Sample Essay Paper on the Use of Maps in the Exploration of Geographic Data


It is important to realize that maps and map displays are just tools. Map makers take the trouble of translating geographic reality into cartographic symbols, because maps are the most effective and efficient way of transferring geodata to users and of providing insight into, and an overview of, these data. The positive effects of map displays are so great that map makers and map users accept the possible “noise” of the translation as part of the bargain.

Although the technologic developments have not stopped or even slowed down currently, for instance, interesting developments are going on in the field of mobile GIS and in the construction of so-called “electronic” paper, in the past few years we have witnessed a growing interest once again in usability issues and in the needs of the map users (Jokar Arsanjani, et al, 2265). In other words, research into the cognitive processes that precede the actual use of a map display has been missing. This research project may be considered as one of the attempts to obtain more information about these “pre map-use” stages in exploratory cartography. Through this, we will be able to identify the occasional usability research in exploratory cartography that has often been limited to the functioning of an individual, static or interactive map display on its own.

Research Question
  1. It aims at finding out more about the nature of the geographic problem-solving process with the help of map displays.
  2. To explain how maps work in an exploratory cartography environment


Research methodology and Data to be used

The case study will be defined with a concrete objective and involving a concrete group of users – users, who could, in principle, make use of a great variety of map types in visualizing a broad spectrum of geographic data. Such geographers – professional map users with different levels of expertise in regional exploratory studies – will be chosen as test persons in this research project. The test persons will be required to construct a schematic graphic model of the geography of the regions, derived from the concept of chorèmes and based on the use of maps that they selected or generated themselves, with the help of a research assistant. For this, the test persons could make use of a database of Overijssel, containing digital geographic data prepared for visualization within the ArcGIS software environment, as well as numerous existing paper and digital maps (Marx, et al, 12). The goal will be to create an environment in which the test persons could operate freely, without being “steered” by the available possibilities, i.e. a demand-driven instead of a supply-driven cartographic environment.

The test persons will be required broaden their thinking during the execution of their task in a specially equipped experiment room containing a unique combination of hard- and software. Parts of the video recordings will also be discussed with the test persons in retrospect, in order to retrieve information about the cognitive processes not completely revealed by the thinking aloud. A questionnaire will also be used to obtain information about the characteristics of the test persons. The building stones for this model will be obtained by making a distinction between the overall objective of the geospatial data exploration, the various map use tasks executed to meet that overall objective, and the map use activities undertaken during the execution of these tasks. The map use tasks are related to a hypothetic set of geographic questions with an increasing level of complexity. Nevertheless, experienced regional geographers use the maps for confirming or rejecting their geographic hypotheses, as well as for executing high-level map use tasks (Oksanen, et al, 189). Other aspects of the required modeling will be the categorization of geographic themes and map types in relation to the basic geographic questions to which these map types are supposed to provide an answer. The modeling that will culminate in the combination of these building stones in a map will use matrix and a map selection matrix.

In such a segment one map is selected or generated and then used, whereas in the process of regional exploratory studies a number of maps will be used. On the other hand, the map selection and map use matrices should not only be seen as parts of the model of geographic problem-solving: which will be used as coding tools in the analysis of the recordings of the broad thinking sessions (Al Farajat, et al, 40). The outcomes will depend on questionnaires, graphic models produced, verbal and action protocols, and shorthand overviews of the geographic questions posed, geographic themes selected, and maps selected or generated. Analysis of these outcomes could lead to a wealth of information from which many hypotheses could be derived for testing in further research – even hypotheses beyond the scope of the objectives of this particular research project.

For executing regional exploratory studies, geographers would first of all benefit from a coherent supply of ready-made map displays in atlas form, carefully prepared by cartographic visualization experts. If such an atlas comes in digital format, the maps should be quickly accessible (Oksanen, et al, 189). For an immaculate transition to the subsequent stage of analytic cartography, the atlas tool could well be extended by interactive and user-friendly (cartographic) visualization functionalities and the possibility of linking to, or adding, geographic data. Users may postpone their interactive, private and demand-driven dealings with map displays until the later stages of their regional geographic studies. Therefore, and in view of the application potential of highly interactive cartographic visualization software tools, what was called exploratory cartography may better be called analytic cartography, for application in a later stage in regional studies in which the main geographic characteristics have already been discovered, but need to be analyzed further (Al Farajat, et al, 45).

Works cited

Marx, Sabrina, et al. “Geographic Information Analysis And Web-Based Geoportals To Explore Malnutrition In Sub-Saharan Africa: A Systematic Review Of Approaches.” BMC Public Health 14.1 (2014): 1-22.Web.

Al Farajat, Mohammad, et al. “Using GIS And Geophysics In Selecting Suitable Basins With Freshwater Aquifers For An Efficient Exploration Strategy — A Case Study From Petra-Region, Jordan.” Earth Sciences Research Journal 19.1 (2015): 39-50. Web.

Jokar Arsanjani, Jamal, et al. “Toward Mapping Land-Use Patterns From Volunteered Geographic Information.” International Journal of Geographical Information Science 27.12 (2013): 2264-2278.Web.

Oksanen, Juha, et al. “A User Study Of Experimental Maps For Outdoor Activities.” Cartographica 49.3 (2014): 188-201.Web