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What Is a Conceptual Diagram?

E.A. Sanker
E.A. Sanker

A conceptual diagram is a visual representation of the ways in which abstract concepts are related. It is used as an aid in visualizing processes or systems at a high level through a series of unique lines and shapes. Conceptual diagrams are widely employed in fields as diverse as business, science, and manufacturing, and they may be created in a variety of ways to suit the project’s needs.

In a typical conceptual diagram, abstract ideas are written as text, enclosed in shapes on a blank background, and connected by a series of arrows or lines. Often a central concept is included at the heart of the diagram and other factors are shown in connection to this central concept. For example, if someone were to create a conceptual diagram to show factors that contribute to getting a good night’s sleep, the diagram would include a box or other shape representing restful sleep at the center. This box would be surrounded by shapes showing various factors, such as exercise and stress, that would be connected to the center box with lines or arrows. The lines and arrows indicate visually how secondary factors are related to the central concept of restful sleep.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

The versatility of its visual format allows the conceptual diagram to be adapted to almost any situation where a system can be explained through a network of abstract ideas. Such a diagram might be used to show the flow of a manufacturing process, or the interactions of a complex ecosystem. In business, these representations are especially popular because they provide a way for managers to show employees a business strategy in a clear and direct fashion. Conceptual diagrams are used not only for planning, but also for conceptual problem solving — brainstorming solutions to an abstract problem.

When constructing a conceptual diagram, several design factors must be considered before beginning to draw. The first step is to identify the central idea that the diagram intends to communicate. Once the central concept is identified, the other concepts can be prioritized to fit into the available visual space. Effective representations tend to communicate information in a concise way, without confusing the viewer with tangled networks of lines and shapes, so only the most important information is usually included.

The next step is to consider the audience for which that the diagram is intended. Scientists with specialized knowledge might understand a network of highly technical concepts, but a popular audience may not. The goal of the diagram format is to communicate an idea so that the appropriate audience understands it without lengthy explanation.

Although less important than the factors mentioned above, visual style is also a consideration in designing a conceptual diagram. Color, shapes, and overall view can affect the impact of a visual. If symbols are being used, a key should be included to indicate what each symbol represents. Clarity is usually the foremost concern, but certain projects may call for more originality and abstraction in the representation.

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