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Argument Mapping

What is argument mapping?
Why do we need it?

Some benefits of argument mapping
Examples
Austhink argument mapping services
Software
Some argument mapping links
Argument mapping discussion list

What is argument mapping?

Download our brochure (pdf file, 980k)

Argument mapping is producing graphical "boxes and arrows" maps of complex debates. The result —an argument map—is a paper chart presenting an overview of the reasoning.

A very simple argument map would fit on a single A4 sheet. Large argument maps require poster-sized charts, or many such charts. Very complex debates might fill an entire wall.

Argument mapping is a specific kind of activity, focusing on the inferential or evidential structure among claims and reasons, and producing surveyable paper charts. It is important to distinguish argument mapping from other techniques such as concept mapping, and decision analysis.

 

Why do we need it?

Many organizations face complex issues involving lots of arguments on both sides, objections, rebuttals, etc.. Often they produce analyses of the situation, presented in familiar forms such as written reports or PowerPoint presentations.

The basic problem is that the human mind simply cannot encompass at one time all aspects of a complex debate. The truth is that we can only ever focus on one or at most a handful of things at once. Generally what happens is that we focus on those few aspects of the debate which are particularly salient to us—usually because they support our prior opinion—and neglect the rest.

Argument mapping expands our capacity to grasp complex debates by presenting the argumentation in two-dimensional spatial layout. It translates abstract conceptual structure into a simple spatial structure. A very large part of our brain is devoted to getting around in physical space—seeing where things are, and keeping track of our position in relation to things. An argument map taps into this vast reserve of processing power, bringing it to bear in understanding the conceptual layout of some complex issue.

 

Some benefits of argument mapping

  • Mapping promotes clarity and rigor in thinking, and leads to deeper understanding of the issues
     
  • Argument maps greatly improve sharing of knowledge among a team
     
  • Argument maps are extremely efficient ways to present overviews of complex argumentation to another person
     
  • An argument map makes the boundaries of current knowledge or debate visually apparent.
     
  • Argument maps make meetings more efficient by helping focus discussion
     
  • Argument maps promote better decision making by ensuring that a higher proportion of relevant considerations are taken into account
     
  • Mapping arguments produces a permanent record of thinking on a topic, thus addressing the challenge of maintaining organizational memory.

 

Examples

  • Sharing (pdf file), a map produced as part of a one-day workshop with senior public service managers.
     
  • MacroVu, Inc. has produced the "Can Computers Think" series of argument maps. You can view an example here (pdf file). These maps can be purchased through Amazon.com.

 

Austhink Argument Mapping Services

Although the basic idea in argument mapping is obvious enough, producing good argument maps is challenging. To make the task easier we have developed a systematic process and special software tools, and can provide experts in argumentation. We offer:

  1. Production. We work through the entire process and produce an argument map for you.
     
  2. Facilitation. We provide advice and assistance to help your people to produce an argument map.
     
  3. Training. We conduct workshops in argument mapping techniques and processes.
     
  4. Coaching. We assist individuals develop argument maps and improve their argument mapping skills.

Austhink are leaders in argument mapping as a practical technique for improving thinking in professional, business, government and military contexts. 

 

Software

Although generic diagramming software packages (e.g., Visio, Inspiration) can be used to produce argument maps, they are not specialized for the task and hence the process is slow and cumbersome. 

The educational software Reason!Able is currently the best tool available for rapidly producing first-draft argument maps.

Currently we are developing software for argument mapping in professional contexts. This software will either be packaged with consulting services or available for independent purchase.

 

Some Argument Mapping Links

  • Visualizing Argumentation: Software Tools for Collaborative and Educational Sense-Making. Website for an edited volume on argument mapping, which in the book is called argument visualization. The website contains many links and resources going beyond what is found in the book.
     

  • Beyond Words - a New Scientist piece on argument mapping and visual language
     
  • Mapping the Future of Argument, by Paul Monk, appeared in the Australian Financial Review
      
  • I think, therefore I am confused (image, 259k) - a piece on argument mapping by Paul Monk and Tim van Gelder which appeared in The Australian
     
  • Map it Out! one-page piece with image from Together magazine (jpg image, 227k)
     
  • A Brief Overview of Argument Mapping (Word document, 42k) - a quick introduction with a business audience in mind. 
     
  • Discussions of the use of argument maps in teaching philosophy in the online journal Psyche and The Philosopher's Magazine
     
  • Computer Supported Collaborative Argumentation resource site
     
  • MacroVu, Inc.
     
  • Robert Horn homepage
     
  • The Bootstrap Institute - Doug Engelbart, Intelligence Augmentation

 

Argument Mapping Discussion List

We have recently set up an email discussion list for people interested in the theory and practice of argument mapping. 

Subscribe to argumap

 

Note that the argumap list is an email group hosted on Yahoo!. 

  • To join the list, you will need to confirm your intention to join by replying to an email sent to the email address you entered in the box above. 
  • If you wish to access the group website you will need to be registered with Yahoo! (in addition to being signed up to the argumap group).

 Note: the argumap list is NOT the same as the Austhink email announcements list.

 

Copyright © Austhink 2002
Last updated:04 Feb 2003