Diagram Notation

UPPER CASE CHARACTERS     –     This represents the macro level of a system.

lower case characters     –     This represents the micro level of a system.

When reading diagrams that use Systemist Notation, as used in the Visual International Relations Project, it’s essential to understand the symbols and their meanings to grasp the complexity of academic arguments. Here’s a guide on how to read these diagrams:

  1. Initial Variable (green oval): This represents the starting point of a series of relationships within the system. It is the macro-level concept from which processes or effects originate.

  2. Generic Variable (orange rectangle): This symbolizes a step in the process being depicted. It’s often a mid-level concept or event that carries the process forward.

  3. Divergent Variable (blue trapezoid): Indicates that multiple pathways are branching out from a single linkage. This shows how a single factor can lead to various outcomes or influence multiple other variables.

  4. Convergent Variable (blue triangle): The inverse of the divergent variable, this shows how multiple inputs or conditions converge to create a single pathway or outcome.

  5. Nodal Variable (purple diamond): This is a critical point where multiple pathways are created from multiple linkages, representing complex interdependencies.

  6. Co-constitutive Variable (striped rectangle): Represents two variables that are mutually contingent upon each other, emphasizing the interconnectedness at a micro-level.

  7. Terminal Variable (red hexagon): The endpoint of a series of relationships, where the cumulative effect of the preceding variables is realized.

  8. Connections:

    • Stated in Study (solid line): A linkage explicitly made by the author, showing a direct relationship between two variables.
    • Crossing Over (line with a curve): This denotes two separate linkages that do not interact, maintaining distinct pathways.
    • Inferred from Study (dotted line): A linkage inferred by the reader but not explicitly stated by the author, suggesting a subtle or indirect relationship.
  9. Interaction Effect (arrow with a line): This symbolizes two variables that depend upon the effect of each other, showing a reciprocal relationship.

Additionally, the use of uppercase and lowercase characters represents the macro and micro levels of a system, respectively. UPPERCASE characters denote overarching, broad-scale factors within the system, while lowercase characters indicate finer, detailed elements that operate at a ground level.

Together, these symbols help to visualize complex structures and relationships within academic research, making it easier to understand the multifaceted arguments presented in publications.

The systemist figures are created with a free, intuitive software program, www.diagrams.net. Colors, shapes, and additional notation are used to distinguish roles for components of an analytical argument or connections specifying cause and effect.

In a word, the process leading to a systemist graphic is inductive. The point of departure is designation of a system and environment on the basis of effective portrayal of an argument. In a comparative sense, within a properly specified diagram, most interactions should appear in the space featured as the system rather than its environment. The inner box functions as the system whereas the outer box is the environment that the system is embedded in.

Important as a ‘fork in the road’ is whether the diagram will depict events or ideas. A graphic focusing on ideas could have ‘International Relations’ as a discipline designated as the system, with the ‘World Beyond’ as its environment. Many such diagrams exist in the VIRP archive – showing connections within the world of ideas. It also is possible to focus on events and the archive also includes quite a few of those items. Thus, a systemist graphic about events could depict the ‘State’ as the system and ‘International System’ as its environment.

Within the system, macro and micro levels must be designated. For example, from early on in the VIRP, the macro and micro levels of International Relations have come to be identified with the discipline as a whole and individual scholars within it. In regard to events, state and region are the most commonly designated systems, with the international system as the environment in each instance. For the state, the standard macro and micro levels, respectively, are government and society. For the region, the conventional micro and macro levels, respectively, are individual actors and interactions among them.

After VIRP team members create an initial visualization of a work, first as a pencil sketch and then as a state-of-the-art version in diagrams.net, the respective author(s) is/are contacted so that they can cross-check the diagram. After potential rounds of revision, the final draft of the diagram is added to the VIRP archive.

A video guide on how to create your own diagram will be forthcoming sometime soon.

Reading and Building Diagrams: Demonstration