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A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. Maps present information about the world in a simple, visual way. They teach about the world by showing sizes and shapes of countries, locations of features, and distances between places.

A good physical or digital map should be clear and easy to understand. The colour contrast and symbols should be simple and easy to understand and interpret. The style as well should be very simple without elements of complexity.

Most maps contain the same common elements: main body, legend, title, scale and orientation indicators, inset map, and source notes. Not all are necessary or appropriate for every map, but all appear frequently enough that they’re worth covering.

MAjor Components of a good map

A map should contain some major components, some of which are:
  • Title – This is the description of the map and what it contains. The title should be short and concise.
  • Legend: This shows what the symbols on a map mean.
  • The scale is the value of an actual distance on the map. It can be measured like about 1cm on the map is to 1km on the ground. This may not be appropriate if the coordinate system used does not preserve distance across the map’s extent.
  • Border – These are the edges of the map.
  • Orientation – This explains what direction is north (up, down etc).
  • Graticules: These are lines showing parallels of latitude and meridians of longitude for the earth. Graticules can be used to show location in geographic coordinates (degrees of latitude and longitude)
  • Source Notes: This tells us where the map comes from and who produced it.

A good map establishes a visual hierarchy that ensures that the most important elements are at the top and the least important are at the bottom. Typically, the top elements should consist of the main map body, the title (if this is a standalone map) and a legend (when appropriate). Ordering your maps right makes it easier for the person who will read the map to glean information in a short amount of time.


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