Concept maps

You can use a concept map to map out your ideas or to explore and present the connections in your data. Use shapes and connectors to visualize the evolution of your ideas and theories.

A concept map is a free-form visualization made up of different shapes and connectors.

Shapes represent concepts (ideas, people, or data). The connectors between the shapes articulate links such as this causes..., this requires... or this contributes to....

To get started with a concept map, try one of the following approaches:

  • Identify a list of related concepts. Put them on shapes and move them around the canvas to get a sense of grouping and order. What else might be associated with them? Add additional items. Connect each concept to show associations.
  • Take something you've already written and try to map it.
  • Try visualizing how you see a case. Add different shapes to the map to represent what impacts or is impacted by the case.

You can add project items to concept maps to help build your diagram.

Your map doesn't have to be complete to start with. As you gather data, add project items to your concept map to flesh out your visualization and help you with your analysis. A good way to see if you are on track is to have colleagues check your diagram—can they interpret it?

When you create concept maps, save an image in your project journal and record your observations and insights.

When should I create a concept map?

At this stage of your project Create a concept map to

Early on

Create a diagram of the concepts, connections and patterns you expect to find.

Show your planned action and the expected results.

During analysis

Divide variables that are conceptually or fundamentally distinct. See if there are conflicts. What are you struggling to place?

Draw possible links between concepts. Confirm you have data to support every linkage you have drawn.

Establish a sequence of consequential steps. Ask what had to come before or what followed after each step.

Developing theory

Visualize theoretical connections in your data.

Prompt analytic reflection.

Develop causal hunches—If this happened, it must have been because...

Show things that had to be in place for an outcome to occur.

Presenting results

Condense all that you have learned into a restricted space and identify what's important in what you have found.

Convey information whilst saving word count for results.

Examples of concept maps

Concept maps are very flexible and can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, you might make a concept map to:

  • Record theoretical groups of the categories and concepts contained in your research question.
  • Sketch the relative locations of sites, events or people in your project, as observed by yourself or described by others.
  • Demonstrate your theory about a pattern or pathway.
  • Sum up the key elements of a process you have identified.
  • Draw a timeline to show historical development of a situation or sequence of events.
  • Map the logic used by a participant for the decisions they've made.

Working with concept maps

To make changes to a concept map, make sure you are in edit mode. Click the Edit option at the top of Detail View.

A concept map with a panel of shapes on the left and tools on the top

1Click a shape in the Add Shapes panel and drag it onto the canvas. Double-click in the shape to add text.

2Drag shapes to move them around the canvas. You can zoom in or out using the slider at the bottom of Detail View and use the horizontal and vertical scroll bars to move around the map.

3Use the menu bar to add connectors and project items. For example, add two cases from your project and draw a connector to show the association between them. Open a case to see all the coded content. You can also drag and drop from List View to add project items to the canvas.


  • Deleting a project item from a concept map does not delete it from your project
  • If you want to change the map, you must enter edit mode.
  • You cannot change the shape or color of project items—they are represented by the NVivo project item icon.

TIP  To make more room when you're working with maps, undock Detail View and display it in a separate window.

Create a new concept map

  1. On the Explore tab, in the Maps group, click Concept Map.
  2. In the Name box, enter a name for the mind map.
  3. Add shapes or items by doing the following:
    • Add shapes to the map by clicking and dragging from the shapes pane.
    • Add project items to the map by clicking and dragging from List View.
  4. Connect shapes or items by doing the following:
    1. On the Concept map tab, in the Tools group, click Connector.
    2. Click and drag from one shape or project item to another. An arrow connects the shapes in the direction you dragged.
    3. Select a connector then press F2 to add a label to it. Double-click in a shape to edit the text.

Add project items to a concept map

  1. Make sure you are in edit mode.
  2. On the Concept map tab, in the Items group, click Add Project Items. The Select Project Items dialog box opens.
  3. On the left, click the folder name that contains the project item you want to add.
  4. On the right, select the check boxes for the project items you want to add to the map.