and use my mistakes to improve your own literature review.
You will probably have a thesis title that you are working towards. For this example, I have created this possible one:
Assessing children's playgrounds to investigate reasons for accidents and injuries, especially in older children
Remember, I am a student (even if an old one), so this may not necessarily be a "good" thesis title but I am using it only for an example.
First you need to work out your "Themes" (that is the subject(s) that need to be covered) and then you need to work out your research questions. I have covered "research questions" in my lens on Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls. You can find the link to that in the link lens above. If you need to review this, go there now, before going any further.
The themes in this thesis title appear to be: “Children’s Playgrounds”, “accidents and Injuries to older children” and “assessing playgrounds”. The research questions on these themes that I could extract from the thesis title above are:
1. Characteristics of children’s playgrounds that contribute to accidents
2. Safety assessments of children’s playgrounds
3. Frequency and types of accidental injuries in older children
Again, I have not gone through a full process (as described in Goldilocks and the Russian Dolls) to develop these research questions, so they may not be the best ones for someone who was writing on this topic. The reason I chose these questions was to (a) look at playgrounds in general (b) consider any different methods of guidance available on safety assessments and (c) look at how older children get injured in general (not just in playgrounds).
If I were writing a literature review on this topic, I would now have my research questions and thus my 3 major divisions for my literature review. I can now take each of these research questions in turn and use a concept map to illustrate the relationships between the various concepts. This then gives me an outline for my literature review in this area.
Creating the Concept Map
First, I take a piece of paper and turn it to landscape view and write my research question across the top. I am going to take "Characteristics of children's playgrounds that contribute to accidents" as the example. (This may not look like a question for starting a concept map, so you could change it to be "What are the characteristics of children's playgrounds that contribute to accidents", if you wish.) This can be handwritten on a piece of paper (this is how I usually start out) or you can use PowerPoint or any other graphical ability software that you have access to. I generally do most of mine in PagePlusX6 and there is a free starter download available for PagePlus. You can find the link to this in the link module above.
Next, I choose my starting concept. For this, I think there is no other choice than "Children's Playgrounds"!
Now, having used them as a child, some 60 years ago; as a parent, about 30 years ago and now as a grandparent, I have a lot of thoughts about them from the user's point of view but none from an engineer's or a public authority's perspective. My concepts in those areas may be quite wonky or faulty. Use them only as a guide.
Having got my starting concept, I now need to consider what other concepts I have on children's playgrounds. These may be "surfaces", "equipment", "location", "inspections", "funding", and "usage". There may be others but it will be easy enough to add these later. I now write my new concepts below the top one and connect them with linking words, such as "have", "are subject to", etc.
That means I now have several propositions, such as "Children's Playgrounds are subject to Inspection", or "Children's Playgrounds contain equipment",etc.
Adding to the Concept Map
I might now look at the concept of “location” and realise that these could be “urban” (in towns) or “rural” (in more country areas) and my research has identified that there are differences between these, so I add both concepts and the linking words. And I then realise that these two concepts are also related to “usage”, in that my studies have shown that “urban” playgrounds are more likely to be used by children in the local area, whereas the “rural” playgrounds are used more by children who are being brought there by car, possibly from some distance away. That then prompts the thought on the concept of “supervision”, which I add, together with linking words because my “research” has found that children using “urban” playgrounds are more often likely to be there unsupervised, than those in the “rural” playgrounds.
More work on the Concept Map
I now look at the types of surface in the playgrounds and recall that there are 3 types of surface – soft asphalt, bark chippings and sand.
Changing the Concept Map round - As your ideas develop, you may need to change the map around
I continue on this way, developing a concept map and then realise that I don’t have a concept included for “children’s accidents”. So, I have a think about this and may decide that I need to have it near the top and that I may need to redraw the concept map! So I add in the concept of “children’s accidents” and link it into some of the other concepts, with appropriate linking words. For instance the accidents may be related to the equipment or the surface or to (lack of) supervision. Because I have used a graphical program, I can move the concepts around to fit more easily into the available space. But I often start these out on paper, just to get the ideas flowing.
Moving from the Concept Map to your Literature Review
Once the concept map is complete, I can use it to form an outline for that section of my literature review. Each concept can form a heading or subheading in the literature review. Concept maps have a hierarchical structure from top to bottom, so the concepts at the top of the concept map form the headings and the concepts lower on the map form the subheadings. And because the relationships shown on the concept map can also be horizontal as well as vertical, the areas that I need to cover in different parts on my literature review are all visible and can be picked up on as necessary. For instance, I may need to talk about accidental injuries in the equipment section, the surfaces section and the supervision section and consider whether there are more or fewer accidents in the rural playgrounds because (a) they are used less or (b) they have more supervision (from carers).
With 3 concept maps, one for each research question, I have an outline for the WHOLE of my LITERATURE REVIEW!
Several Concept Maps for the same thing! - Doing more than one concept map for the same question can improve your perspective.
I travel to University by train, which gives me thinking time. And I tried redrawing the concept map for "children's playgrounds" on paper and realised that it was a bit different from the first one I drew out for this lens and I realised that I had some different ideas the second time around. . I had realised that there was another safe surface - "grass", apart from the first three I had on the original concept map and I had also added in a lot more about the types of equipment. Combining the two maps would give me the opportunity to refine the literature review without having to go through reams of linearly written pages and ensure that I did not miss out any important relationships between different areas (concepts). This is VASTLY different from my original attempt at creating a structure for my literature review.
My original attempt at creating a structure for my literature review
It's a lot harder to create a literature review using a linear format. It's more difficult to show relationships.
An alternative method of creating a Concept Map - working from the bottom up, instead of top down
Are you having difficulty creating a concept map? Try this alternative approach. Get your research question (as above), now think of as many words and phrases relating to it as you can and write each word or phrase down on a piece of paper and draw a box around it. Once you have as many words and phrases as you can think of at first go, cut out the boxes and lay them out in front of you. Now shuffle them around to see if you can get them into related groups. This is a bottom up approach, whereas the concept map idea can be thought of as a top down approach. So with this alternative, you need to start with the most SPECIFIC concepts and see if you can group them together into a larger concept. Yellow sticky notes (the kind that come in square pads) can be useful for this
progressing with the alternative method for developing concept maps
Once you have some related groups, see if you can think of a higher concept that would include all of those groups. For instance, I started out with sand, grass and mud, which could be gathered into the concept of "soft surfaces" and I also had the concepts of "falls" and bruises", which fitted into the concept of "injury types". These two higher concepts of "soft surfaces" and "injury types" seemed to fit into an even higher concept of "Injury prevention".
Whichever way you find easier, top down or bottom up, I hope you will find that drawing out a concept map will help you create your literature review much more easily and much more comprehensively, with the ability to change it without feeling overwhelmed by all the attendant changes that this would need.
Good luck with your literature review and please let me have any comments or additions you think should be made. Have you used a concept map? Has this helped you get down to creating your literature review?
Concept Mapping to create a Literature Review - How to use free software to create a concept map
How to get started on your Literature Review for your doctoral studies by creating a concept map using free software.
Get the VUE free download of concept mapping software
This is where you can download the concept mapping software for free.
- VUE free software
Get your free download of the VUE software for creating a concept map that you can use to start your literature review.
your thoughts on concept maps and literature reviews
Now you have read the lens, what are your thoughts?
What do you think about using concept maps for outlining your literature review?
Great Stuff on Amazon
What are your thoughts on this?