DEV Community

Valeria writes docs
Valeria writes docs

Posted on

How concept maps can help create clear and concise technical documentation

A key attribute of good documentation is that it must be clear, concise, and accurate. Technical writers often have to explain intricate systems, processes, or products to readers who may not have deep technical knowledge. This means translating complexity into easily understandable language - no small feat! An invaluable tool that can aid technical writers in overcoming this challenge and creating clear, concise, and accurate documentation is concept maps.

Concept maps are graphical representations that illustrate the relationships between key concepts. They organize information hierarchically, allowing writers to view both the big picture and the granular details. In this article, I’ll explore how incorporating concept maps into the process of creating documentation can enhance clarity, conciseness, and accuracy.

Understanding concept maps

Before talking about the benefits of using concept maps to write technical documentation, we need to understand what are concept maps. Concept maps are rooted in David Ausubel's learning theory which states that meaningful learning requires clear conceptual presentation.

Concept maps consist of concepts and the relationships between them, which form propositions. Each proposition contains two or more concept labels connected by linking relationships. By carefully choosing concepts and linking words, concept maps can effectively capture nuances of meaning. Concepts are typically represented as nouns while linking phrases are represented as verbs. Well-constructed concept maps exhibit propositional coherence, where each pair of concepts and their linking phrase form a meaningful statement.

To construct a concept map, it is important to start with focus questions that require explanation rather than simple descriptions. These questions should promote deep and meaningful thinking. Key concepts specific to the domain should be identified and ranked. A hierarchical organization is then built, with more general concepts at the top and more specific concepts below. By following these steps, learners engage in meaning-making and create well-organized maps that facilitate understanding.

In this manner, concept maps serve as both a learning and evaluation tool, helping writers understand key concepts and test their knowledge of the topic.

In the following sections, I will explain the key features of concept maps and how they can assist technical writers in ensuring documentation is clear and concise.

Organizing knowledge

A key benefit of concept maps is their ability to structure multifaceted information coherently. By visually depicting relationships between concepts, they provide a framework for writers to present content systematically. More general, high-level concepts are shown at the top, with increasing levels of specificity as you go downward.

This organized structure gives both writers and readers an invaluable aid for comprehending complexity. Writers can use it as an outline to build up detailed documentation piece by piece. Readers can reference the map to clarify relationships between components.

You can check out my previous post Basics of Git explained with a concept map, for a demonstration of how you can create a concept map that explains two focus questions and how you can write a document by explaining that concept map.

Structuring complex systems

Technical documentation must often explain intricate systems with interdependent parts. Concept maps explicitly display interconnections through linking phrases, helping break down confusing processes into logical steps.

For example, in the concept map I created to explain the basics of Git I laid out each stage in version control and its ties to other stages. This concept map enabled me to smoothly guide readers through what might seem convoluted procedures.

Enabling collaboration

Because concept maps serve as shared visual models, they can facilitate efficient collaboration when creating documentation. Stakeholders can provide feedback by modifying specific concepts and relations of the map before full prose descriptions have been written. This collaborative approach helps to surface inaccuracies early on, resulting in documentation that precisely conveys the subject matter. In this stage of the writing process, is where concept maps serve as a tool to test the writer's understanding of the product they're documenting.


Leveraging concept maps is a best practice when developing clear, concise, and accurate technical documentation. By organizing complex domains into understandable formats, concept maps can help technical writers distill topics down to their fundamental essence. Embracing this incredibly useful technique will enhance the precision of your technical writing.

Top comments (3)

taijidude profile image

Good stuff. Thank you for sharing.

valeriahhdez profile image
Valeria writes docs

I'm glad you find it useful 🙌

taijidude profile image

Yes, very much. I'm trying to improve my documentation skills and knowledge.