New conceptual diagram worksheet developed

Bill Dennison ·
25 April 2011
Science Communication | 

In order to guide people interested in creating a conceptual diagram, a worksheet has been developed by the Integration and Application Network. This worksheet is designed to aid in the assembly of relevant information needed for drafting a new conceptual diagram. The worksheet helps hone the message, prioritize the features and processes being depicted, and avoid false starts. It is not absolutely necessary to be completed before starting to draw, but does serve as a useful checklist for the aspects to be considered in creating an effective conceptual diagram.

Diagramming confusion
The conceptual diagram worksheet can help the diagramming process along.

In science communication training, the worksheet becomes a useful segue between a) introducing people to conceptual diagrams including playing Conceptionary using predetermined diagram topics and b) the creation of new conceptual diagrams based on topics that are relevant to the person or the team. It is likely most relevant for the first conceptual diagram being created, but also can be reviewed by the most experienced conceptual diagram creator.

The conceptual diagram worksheet needs to be accompanied by blank paper with colored pens or pencils (preferably erasable), whiteboard or chalkboard with colored pens or chalk, or electronic tablet or stylus with a drawing program that has erasable colored pens. The key elements are to have multiple colors and erasable functionality. It is usually a useful technique to draw diagrams larger than the final size to be used in the science communication product to allow for fine scale editing and to have room to precisely locate symbols at appropriate locations within the diagram.

Even though conceptual diagrams are used extensively and are increasingly accessible via online symbol libraries and a conceptual diagram creator, the reluctance of many scientists to draw is an impediment to good science communication. Thus, one of the learning objectives for playing Conceptionary is to have students realize that artistic talent is not an absolute prerequisite for good diagrams and that drawing simple and effective diagrams can be quick and easy. The conceptual diagram worksheet and the conceptual diagram creator attempt to tap the nascent artistic talent that people have and structure their thoughts in the development of a conceptual diagram.

As this conceptual diagram worksheet is used by different people, it would be useful to have feedback so that revisions can be made to improve its utility. It would be particularly useful to obtain feedback from novice conceptual diagrammers, since the worksheet is intended to help first-time diagrammers to draw conceptual diagrams.

Developing your conceptual diagram

Use this exercise to develop an engaging and informative conceptual diagram.

  1. Identify your audience and medium:
  2. Develop issues statement:
  3. Prioritize the key features:
  4. Identify and prioritize the major drivers:
  5. Develop a short list of symbols:
  6. Choose a base and style:
  7. Write a legend:

Conceptual diagram worksheet

The purpose of this worksheet is to develop the message and the science communication style for a conceptual diagram.

  1. Define a) the target audience: e.g, interested public, students, resource managers, scientists (more than one type of audience can be targeted) and b) the medium in which this diagram will be used(e.g., written report, web page, science communication product)
  2. Develop issue statement: Write one simple, declarative sentence (active title) that answers the following question: What is the main message?, or put another way,What is the take home message?
  3. Prioritize the key features: List the features needed to describe your message e.g., major habitats or structures (structure), important linkages or pathways (function). Prioritization is needed because only  the top 3–7 features can be included on any one conceptual diagram.
  4. Identify and prioritize the major drivers: List the drivers or threats that will be depicted on the conceptual diagram (forcing function). Prioritization is needed because only the top 1–5drivers/threats can be included on any one conceptual diagram
  5. Develop a short list of symbols: List the symbols that will enhance the audience’s ability to understand the location and context of the conceptual diagram. Symbols can represent various species of plants and animals or they could be human–built structures. The IAN symbol and image libraries could be a source of inspiration for this symbol list, but new symbols may be needed.
  6. Choose a base and style: Consider the message, available space, and appropriate context (within the document or medium in which the conceptual diagram will appear). Note: this may take some experimentation. There are three major types of bases: 2–dimensional cross sections, 3–dimensional oblique, and map bases which can be plain view or oblique aerial. Mirror diagrams can be used to focus on comparisons. The color schemes on the bases are important in terms of communication effectiveness. Again, the IAN image and symbol libraries could be a source of inspiration for bases.
  7. Write a legend: Develop a few sentences that summarize your concept. Remember that every objector symbol in your diagram should be included in the legend. Once this preparation sheet is completed, begin drawing, preferably with colored pencils or pens on paper or a whiteboard. After experimenting with different bases and symbols, choose a style. It is important to begin drawing the first drafts of the diagram by hand, before becoming heavily vested in the computer version in a drawing program or using the IAN online conceptual diagram creator.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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