Don’t you love those moments at the beginning of a project when the sparks are flying and you have idea after idea? You’re all fired up, full of enthusiasm, and raring to go. What could possibly go wrong? Well…
While this part of the project is always the most exciting, it’s also the easiest to mess up: with so many thoughts floating around, it’s easy to lose your sense of focus. Then, before you know it, you’ve either spread yourself too thinly over too many ideas, or honed in on just one, forgotten the rest, and lost that initial sense of enthusiasm.
Both scenarios are common problems to have at the start of any project. The good news is, with a little careful management, you can tame those wild ideas and direct them towards a singular goal. This is where a spider diagram comes in handy.
What is a spider diagram?
A spider diagram is a visual tool that organizes concepts using space, color, and images. It gives you a complete overview of all your ideas, so you can see everything at a glance and work from there.
Why ‘spider’? Well, you start your diagram by writing your main concept in the center of your page. Then you add additional ideas and connect them to the center via lines – which look a little like the legs of a spider (or in the case below, several spiders).
Once you have your root idea and sub-ideas mapped out, you can begin making connections between ideas and fleshing your diagram out with further concepts, connecting and adding as you go.
What’s the difference between a spider diagram and a mind map?
There’s no doubt about it – they look similar. Both are a visual representation of knowledge, concepts, and ideas, as well as the relationships between them. The main difference is, a spider diagram is more freeform: there are no rules about how to structure it. The use of color is also optional.
Why use spider diagrams?
Firstly, spider diagrams are great for when you have lots of ideas to note down. They’re quick and easy to create, which means you can record all your ideas before they drift away.
Secondly, spider diagrams root your ideas to a central topic, which helps you stay focused. Building links between concepts not only helps you apply a sense of structure to your thoughts, but it also helps deepen your understanding of the overall project.
There’s also a scientific reason as to why these diagrams are so effective and memorable: they more closely resemble the way our brains are structured, with lots of interconnected ideas shooting off in all directions. In fact, according to one 2006 study, concept mapping (such as a spider diagram) is more effective than “reading text passages, attending lectures, and participating in class discussions”.
Who should use a spider diagram?
Spider diagrams are useful for any kind of activity that involves planning or brainstorming. So whether you’re a student revising for an exam, a project manager planning a new process, or just taking notes during a meeting, a spider diagram can help you throw everything together and organize it in a useful, meaningful way.
Spider diagrams aren’t just for displaying ideas, either. They can help you identify where you’re missing knowledge. Because it’s a visual thing, you’ll be able to see at a glance which areas of the map that look a little empty. This instantly shows you where you need to bulk up your understanding or focus your efforts.
How to make a spider diagram in 3 easy steps
- First, choose a broad topic or concept, write it in the middle of the page and draw an oval/square/whatever shape you like around it.
- Next, write down your subtopics and link each of these back to the central theme with a line or an arrow. You can put these subtopics in a circle or oval if you like – but there’s no set rule here. Just do what works best for you.
- Add more detailed sub-ideas around your subtopics until you have all your information present in the diagram. You can add color and customize the diagram with images if you like. Again, just do what works best for you.
How to choose the right format
You can either draw the spider diagram by hand or create a digital version with a diagramming tool. Both have their pros and cons. Hand drawn is convenient when you’re taking notes away from a computer, but the finished product will have a homemade feel to it and you won’t be able to easily edit or share your handiwork later on.
Using diagramming software might not always be possible while in a meeting, but the digital aspect of it means you can save time with a premade template, then edit it as many times as you like.
Another benefit to creating your diagram digitally is the shareable aspect of it. No man (or woman) is an island, or so the saying goes, and no idea should exist in isolation. The purpose of a spider diagram is to display as many ideas as possible, and when you share those ideas with other people, you’re likely to inspire them to think of more – which makes the whole process that much more collaborative.
The most effective way to do this is to share your diagram digitally, ideally on the cloud (so everyone can access it wherever they are), then open up the access permissions so your team can view it, and – if appropriate – edit as needed.
Choose whichever method is best for your situation. And remember, you can always use a combination of both by sketching your spider diagram out first, then creating a digital version later on to share with the wider team.
A spider diagram is a great way to identify and organize your thoughts. It’s also an effective method for identifying gaps in your knowledge, or within a larger process.
The beauty lies in its simplicity: It’s an incredibly easy diagram to create, flexible enough that it can be adapted for any project or person, and requires no prior specialist training. And if you do have diagramming software, then take advantage of the editing and sharing capabilities to make the process as easy and collaborative as possible. Because when it comes to spider diagrams, the more ideas, the better.