As academic scholars in an applied field our central mission is to develop theory that both contributes knowledge to the academic discipline and applies that knowledge to practice. However, our efforts in this regard are impacted by communication deficits, which limit the effectiveness of our theories. The effectiveness of theory is attributable to the quality of both its presentation and its content. We put forward a model and principles to assist in building effective theory. The conceptual basis for this paper is the ancient craft and science of map-making. Perhaps controversially, we posit that theory-building efforts should focus primarily on ‘effective theory’ rather than ‘good theory’. We conclude by proposing that in future our theories should be viewed as cognitive devices and that we need to understand which of their features contribute to making them successes or failures in different environments as well as why and how they work.