How bullets can save the day (sometimes, for me at least)

As you may be well aware, mind maps are very popular and there is an enormous variety of mind map tools on the Internet. More than 300 have been collected at And if 300+ is a bit much, just have a look at the 16 listed in Vic’s Faves. Among these, I personally tried,  cmap, freeplane, imindmap, and prezi. Now these tools are indeed just tools. They must be applied for a purpose. I prefer Cmap Tools of IHMC for a number of reasons, the main one being its enormous learning potential. As shown in Joe Novak’s “Learning, creating, and using knowledge” (1998, 2010) concept maps can be used for many purposes, and very interesting purposes at that. What I am trying to do in this blog is to explore how far the concept mapping tool of Cmap can be stretched to accommodate mapping purposes for which it is not intended.  One of the thing Cmaps cannot do very easily, is making simple arrows, without any text or whatever in it. A reasonable solution would be to leave the text out, or to use a point or an asterisk or something. Nothing really looked very nice until I tried to replace the text with a 9 pt bullet. By way of example, here is my impression of part of the influence diagram as shown in Fig. 1.2 of “Systems approaches to managing change” (Reynolds and Holwell, 2010).

P.S. I just tried an 8 pt bullet and it was even better.

P.S. Cmap Tools actually provides the option of selecting from a large number of so-called mathematical characters, which may be better than the bullets option. In fact, there are some bullets, too, that line out perfectly.


About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see or
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2 Responses to How bullets can save the day (sometimes, for me at least)

  1. Ulrik says:

    Years late to the party, but for what it’s worth, if you want a simple arrow without the text, just shift-click when drawing the line.

    • It may sound idiotic, but in the five years since I embraced concept mapping, I never came across this tip. Thanks a lot. Never mind that it’s late to the party. It ain’t over yet, if it ever will.

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