Use visual brainstorming to develop and organize your ideas.

Cluster diagrams, spider maps, mind maps--these terms are used interchangeably to describe the practice of visually brainstorming about a topic. Modern readers love cluster diagrams and spider maps because they enable readers to discern your purpose and organization in a moment.

When Is Clustering/Spider Mapping Useful?

As depicted below, writers use clustering to help sketch out ideas and suggest logical connections. In this way, writers use cluster diagrams and spider maps as an invention tool. When clustering, they do not impose an order on their thinking. Instead, after placing the idea in the center of the page, they then free-associate.

Remembering that the goal is to generate ideas, make the drawing visually attractive, perhaps using color or a variety of geometric shapes and layout formats. Typical cluster and spider maps resemble the following:

  • Branches: If ideas seem closely related to you, consider using small branches, like tree limbs, to represent their similarities.
  • Arrows: Use arrows to represent processes or cause and effect relationships.
  • Groupings: If a number of ideas are connected, go ahead and put a circle around them.
  • Bullets: List ideas that seem related.

In addition to being a powerful invention strategy, cluster maps and spider maps can also be used to represent complex relationships to readers.

Online Cluster/Spider Maps

  1. Visual thesaurus: This online software application draws cluster diagrams around words. Plug in a word and watch similar terms spin around it. Give it time and you'll see many interesting associations.

  2. Forest management: View an example of a hand-drawn cluster map.

  3. Sociograms: Two well-functioning teams: Social network analysis encourages visual depictions of people's collaborative networks.

  4. Social networks: Examples of how maps of social networks can be drawn. Evaluating the alcohol environment: Here cluster maps are drawn to show correlations between bars and violent crime.

  5. Crime patterns made clear for Portland, Oregon, citizens via Internet mapping: This essay provides examples of how crime maps show patterns in criminal be

When Are Clustering/Spider Maps Useful?

  • Clustering is a particularly effective strategy during the early part of a writing project when you're working to define the scope and parameters of a project.
  • Congue Clustering can help you identify what you do know and what you need to research about a topic.

"Clustering: Spider Maps" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida