Research methods (2): Mental mapping

3. How to create mental maps

  1. Think about the paper you will use. Paper can vary in size, shape, and quality, and the size and type of paper has been known to influence the details of maps produced. In choosing an large size (i.5’ x 2.5’) archival quality paper, participants can draw as they see fit. The archival quality of the paper can make participants feel their map and their stories are important.
  2. Think about drawing tools – lead pencils, pens, colored drawing pencils allow erasing, permanence, and the use of color. (Colour can be sued to express emotions).
  3. How long will you give participants? One to three hours allows time to create detailed maps.
  4. Participants can draw and label a map in front of the researcher, who can talk to them as they go along.
  5. Participants can draft and label spatial mental sketch maps to use as conversation points for further discussion.
  6. You can start by saying: “I would like you to draw a map of your neighbourhood as it is today. Try to cover all of the main features. I don’t expect an accurate drawing—just a rough sketch of what you remember. It’s not important if you can’t remember the names of places but do label those places you can recall. I’ll take notes as you draw and talk as we go along.”
  7. You can also ask participants to describe their average day by picturing themselves  making a trip across the neighbourhood and, in doing so, describe the sequence of things and people they would see, hear, or interact with along the way, including any paths and places of import (Geiseking 2013).


Geiseking. J.J. 2013. Where We Go From Here: The Mental Sketch Mapping Method and Its Analytic Components. Qualitative Inquiry. 19(9), pp. 712–724.