How to Create Concept Maps in Word with SmartArt: A Step-by-Step Guide
Word, the video-writing software developed by Microsoft, is undoubtedly one of the most well-known tools worldwide and allows not only the creation of digital text documents but also diagrams with shapes connected by arrows in a hierarchical manner, such as schemes and concept maps or mind maps. In this article, we will cover:
A step-by-step guide
Until a few years ago, the strategy for creating a concept map in Word was manual: opening a blank document, one had to add various shapes step by step, insert texts and connections between different shapes in the most traditional way. This cumbersome methodology led to a significant increase in the time it took to create the concept map, making the process almost nerve-wracking.
In recent years, however, Word has implemented numerous tools that meet the new needs of users. One of these is SmartArt, with which we can build concept maps more easily. But what are the steps?
To build our concept map, we will need to create a blank document. Once the worksheet is open, simply click on the "Insert" item in the main menu where we will find, among various options, "SmartArt". The graphic options offered by SmartArt are numerous, each with a specific use explained by the software itself with a brief description. Word contains many diagram templates that we can use as a starting point.
To create our map, we will need to click on the "Hierarchy" item and select "Organizational Chart".
Our map will appear as in the image below: a title and several subtopics. The text inside the nodes can be modified using the dedicated "SmartArt Text" menu, which allows for general management of the textual content of the map and their parent-child hierarchical relationships using the +, -, and arrow buttons or the keyboard.
As we are already used to doing in Word, we can modify the font, size, and color of the text according to our needs. It is also possible to change the geometric shape of the nodes, the color, and the overall layout of the concept map at the "Format" item, which provides various modifications that allow for customization, albeit minimal, of the map.
To add new nodes to the concept map in Word, there are two different options:
- use the main menu at the top left and click on the item "Add Shape" before, after, above, or below,
- use the "SmartArt Text" menu directly next to the map with the various buttons to add, delete, or move nodes on the sheet.
But be careful! Since the sheet is limited in size, you will need to pay attention to the dimensions of the map. The more elements you add, the more difficult it will be to fit everything within the sheet. As with documents, you can also insert images, charts, icons, and even 3D models into concept maps in Word.
Using the main menu, we can change the layout of the map while keeping the content intact. In the case of the image above, we have chosen the layout "Hierarchy with Circular Images" which allows you to insert images directly into the nodes of the map.
In addition, the "Change Colors" button with the palette symbol allows us to change the colors and style of the map nodes, using some predefined formats or manually choosing the colors.
Save or send to a friend
Once we have completed our concept map, we can save it on our PC to print it or send it to a friend. Under the "File" tab, we will select "Save As" and then choose the document format from the drop-down menu. Among the suggested options when saving, we find doc, PDF, as well as "Word Template (*.dot)", which will allow us to save the map we have created and use it as a starting template for the next ones we will create.
Limited customization and fluidity
Through SmartArt, Microsoft Word allows you to create concept maps and customize them quite easily. However, Word is definitely not the most suitable software for this type of charts and diagrams: creating a concept map in Word is limiting because it is not very fluid, offers limited customization options, and is not very inclusive. Let's see some examples:
- The workspace is limited. As the size of the map increases, working on it becomes complex and the result will be difficult to read. This limitation clearly has a negative impact on map navigation and the result of any printing.
- You can easily work only from a PC, it is difficult to edit the map from other devices such as smartphones or tablets and take it with you to consult or modify it when you don't have a PC available.
- Modifying and moving individual nodes or groups of nodes is complex and cumbersome. Word is designed to be a text document editor, not a true map editing environment.
- There are few customization and creativity options, it is not possible to insert videos or audio within the nodes of the map.
- You cannot add a document or digital book to the map, a very useful option for students who create maps from digital books. Moreover, Text-to-Speech is not integrated to reproduce the text, a compensatory tool very useful for those with a learning disability like dyslexia.
- Sharing is limited because you must first save the file on the device and then send it via email or through hardware devices such as pen-drives. In addition, multiple users cannot edit the same map in real-time.
- You need to purchase a license for Microsoft 365 to use Word and its services, including SmartArt. There is a free online version, but it has the disadvantage of lacking many tools, including SmartArt. Therefore, it forces the user to create the concept map "the old-fashioned way" and lose a lot of time.
The ultimate online tool for collaborative and creative mind mapping
A practical and easy-to-use alternative for creating concept maps online is Algor Education, an Italian web app that offers a multimedia and collaborative editing environment for creating concept maps and mind maps in just a few clicks, even starting from text documents. Let's briefly see the main features of Algor Education that make it more suitable for creating maps and diagrams online compared to Word:
- Infinite workspace, the map editor has potentially infinite space and, above all, is easily navigable and zoomable with keyboard, touch, or mouse;
- Creating new map nodes and customizing them is extremely simple, just one click. Individual nodes or groups of nodes can be quickly modified through the mobile menu.
- Ability to create maps from your own documents or digital books, on Algor you can upload pdf or doc files to accompany the map. Documents and map environment communicate with each other, transferring the file content to the map nodes requires just a few clicks.
- Inclusive interface and features, maps and documents can be organized in convenient folders distinguished by symbols and high-impact colors. In addition, the app integrates Text-to-Speech in different languages, voices, and speeds and inclusive fonts such as LexieReadable or OpenDyslexia.
- Easy online sharing, with Algor Education you can share your maps with other users simply by sending them a link. You can collaborate in real time on each map and make changes together.
- Compatibility with different devices, on Algor you can work anywhere from a PC, smartphone, tablet. All materials are accessible from any device by logging in with the same account, just an internet connection is required.
- Automatic suggestions from the text to stimulate creativity. Algor uses cutting-edge technologies to create concept maps automatically from a text. The goal is to stimulate the student's creativity and help them synthesize the main concepts of a text.
If Algor Education has piqued your interest, know that you can use its free plan forever. Just register at Algor Education.
Article by Rosaria Spiniello, content creator.