If Not Rationale, What?

I have written several posts about Rationale argument mapping software. In the last post, I complained about:

Bloody Instant Zooming
This is where the zooming behaviour of Rationale maps became a real PITA. Zooming is activated by a two-finger drag on either my magic Mouse or my trackpad. Normally, in Safari two-fingered dragging scrolls the web page up or down, and zooming is activated using a pinch gesture. It is very, very, very easy to inadvertently zoom in or out when you are trying to navigate a map. The problem is exacerbated because the map very quickly zooms to be either too small or too large.

In a fit of pique, I wondered whether I could apply the same process using different software. I immediately thought of iThoughts from Toketaware. This is a really excellent program available for both OSX and IOS. iThoughts is a mind mapping program. Argument mapping can be considered as a sub-topic within mind mapping, so the choice was pretty obvious.

(NOTE: that in the last day or so, Rationale’s zooming behaviour has been modified. A two-fingered drag now produces vertical scrolling; shift-drag scrolls the map horizontally. This gives a much better user experience.)

I “translated” the Prime Mover argument map (as it was then, it has been modified subsequently) you can see the map exported as a PNG file below:

Argument that God is the Prime Mover as iThoughts mind map. Click for larger image

Argument that God is the Prime Mover as iThoughts mind map. Click for larger image

I have represented different Rationale elements:

  • The main contention is the central topic in iThoughts
  • Premises are individual topics in the map grouped together using a parent topic indicating whether the child premises are supporting (SUP) or rejecting (OPP).
  • I have coloured-coded boxes green for a support reason, pink (red was a bit fierce) for objections, and orange for rebuttals.
  • Basis boxes are shown with a label as the first part of the text.
  • I haven’t done any evaluation in my Thomas Aquinas maps, but as an illustration I’ve included two boxes with one check and one cross as icons and a lighter green to show reduced support. RAG flags would be another option here.
  • I didn’t bother including all the details for basis boxes—just included a few to show they hadn’t been forgotten.

One key difference is that I created the map in iThoughts as a horizontal rather than vertical map. I think this works better; Rationale only allows vertical maps using advanced reasoning elements.

There is more work creating a reason with iThoughts because the premise holder topics (SUP, OPP, BUT) have to be created before premises can be added. Although it’s much quicker to add an extra premise. The custom colouring of elements also has to be done as an extra step, though you can pick multiple items to format in one go. The premise holders do increase the size of the map, although this could be reduced by further abbreviating the labels to S/O/B.

The extra premise holders do make iThoughts auto-numbering more cumbersome because there are so many extra levels that don’t add meaning.

iThoughts does give better control over fonts—there’s a choice!—and font sizes and the size of boxes is controlled more elegantly.

Does iThoughts work better than Rationale for argument mapping? In all honesty, I’m still on the fence. iThoughts has a much better UI and UE than Rationale; of course, it is a native program rather than browser-based. Also I have used iThoughts for several years and I’m very familiar with it, whereas I’m still learning Rationale’s idiosyncrasies. iThoughts has more options for output and sharing, but I’m not sure how important that is. There is more redundancy in the maps, but I suspect that some further thought would give an improved set of standards for argument maps.

Rationale is obviously platform-independent, since it will work on browsers in Windows (I’m assuming this as I don’t have handy access to a Windows box). It has more argument-specific bells and whistles, though there is a certain clunkiness about some things, for example, there’s an button to increase/decrease font size, but the incremental change is too much for it to be useful on my set-up. There is a sophisticated subsystem for evaluations, which might be tricky to accurately mirror in iThoughts; though, as I said, I haven’t used it much.

Both programs could be used for essay planning. Rationale would impose a little more rigour, but iThoughts would give more flexibility.

If you already have iThoughts, then you could use the Rationale methodology without having to pay for a Rationale account.

iThoughts works better on an iPad than Rationale…

I’m still on the fence.


  1. Hi Roger,

    thanks for your articles about Rationale, some remarks; grouping and reasoning maps in Rationale can also be made horizontal (left to right) as vertical (top to bottom), only advanced reasoning maps can not. Rationale supports map outputs to pdf, png, rtnl, rtf and txt, which output formats are you missing, which are available in iThoughts? About sharing, how does sharing work in iThoughts? In Rationale you can share your map very easily by using it’s unique url, different access types are available, unlisted, public and collaboration, you can even share your map with people who don’t have an Rationale account/license. Rationale is indeed platform independent and works on Windows, Mac, Chrome OS and Linux.


    Rationale developer

    • Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your comments.

      1. On Grouping: I did say that advanced using uses the vertical format, but I guess that does not necessarily imply that “simple” reasoning maps can be in vertical format too—a hidden premise, I guess. 🙂 I haven’t really spent any time working with simple reasoning (part from the tutorials) because it seemed to me that the critical thinking “method” advocated by Timo et al pretty much demanded the use of advanced.

      2. On Sharing: I was using this in the Apple sense of the options that follow from the command File>Share. There is no concept of collaboration in the way that Rationale has. Though I guess two users could both access the same maps using something like Dropbox—not sure what would happen with simultaneous access. Would Rationale cope?

      3. On Output: specific options not so far mentioned are HTML (a mini-website is created) and Markdown (might be worth considering for Rationale), but then there are a bunch of options for moving to other mind mapping programs.



  2. Hi Roger,

    1. Ok.

    2. Two users can access the same map, changes will be saved by the simple method last one wins, but we have revision management for that. We are also working on realtime collaboration.

    3. We also support html, it is already html :), Markdown and BBCode. We also support sharing on facebook, linkedin, twitter and google+. See the Share options on the map details page: https://www.rationaleonline.com/content/blog/share.png



  3. Hi Roger,

    Will answer your post about Representing If ..then statements in our Rationale forum asap. I plan to answer your question in such a way that it gives information too on what is called the problem of so-called ‘cheap co-premises’.


  4. Hi Roger,

    Would consider iThoughts because I don’t like the subscription model of Rationale. (You are paying forever….) But the fact that it’s designed to improve critical thinking skills, made manifest in its extensive documentation, prevents me from using other software. I’ve checked out other software, and they have little to no explanation of what a premise, co-premise, and so on are. I think the assumption is that you pretty much already know what all that is, you just need the software to map it.

    Does iThoughts have the kind of explanatory documentation that Rationale has?

    • No, the iThoughts documentation is not as complete as Rationale and it doesn’t deal with the concepts of argument mapping, but it’s pretty easy to pick up. iThoughts is a general purpose tool, so if you want to use it for argument mapping then you would have to develop your own standards like I did in my comparison example.


  1. […] experience of using Rationale has greatly improved (as I commented previously) since scrolling behaviour has been modified: an inadvertent touch on the Magic nMouse or Magic […]

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