C: Concept Map Concept Map The Introduction

You can learn so much about an article from the introduction! Here's a step-by-step process for getting the most out of the article intro and making an excellent concept map:

Abstract representation of definitions and summary

Getting Ready to Concept Map

To make a great concept map, you will need to do a careful reading of the introduction. Here's how to do it:

  1. Read the introduction.
  2. Definitions: On a notecard or piece of paper, define key terms and any unfamiliar concepts. Check out Gale Virtual Reference Library or Wikipedia for background info on unfamiliar concepts in your article.
  3. Context: Write a quick summary in your own words: What do the researchers say about previously conducted research? What do the researchers say about questions or problems that have not yet been addressed?
Abstract representation of a concept map

Annotate the introduction

  1. Experimental Variables: Highlight the experimental variables mentioned in the introduction.
  2. Hypotheses: Circle the hypotheses or questions addressed in the article.
  3. Methodologies: Underline the methodologies or experimental approaches that were used to answer the questions or test the hypotheses.
Abstract representation of a concept map

Draw your concept map

"The concept map helps me organize the background knowledge and makes it easier for my brain to link the concepts through a visualization." - A successful CREATES student

Drawing a concept map helps you visualize the background information and rationale for the experiment. In other words, your concept map will help you:

  • identify what was already known before the experiment was conducted
  • see how the relationships between these ideas
  • and, most importantly, understand why the scientists wanted to conduct the experiment

Here's how to do it:

  1. Get out a large, blank piece of paper and some pens and pencils.
  2. Start building your concept map by placing one to three of the largest and most general concepts at the top or in the middle of the page.
  3. Select two to four subconcepts to place under each general concept.
  4. Connect the concepts by lines and label the lines with one or a few linking words.
  5. Make a 2nd draft
    • Look for opportunities to reorganize concepts and redefine relationships! You may also decide to move concepts around on the page.
    • Look for relationships between concepts that run in different directions to connect ideas in different ways

What makes a concept map successful? Real student concept maps

More Concept Map Examples

See below for some examples of concept maps created by two different students for the same scientific article (linked for your reference). Notice that there is no one right way to organize your thoughts!

Moon et al. 2020

Concept Map example
Concept Map example

Tsao et al. 2018

Concept Map example
Concept Map example

Wang et al. 2019

Concept Map example
Concept Map example

Wright et al. 2019

Concept Map example
Concept Map example

Yuan et al. 2019

Concept Map example
Concept Map example

Give it a try!

Tips & Strategies

"The concept map was really helpful because it first exposed me to the overall paper before reading about the details that usually muddy my understanding."

A successful learner.

"The most important thing I look for at this stage is that the background information, or the things we already know, are linked together in a way that leads to the main scientific problem or question the paper is addressing. Right now we are trying to understand the rationale for why the scientists are going to do the experiments."

A CREATES teacher.
  • There is not one right way to do concept maps, but remember that advanced maps have more branches and connections.
  • The main purpose of the introduction is often to show the relationships between current knowledge and the research question. Make sure your concept map shows this!
  • Prefer to work on a computer? Try Cmap, a free concept mapping software.


Now you are ready to concept map the introduction! When you finish, use this checklist to make sure your concept map has everything it needs:

Broadest concepts at the top or center of the paper
Linking words connecting every concept
First and second drafts