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Diagramming for development 1: bounding realities
Diagramming for development 1: bounding realities

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3.3 Spray diagram


Spray diagrams show the connections between related elements or concepts associated with a particular issue. They do not show the nature of the relationship between the elements. A spray diagram can be thought of as a conceptual map of a situation or issue.


Spray diagrams are widely used as thinking tools. They can be used in a number of different ways:

  • for thinking about an issue from scratch
  • to help you organize various facts, issues or ideas into a structured form
  • for taking notes; and
  • for setting out the structure of an argument.

You can use a spray diagram to organize material into a basic structure, both to clarify your own understanding, or as the basis for a report or presentation. The spray diagram you create can therefore be used as a tool to give an overview of your understanding of a situation and enable you to share your understanding of a situation as you discuss it with others.


Figure 3 Format for a spray diagram
Figure 3 Format for a spray diagram
  • A title.
  • Central circle or blob (irregular enclosed boundary) for main topic you are going to focus on.
  • Blobs for sub-topics (optional, depending on importance of sub-topics).
  • Lines branching out from topic/sub-topics.
  • Words to identify main topics and sub-topics within the blobs.
  • Words where lines branch or at the ends of lines.

Conventions and guidelines

The form of a spray diagram is very simple: it consists of lines, a few blobs and words at the ends of lines or where they branch. There are no arrows. It's a good idea to circle the topic or central idea that the diagram sprays out from. Some people also find it useful to circle other sub-topics on the diagram. You don't have to think about the nature of the connection between two nodes joined by a line. The line simply means that in your mind there is some association. In spray diagrams, you:

  • express ideas in one or a few words
  • keep track of the key topics or sub-topics by circling them
  • use lines to join up the components or concepts that appear related in some way
  • do not show directional links on the lines.

In drawing a spray diagram the main steps are:

  1. Write down the main topic you wish to explore, leaving plenty of space round it.
  2. Identify branches from the main topic you want to explore further. Note them down and draw lines linking them to the main topic. Keep going by considering each branch in turn and ideas (new branches) that link from it.

Spray diagrams can be useful to leave and add to over time as situations or arguments develop or you gain new insights.

Activity 6 Animated tutorial 2

Watch the animated tutorial (click on ‘View’ below) to see how I built up my spray diagram of the WWP. If you are still a bit unsure about what a spray diagram is you might like to view the optional animation, What is a spray diagram?, before viewing the WWP example.

This element is no longer supported and cannot be used.

Click on spray diagram [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to see the description of the animated tutorial.