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Research Guides

FCS 590: Intellectual Foundations in Family and Consumer Sciences: Concept Mapping

What is Concept Mapping?

Concept mapping is a creative and visual way to help you explore and refine your topic.  It can also help you determine subtopics and to brainstorm search terms.  Concept maps illustrate a central theme and related themes to help focus a topic and create search strategies.

Turning Your Research Question into a Search Strategy

To successfully search for information on your topic, it is best to determine the main concepts and then find keywords for those concepts. The keywords can become your search words.  In general, you should search library databases with 2-3 keywords, rather than your whole topic question or a sentence.  

For example, your research question is "Does fracking cause water pollution?" First underline the keywords as shown.

Then begin generating synonyms and related words to help you develop a search strategy.

fracking water pollution
hydraulic fracturing underground water contamination
drilling for natural gas aquifers toxins
natural gas wells wells carcinogens
directional drilling domestic water supply flammable water


In many databases, you could start your search by typing fracking water pollution and it would automatically turn that search into: 

fracking AND water AND pollution 

This is a search using Boolean logic

A more advanced Boolean search could be done like this:

(fracking OR "hydraulic fracturing") AND (water OR aquifer* OR wells) AND (pollut* OR contaminat* OR carcinogen*)

In this example the * will also find different endings for the words, such as aquifers, pollution, pollute, contaminate, contamination, carcinogens, and carcinogenic.

You can also find additional keywords by searching your topic in a database, finding a relevant item and noting the terms used in the description of that item. 

Concept Mapping Tools

Concept Map Example

From a concept map, like the sample below, it is possible to:

  • Narrow down your topic (e.g., death penalty and age)
  • Add a clarification term to focus the topic (e.g., death penalty and age and public opinion)
  • Create a search strategy using synonyms (e.g., death penalty or capital punishment; age or minimum age or juveniles; public opinion or public attitudes)