Why I Avoid Labeling Arrows on my Concept Maps

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I'm actually a big fan of diagrams (maps, family trees, bar charts) but I've always found the standard concept map (like the one below from Wikipedia) a little confusing

Concept map of Concept Map
Click Image to Enlarge

This is one of those concept maps where all the arrows are labeled with the relationship. Someone asked a linguistics group if they felt that the arrows should be labeled or not, and I do say not, but maybe not for linguistic reasons.

Normally when I create a diagram, I don't label relations per se, but just for a mini experiment, I redid a concept map in two versions, one my way and one like a classic concept map, labels and all. I noticed some things that made me understand why I don't like to label arrows/lines.

  1. The big one is that I think that I (and most natural map readers) are trained to infer relationships from the connecting lines/arrows. Only the labels on the objects matter. The labels on the arrows are redundant.
  2. Not just redundant, but distracting because they take up space in the diagram and interfere with my ability to process the concept map as a whole architecture. This is important for a diagram like a family tree where you track lines to find your first cousin.

  3. Not just distracting, but conflicting. In the Wikipedia concept map (of what a concept map is), the arrows are the same, but the labels may differ. I am receiving conflicting input on whether the relationship is the same or different.
  4. I'll also note that there is a conflict in classic concept maps on whether shapes change depending on object properties. Normally I assume that if a shape has the same format, it's the same kind of object. But if labels are different, I can't make that assumption. Do I have to infer from the text? and how?
    P.S.: I did find an example with different shapes but arrow labels. I think the shape cues makes it much easier to understand what's happening.

I have to say that not all concept maps have labels on their arrows

At least I am not alone on this one. I am curious if that person was able to complete the research on arrow labeling....

Post Script

The link from D. Stong goes to a research paper describing the "rules" for making a concept map including the labels on the connections. It may be good theory, but I'm still not sure about the design aspect.


Excellent observations Elizabeth. I have trouble with the concept map you display here, and for many of the same reasons. I think this particular example suffers from being poorly planned as well as being full of noise. There's a similar example in a PDF at http://is.gd/xHDB Figure 1. seems to be the same map as this, only arranged to facilitate understanding. The labels are still noisy, but aren't quite as irritating.

I enjoy your analysis. I rarely get so far as to be able to put into words what's wrong. I usually just shudder with feelings similar to vertigo, and move on. Too bad Hitchcock didn't do a movie called ConceptMaps.

BRETT ALAN BIXLER Author Profile Page said:

Gee, I always like the labels. It helps me understand what the person who created the map was thinking.

My problem with them is the need to two-way labels. Most often, you need two. For example

causes/is caused by

Talk about noise! Maybe technology can help here with rollover labels, a switch to turn them on and off, etc.

I've also seen some rubrics for assessing the "strength" of a concept map that includes how the labels are done, so some people must value them.

Different strokes for different folks.

ELIZABETH J PYATT Author Profile Page said:

It's good to hear a different point of view.

I admit I'm very visual, but I believe that part of the design process is to minimize the verbage needed. I also come from a field where we use specific graph types for specific uses. A syntax tree ≠ a syllable diagram, but neither have much in the way of words.

A point that Ruben Puentedura made about comics is that most are drawn in such a way so that transition words are minimized (e.g. "Meanwhile" for a big switch in scene which is simultaneous).

Concept maps may be a little different in that you could be capturing any concept (or are you capturing the semantics of any noun?). Hmm now you have more more convinced I like my label light diagram ;)

It's all good food for thought.

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