Last week we covered the nitty-gritty details of how to build a Conceptual Map. Hopefully, you uncovered some interesting connections between the different concepts extracted from your research data. Today, we will add words or phrases to those concepts and make propositions!

Creating Propositions

After filling the Conceptual Maps with themes and arrows, you need to add words in the arrows to form propositions. This quote summarizes the goal of building propositions:

Propositions are statements about some object or event in the universe, either naturally occurring or constructed. Propositions contain two or more connected concepts. using linking words or phrases to form a meaningful statement. – Joseph D. Novak & Alberto J. Cañas (

Themes influence each other; now it’s time to label that influence. Here are examples of propositions I found in my research. X and Y refer to themes. These worked for me, but you may create your own.

Positive Relationships Negative Relationships Associative Relationships
X influences Y
X caused Y
X is associated with Y
X solved Y
X improved Y
X contradicts Y
X prevented Y
X reduced Y
X is part of Y
X is a kind of Y
X is a property of Y


Conceptual Maps Propositions

Conceptual Maps and Propositions

If you are analyzing multiple case-studies, this is a good opportunity to connect them. Maybe the propositions agree, maybe they don’t. If they disagree, try to find out why. What factors are present or absent in the disagreeing cases? The goal is to trace the cause-and-effect relationships and create a model that explains why things turned out the way they did. Eventually, your model will be so comprehensive it will have the power to predict outcomes based on the presence or absence of certain factors. This is very important. The goal of your propositions is to create a predictive model that can be of use to the world. Prediction is the goal of science.

CmapTools recommend establishing a question the Conceptual Map is trying to answer. The question to my map (above) was: “What variables influence the audio, visual, and performer mapping?” I’ll explain what this question means. Every interactive work has a set of rules that dictate how the user input will affect a media output. In other words, if this then that. Collectively, these rules are known as mappings. One question for my dissertation was understanding what factors affect these mappings. Having a question will keep your Conceptual Map and propositions focused on the topic.

Diagramming a Theory

Once all the concepts are connected to form propositions, the map must be simplified to create an overarching theory. Isn’t that exciting!? It’s interesting how theories are best explained in simple terms. Mathematicians have a word for this: elegance. Can you boil down your complex map to a simple diagram that explains the system you are investigating?  Follow Einstein’s words when simplifying: “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.” If you think that quote is confusing, that’s because it is up to you to determine how much knowledge can be reduced to an elegant explanatory diagram.

Spend a lot of time looking at the Conceptual Map. How can you aggregate concepts and go up one level of abstraction? Design new, simpler diagrams, and check to see if they encapsulate the logic of the larger map. Don’t be afraid to experiment. It might take time. Eventually, you will have a diagram that briefly answers an important question. The dissertation will unpack that diagram and explain it in further detail.

The diagram below is based on a larger map regarding a case study. The green boxes refer to the three key areas that impact the interactive map of an artwork. That is, technology, collaboration, and transparency. These three areas became the main unit of analysis for the case-studies.

Conceptual Map and propositions and theories

From Conceptual Map to theory


Next week, we will move away from Conceptual Maps (I know, it’s about time, right?) and focus on writing notes and organizing references.

Part 1: Tips on How to Write a Dissertation | Part 2: Mind Maps and Conceptual MapsPart 3: Building Conceptual Maps


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Since you are here, check out some of the interactive shows I’ve created by clicking on here.yago de quay portfolio