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Research Guide for geography resources and tools

Tutorials Introduction

These tutorials assume that you have access to ArcGIS either in our computer lab or installed on your computer so there won't be any instructions on how to install. They are written for someone with basic knowledge of ArcGIS's interface, that wants a walkthrough how this tool can be used to help them ask and answer their spatial research questions. 

For tutorials starting at a beginner level I recommend those on ESRI's website or if you have a New York Public Library card, they have several great tutorials for newcomers to ArcGIS on their portal.

The data I'll be using in these tutorials comes from felony drug arrest statistics by county that I got from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, spatial data from the New York State GIS Portal and data from the Law Enforcement Support office at the Defense Logistics Agency concerning the 1033 program. In brief, the 1033 program lets local law enforcement agencies request decommissioned military equipment ranging from office furniture, to night-vision, to weapons to Mine-Resistant Ambush Proof Vehicles (MRAPs). 

While the data I'm using is real from a project that I did, it isn't going to be updated so please go back to the original sources mentioned if you'd like to explore it further. I picked these data sets because they were handy and they are large and complex enough to show how to work with different kinds of data but not too complicated to get in the way of explaining the process. The maps made in these examples are not necessarily scholarly rigorous but hopefully the process of making them will get you familiar enough with ArcGIS Pro so that when you map your own data, you'll have more time for scholarly rigor!

Learning Goals

A basemap is the background map for your data. It can be of a scale that only country borders are drawn, or be zoomed in enough that features as small as streets and buildings can be seen. This provides the geographic context necessary to display the area of your study. In this tutorial you'll learn how to add a basemap for ArcGIS online, how to create your own basemap of an area using publicly available materials, and how to save the basemap you create as a template, so you can reuse it if you are creating several maps of the same area. 

Adding an ArcGIS Basemap

ArcGIS offers you the ability to use one of its default basemaps. These can be useful to you if your data already has coordinate information or other GIS information associated with it, and you don't want to have to create a basemap beneath it.

It's as easy as going to the add data icon, and selecting Add Basemap.

You can choose from a bunch of different choices for whatever is best for your map, and any GIS data you have can be added easily on top of it.

Play around with the different kinds of maps available and think about what kind of map would be useful for what kind of information. What kind of map would look best with demographic data? What kind of map would look best to show the routes of CitiBikes?

Keep in mind though that these maps do by default draw the full extent of the planet so they can be slower to work with. These layers also don't have an underlying attribute table that you can join other data to that doesn't have its own geographic information, so any features you add will need to be marked by hand, or come from a table that already has latitude and longitude data. 

Clear the ArcGIS basemap that you've added by right clicking on the layers and selecting Remove.

Creating your Own Basemap with Publicly Available Data

If you look at sources like the US Geological Service (USGS) or different states' websites, you can find shapefiles of the boundaries and features of an area you may be interested in. These, unlike the ArcGIS basemaps, contain attribute tables, which include the name of the geographic entity (county, town, landmark) and sometimes additional data as well. The inclusion of names is handy for if you have a table that doesn't already include geo-locational information, but lists information about of cities, towns, neighborhoods, census tracts. You can take that table and join it to your map if the two are referring to the same counties, cities, towns, census tracts by name, but more on that later.

 So depending on the data you have, and the size of the area you are studying you may want to use these sources to create your own basemap rather than relying on ArcGIS's basemaps.

In this exercise, I'll be using New York State as an example, but just by searching for "GIS shapefile" for the state or country you are planning on studying you'll likely be able to find this data. Of course, if you're having trouble finding the GIS data for the area you want to study, please feel free to contact the library, and we'll help you look.

I've gotten this shapefile from, more specifically the civil boundaries dataset.  For other kinds of research questions, maybe boundaries for counties and cities won't be what you want, maybe you want elevation data or park boundaries or census tracts. You can visit the site to download these files or use the embedded versions below.


Getting Started

  • Download the files and place in a folder for your project. Put this somewhere you can access easily. 
  • If you haven't already made a connection to that folder in ArcGIS, from your main screen, navigate to your Catalog, by default, ArcGIS places it on the right of the screen. If you don't have it, you can add it from the Windows menu at the top toolbar. 
  • In Catalog, right-click on Folder Connections and choose 'Connect to Folder'. Maneuver to the folder that you have put these items in and click OK.
  • When you expand the folder you've created a connection to and can see the shapefiles drag them one by one onto the canvas.

Shapefiles contain information on the location, shape and qualities of geographic features. This can be points, lines, or polygons.  In our case, it's the counties, towns and villages, so polygon data. The file has instructions on how the polygons are shaped and where they are located on the map, but also can contain attribute tables that have additional information on these polygons such as the name of the area they represent, and sometimes other information about demographics, climate data, population, etc. 

  • The items will appear in the Table of Contents window on the left, and the canvas in the middle will display these layers. ArcGIS will just use random colors by default.

The layers in the Table of Contents represented on the map with outlines of counties in one color and dots representing towns in another.

Layers in the Table of Contents appear in the order they are stacked, so normally the ones representing the larger entities (states, counties) are placed towards the bottom and smaller features (towns, roads landmarks) are placed toward the top. You can change their order by clicking and dragging them into the position that you want them to be. However in this case, if you place the counties on the bottom, you can't really see their borders. But if you drag them to the top, they obscure the cities and towns. You'll need to change the Symbology for that layer so that it has a border, but no color fill in it.

Changing a Layer's Symbology

  • Click on the Counties layer and drag it to the top of the Table of Contents.
  • Right-click on the Counties layer and select Properties. In the Properties window, select the Symbology tab. You can also get to the Properties Window by double-clicking on a layer in the Table of Contents.
  • Double-click on the square below where it says Symbol that is the color that the Counties layer currently is. This will open the Symbol Selector menu. 
  • Click on the box that is white with a black outline that has Hollow written under it. Then, below where it says Current Symbol change the Outline Width to be 3.00 and the Outline Color to be a dark purple by clicking on the dropdown and choosing that color from the available swatches.

  • Click OK.

This results in a map where the county shapes have a thick border so they are visible over the cities and towns. Play with the options to come up with whatever color and outline combination create a map that will be a good backdrop for your data.

The map of New York has a different color scheme set up that matches the new configurations displayed on the table of contents.

Creating a Group Layer

If you have a set of layers that you know you'll always want to appear together, you'll want to create a group layer. This means that you can turn all three layers off and on with the check of one box, and if you have to move that layer above or below additional data you're adding you can do so more easily. 

Since you'd likely want these three shape files to appear together always, let's go ahead and make them a Group layer. 

  • Right-click on Layers and choose New Group Layer from the menu. 
  • Name this layer Base Map from NY.GOV.

  • Click CTRL  on your keyboard. Highlight Counties, Villages  and Cities_Towns. Drag these layers into Base Map from NY.GOV

In the Table of Contents the Counties, Villages and Cities_Towns layers are nested under the Base Map from NY.GOV layer

You've now created a group layer with the layers that make up your basemap. 

Making a Map Document a Template for Future Maps. 

If you've created a basemap that you know is going to be useful to you in future maps, then you can make it a template. This is useful if you'll be doing a series of maps of the same geographic area. By doing this, you'll be able to decide to have the layers on this map and any data files attached to it automatically available to you in the Table of Contents window when you make a new map with this template. So you won't have to re-do this map any time you're enhancing the New York State map with further data. 

  • Save the file as an ArcMap Document called NewYorkStateBaseMap. I've attached my copy to the bottom of the tutorial. 
  • Open the folder where you've saved your ArcMap document to in one Windows Explorer window
  • In another Windows Explorer window, locate the folder on your computer where ArcGIS is located. For me it's in Program Files (x86), then within that folder locate the Map Templates folder. 
  • Copy and paste the NewYorkStateBaseMap into your Map Templates folder.

When it has been pasted into that folder, you can re-use this basemap for any New York related maps (such as the others in these tutorials). It will appear as a Templates option when you create a new map.

Learning Goals

Mapping lets you compare adjacent areas or areas surrounding a place of interest. Sometimes the comparisons you'll want to do will be quantitative. If you want to see if census tracts with high median incomes cluster together or if neighboring states with different approaches to labor laws have different unemployment rates, you are mapping quantitative data. 

In this exercise you will take quantitative data related to the felony drug arrest rates in the counties of the state of New York and map that data by joining an attribute table to a GIS layer. You'll use the field calculator to add a new kind of data to your attribute table, then change the symbology of the map to display this data. 

For this map, I'll be using the basemap created in the first exercise, and a csv file that contains felony drug arrest statistics by county in 2012 from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, and population information for 2012 from the New York State Department of Health


Getting Started

  • Open your NewYorkStateBaseMap.mxd file in ArcGIS. If you've done the last exercise and have saved it to your templates folder, you can also go to File -> New and select NewYorkStateBaseMap as the template you'll be using for your new map.
  • In the Catalog window, open the folder that you've saved DrugArrests2012.csv to. Drag that file onto the map canvas. 

It doesn't have any locational data on it, so it won't change the display on the map, but it will switch your Table of Contents window to be List by Source view and display that this sheet is available in the map document. 

The CSV is added to the Table of Contents

I like to create a different layer when I'm adding data to a map. This way if you want to add new data to your map that you'd need to join to a geographic layer to, you don't need to add your basemap again.

  • Highlight your group layer Base Map from NY.GOV. Right-click and select Copy.
  • Right-click on the data frame Layers and select Paste Layer(s)
  • Click on the copy of Base Map from NY.GOV you've created and hover over the title until it becomes a blinking cursor. You can also right-click and choose Rename. Name the new layer DrugArrests2012
  • You won't be using the Villages and Cities_Towns layers on this map. Right-click on them and choose Remove.

Joining Tables to Layers

If you have one table that has data about counties or census tracts or cities or any geographic entity and another layer that has those entities' spatial information, you can join the layer to that table. This lets the layer with the spatial information also contain the attribute data from the table. In this case we have a table that has drug arrest rates and the population for each of the counties in New York state, and a layer made from a shapefile that contains the spatial information about where those counties are located geographically. If we join these, then we can take those statistics and map them to the counties. 

  • Right-click on the Counties layer and choose Open Attribute Table. Take a look at the columns of information on the sheet. Each column is considered a field in ArcGIS's terminology. At the top of each of these fields is the field name. Find the column that contains the name of the county, and note that it is NAME.
  • Go to List By Source view in your Table of Contents window (the second icon from the left). Right-click on DrugArrests2012.csv and select Open Table. Find the column that contains the name of the county and note that it is County.
  • Right-click on the Counties layer in your Drug Arrests 2012 group layer, and select Join.
  • In the Join Data window, in that first dropdown leave it as Join attributes from a table.
  • In the second dropdown select the DrugArrests2012.csv table. For questions 1 and 3, select that you'll be joining based on the 'NAME' field in the Counties layer and the 'County' field on the DrugArrests2012.csv table. 
  • Click on Validate Join. This will run a check and tell you if there are any fields with errors in the headers and how many of the records found a match. I've configured the csv file correctly but take a look at what it is checking for. When you are loading in your own csv files you need to make sure that the headers or column names don't contain invalid characters such as spaces, or other special characters. Underscores are okay. They also cannot start with numbers. 
  • When Validate Join has run and you know that the join will be successful, click OK.


  • After it says the Join has finished, right-click on the Counties layer in your DrugArrests2012 group layer and select Open Attribute Table. Scroll to the right of the table and if the join has gone correctly, you'll see the additional fields that you've added from DrugArrests2012.csv, the fields 'DrugDispositions2012' and 'Population2012.'
  • Click and hover on the County layer under Drug Arrests2012 until the text appears highlighted for you to alter. So you know the information contained in this layer, rename it to Drug Arrests By County, 2012

Adding Metadata

Whenever you add data to a layer, you'll want to add information to the Description and Credits section of your layer. This is called metadata since it is data about what your data is and where you got it from. You may be working on projects with many layers, and you'll always want to know where the information on those layers came from. This is a very good habit to get into so that when you cite the sources on your map when you print or share it, you will just be able to get that information in the description of the layer, instead of digging back through your computer to remind yourself where you got your information from. Viewers will want to know where the information on your map came from.

  • Right-click on the Drug Arrests by County, 2012 layer and choose Properties. In the General Tab, you'll see that the field marked Description is already filled out with information on the shapefile that you got from the NYS GIS program. To this you'll add the information about the Drug Arrests that you're adding to your data. 
  • Scroll to the bottom of the description pushed over by the GIS portal and add
    Information on drug arrests from the Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York. (2017). "2012-2016 Dispositions of Adult Arrests". Retrieved from . Information on 2012 population by county from the New York Department of Health (2012). "Table 2: Population, Land Area, and Population Density by County, New York State - 2012". Retrieved from
    These are the sources I got my information from 
  • In the field where it says Credits add at the end of information about the GIS portal.
    Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York, New York Department of Health.

Adding Symbology

Now that you have new attributes added to your map layer, you can use them change the counties' symbology to display the drug arrest rate data. 

  • Double-click on the Drug Arrests By County, 2012 layer to open the Layer Properties window and select the tab Symbology. 
  • On the right hand side there are several options for what you can show with your layer's symbology. Choose Quantities, and within that option choose Graduated colors
  • Since you want to display based on the quantity of drug arrests, but based on population, you select the value as DrugDispositions2012 and the normalization as Population2012. This means that the display will weight the drug arrests by the population of that county. So counties with a 200 drug arrests but a 50,000 person population are towards the higher end of the scale than one with the same number of arrests and a 500,000 person population. I'll show you how to calculate this value within the attribute table as well.
  • Underneath where it says Classification there's a dropdown box next to Classes: that lets you select how many different classes this data will be divided into. Click on that box and choose 7. This means that there are 7 different grades from the lowest to the highest numbers, each corresponding with a color, that are available on your map. 

The symbology window, there are 7 lines corresponding with different colors with different ranges listed.

  • To configure more precisely where the boundaries for each class is, click on the button that says Classify... This opens a classification window, and you have a bunch of different ways to classify your data under the dropdown of Method.
  • For this run, you'll use Natural Breaks (Jenks). That method divides up the data into classes depending on where between the maximum and minimum there are natural lows in reported measurements between peaks,. So if you had a bunch of data about test score averages, and a lot of the averages were nearby each other at 68,70, and 71, with very little near 72, the class break would be near 72. By sliding the  blue lines back and forth you can change the top and bottom values of these classes. if they don't work with what you want and switch the classification to Manual.

The window with options for classification, in the large window below there are gray lines rising from the bottom demonstrating how often a value occurs, and blue lines rising from the bottom as well that indicate where the class boundaries are.

  • Some of the main other options you might use are 
    • Equal Interval - this method will place each class boundary an equal distance apart from the minimum to the maximum number regardless if any of the measurements fell into that class. So if you had 4 classes and the measurements ranged from 0 to 100, the boundaries would be at 25, 50, 75 and 100.
    • Defined Interval -  this method will let you choose what the difference is between each interval, so if you had values from 0 to 100 and chose 5, it would place boundaries at 5, 10, 15 etc.
    • Quantile - this method means that each class will have the same amount of values in it, regardless of how far or close those numbers are to each other. So for the high school test averages example, if you were looking at 20 counties, and had 5 classes, if 4 of those counties had an average test score of 80, then 80 would be a class all its own instead of a range. 
    • Manual - lets you just move the blue lines around or change the Break Values in the window at the right and decide for yourself where the classes are. 

Different maps would require different classifications. If you are mapping the above example regarding high school test-scores, and there is some state funding penalty that kicks in for schools with an average below 60, you'd want to manually set a boundary at 60 so it was clear what high schools were above and what were below, so you'd probably want to do a Manual. If you're mapping percentages of a group of town's populations over 55, then you might want a clearer graph with demarcations every 10% even if not all of the categories will have many towns that fall within them, so you'd want a Defined Interval classification. 

There are a few other options that are more complicated.I recommend checking out ArcGIS's  site for more information on how choosing different classifications can skew how your data appears. But on to this map - 

  • Stick with Natural Breaks  and 7 classes here and click OK, but play around with the data later to see how different classification systems make your map say different things about what the overall New York crime rate is. 
  • When you click OK, you'll get a map that looks something like this


Map of New York State. Counties in shades of blue, yellow, and orange corresponding to values.

But as you see the scale for what the drug arrest numbers mean is a little hard to interpret being as how it's a very small decimal. I'll show you a different way to calculate this same kind of normalization within the attribute table. This will mean you'll be clearer on exactly what the numbers mean, and so how to label them for the reader. You can make calculations within the table with a Field Calculator.

Doing Calculations in Your Attribute Table with the Field Calculator

If you need to do mathematical functions on values in the attribute table for a layer you can do this with field calculator. It's also handy to batch-add values for a new field based on information in other fields in the table. 

So if you had a Revenue field and an Expense field on the table you uploaded to ArcGIS, but forgot to calculate the profits, you can create a new field for Profit and subtract Expense from Revenue and put the result in that column. It's an easy way to come up with new information you might want to display on your map from data you've already loaded, without having to add a whole different sheet. 

  • Right-click on Drug Arrests by County, 2012 and select Open Attribute Table
  • Using the drop down in upper left corner, select Add Field 
  • The title needs to have no spaces and it has a firm limit on character count. I've named it ArrestsbyP since I'll be using it to store information on the arrests in a county per 100,000 people.
  • For the type of field, select Float, change Precision to 15. This means that you'll be allowing up to 15 digits in this field
  • Click OK and you've created a field called ArrestsByP
  • Right-click on the ArrestsByP field, and select Field Calculator. You'll get a warning message telling you there isn't a way to undo the calculation you make in this field but since it's a currently blank one you've  just created, select that you wish to continue.

Basically what you want to do is divide the drug arrests in a county by the population of that county, and then multiply that (hopefully very very small) number by 100,000 to calculate how many drug arrests occur in that county per 100,000 residents. This is generally the calculation used to measure how often an event occurs within a population. 

When you open the Field Calculator, it has a space that lists the different fields on the table, and a blank screen below for you to put in the calculation you want to make using those fields and the available mathematical function 

  • Double-click on the DrugArrests2012.csv.DrugDispositions2012 field, that adds it to the equation you are building at the bottom of the window.
  • Add in a division sign '/' since you want to divide this number and then double click on the field DrugArrests2012.csv.Population2012 since that's the field that holds the population for the county which is the number you want to divide by,
  • Wrap the equation you have so far in parenthesis, since you want this number calculated first.
  • Outside the parenthesis add the multiplication sign '*' and 100000
  • You should now have this in your equation window ([DrugArrests2012.csv.DrugDispositions2012] / [DrugArrests2012.csv.Population2012]) *100000

A dialogbox containing the fields from the attribute table, various functions and the whitespace where the above equation is

  • Click OK.  It will calculate the same equation for each of the records in your attribute table and if it's successful the column will change to list those values.  

Now, change the symbology of your map to be displaying the values of this new field.

  • Double-click on Drug Arrests By County, 2012 and in the properties window, return to the Symbology tab in the
  • Change the Value: to ArrestsByP and change the Normalization  to none. There will be a list of new numbers.
  • You want to make it clear to people looking at your map what these numbers mean which is that 20.9 means 20.9 drug felony arrests in that county per 100,000 residents of that county. To do this, you change the label
  • Click on Label and choose Format Labels. Where it says Number of decimal places, use the arrows to move the default of 6 down to 2. Click OK
  • Click on the text of a label and when it highlights, add to the end of each number range -  arrests per 100,000 people
  • Click OK  and your map and labels will display this new data.

Save your map. It is now set for the next exercise.  If you want to see how I've constructed my map, the map document I used is attached below.

Learning Goals

You will at points want to visualize qualitative instead of quantitative data. Qualitative meaning that instead of displaying a numerical measure about the area, you're displaying the category assigned to that area or other text-related information. You might want to display is zoning data for a particular building or street. You might want to display only whether a school represented by a point on your map is public or private, not information about its budget, number of students or year of construction. 

For this exercise, you'll be taking the map we created in the last exercise displaying the quantitative data for felony drug arrest information and adding a layer of qualitative data to it. You'll do this by joining a table with information on which county and local law enforcement agencies in the state have obtained a certain kind of military equipment, to a layer with geographic information about New York State, and then changing the visualization associated with it. 

For this map, you'll be starting with the map created in the last exercise. If you didn't complete that exercise, but just want to start from this point in the exercise, the map is available here. I'll also attach below the data sheet that you'll be working from in this exercise. You'll want to move both into a folder you are connected to already in ArcGIS, or create a new connection to the folder that they are in using ArcCatalog


Getting Started

  • Open DrugArrests2012.mxd in ArcMap
  • In the Catalog window, locate MRAP_And_Ship_Year.csv and drag it onto the canvas. After you drag the sheet over, since it has no locational data, it won't be visualized yet on the map. Your Table of Contents will switch to List by Source and display it below your other layers.
    MRAV_Only_Year.csv is in the Table of Contents
    It's important to note that I've created this csv file to be readable by ArcGIS. ArcGIS doesn't read csv files correctly if the headers contain spaces, special characters or numbers at the beginning of the field. So when you create your own files, be sure to do one last check for those before you upload. You will find out the error when you try to join the data to your map layers later, so it's best to get it out of the way beforehand.

The data sheet included is the one from a project I worked on previously concerning New York State law enforcement agencies and the request of Mine-Resistant Ambush Proof vehicles (MRAPs). It lists the city or county of the agency, the equipment they requested and the year of the receipt. What it does not include is shape files for the areas discussed. However, you do have the county, village and city shapefiles from your base map, and if you have a common field between the data in your table, and data in the attribute table for your shapefile, you can join the data from the sheet to the locational data.

It's a good idea to keep a basemap that is clean of any joins or added data just so if you make any mistakes and need to start over, or if you have additional layers of data you want to add, you always have a clean copy to join it to, so make a copy of your Base Map from NY.GOV layer

  • Right-click on the Base Map from NY.GOV layer and choose Copy
  • Go up to the data frame Layers at the top, right-click and choose Paste Layer(s)
  • Rename this layer Agencies Receiving MRAPs. You'll notice that now you can't really see your Drug Arrests by County layer anymore, but you'll be fixing that when you visualize this layer.

Joining Attribute Data from a Table to a Layer

In ArcMap you can take a table that has attribute data about locations on a map and join it to locations on that map if those two tables have a field (aka column) in common. So if you have a table that has all the population data for every town in the region and one of the fields on that table contains the name of the town, and you have a polygon shapefile that has the locations and shapes of each of those towns and one of the fields for the attribute table contains the name of the town, you can join the two items together and your shapefile will now have population information about each town. You do, however, need to know which fields you'll be matching up between the table and the layer.

  • In the List by Source view of your Table of Contents, right-click on MRAP_And_Ship_Year.csv and select Open. See which columns contain the name of the county or city that received an MRAP and note the field name at the top. On this table, County has the name of the county where a county law enforcement agency got an MRAP and City for the city whose city, village or town law enforcement agency received one. Make a note of these field names
  • Right-click on the Counties layer in the Agencies Receiving MRAPs group layer, and choose Open Attribute Table. When you look at the attribute table for this layer to see which field has the county name, note that it's the column called NAME. Do the same for the Villages and Cities_Towns layers, and you'll get the same result. The field that contains the information on what the town or city is called is titled NAME.

  • Right-click on Counties and choose Join. This opens the Join Data window.
  • In the Join Data window, select the option Join attributes from a table, which should be a default. For the first question about the field in the layer that you want to base the join on, pick NAME, since when you looked at the attribute table for Counties, that was the field that had the county name. For the second question, choose from the dropdown that the table you are joining this layer to is MRAP_And_Ship_Year.csv. In other situations you can navigate in your computer to find the table you want to associate with your layer. And for the last question select that the field in your table that you want to base the join on is County, because when you looked at the table that was the field that contained the name of the county.
  • Click on Validate Join. This checks over to make sure your join will work correctly, telling you if there are any columns with unacceptable names or if the data are different types.
  • If the Join Validation works fine, click OK.
  • Right-click on Counties in the Agencies Receiving MRAPs group layer and choose Open Attribute Table.  Scroll to the right of the table and you should see the new fields added from the MRAPs_And_Ship_Year.csv. They will list <Null> for most of the counties but for ones where the county name was on both sheet you'll have extra data. 
  • Repeat this process for the Villages and Cities_Towns layers, but in the Join Data window, instead of selecting that the field in the table to base the join on (question 3) is County instead choose City. Open the attribute tables for these layers to make sure they also contain new information.

Now that the qualitative data from this table is attached to the layers of your map, you can change your symbology to display this data.

Adding Symbology

  • Click on Counties in the Agencies Receiving MRAPs layer and hover until the cursor changes. Add 'Receiving MRAPs to the end of the title so it now says Counties Receiving MRAPs. Repeat for the Villages and Cities_Towns layer and add 'Receiving MRAPs', since this is the data you'll be visualizing.
  • Double-click on Counties Receiving MRAPs to open the Properties window. In that window, go to the Symbology tab.
  • In this exercise, we want to display the counties that have received a Mine-Resistant Vehicle and the year in which they received it, so you want to display the records that have the category 'Mine-Resistant Vehicle' in the Item_Name field, and the values they have in the Ship_Year field. In the Symbology tab, go to the Show: menu on the left-hand side of the window and choose Categories -> Unique Values, Many Fields.
  • Go to the dropdown menus under Value Fields and select Item_Name and Ship_Year. Then click on Add All Values.

The values it found were: "<Null>,<Null>" which means that the county wasn't listed in MRAPs_And_Ship_Year.csv so just had "<Null>" written in for those fields, Mine Resistant Vehicle, 2013 which means that a MRAP was sent to that law enforcement agency in 2013, Mine Resistant Vehicle, 2016 and Mine Resistant Vehicle, 2017, which means there was a vehicle sent in those years. These are the categories that you'll want to assign colors to that can display this information

  • Uncheck the box next to <all other values> , there is nowhere on the map that this applies to since something is written into the field for each of these options
  • Make the labels for each of these values clearer by clicking on top of the name in the Label column, hovering until it highlights and then typing in the new name. Change to No Mine Resistant Vehicle Received for <Null>,<Null> and for the other columns, change to MINE-RESISTANT VEHICLE to MRAP Received in, leaving the ship year at the end. 

  • Double-click on each of the patches in the Symbol column to change the symbol associated with it.
    • For the No Mine Resistant Vehicle Received symbol, change the symbol to be Hollow with a 2.0 pixel black Outline Width.
    • For the MRAP Received in 2013 symbol, scroll down to 10% Simple Hatch, then change the Fill Color  and Outline Color to be Medium Apple. Change the Outline Width to 3 and click to the Edit Symbol window to change the Line to be 2 pixels wide
    • For the MRAP Received in 2016 symbol, use the same options for the kind of symbol and line and outline width, but make the color Leaf Green
    • For the MRAP Received in 2017 symbol, use the same options for the kind of symbol and line and outline width, but make the color Fir Green
  • Click OK and your map should look something like thisMap of New York State, some counties have diagonal stripes and others are unchanged.
  • Double-click on the Villages Receiving MRAPs layer, navigate to the Symbology tab and repeat the same procedure to get the values displayed by the symbols to be the Item_Name  and Ship_Year
    • Uncheck the box next to <all other values>.
    • Click on the items in the Label field to change the label for MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE, 2013 to MRAP Received in 2013.
    • Click to highlight the row for <Null>,<Null> and click on the Remove button at the bottom of the screen. You want to be able to display your Drug Arrests by County data below this layer, and the only villages you are interested in for this map are the ones that received MRAPs
  • Double-click on each of the patches in the Symbol column to change the symbol associated with it. 
    • For the MRAP Received in 2013 symbol, change the Fill Color to be Medium Apple
  • Click OK
  • Double-click on the Cities_Towns Receiving MRAPs layer, navigate to the Symbology tab and repeat the same procedure to get the values displayed by the symbols to be the Item_Name  and Ship_Year
    • Uncheck the box next to <all other values>.
    • Click to highlight the row for <Null>,<Null> and click on the Remove button at the bottom of the screen. You want to be able to display your Drug Arrests by County data below this layer, and the only villages you are interested in for this map are the ones that received MRAPs
    • Click on the items in the Label field to change MINE RESISTANT VEHICLE to MRAP Received in, leaving the year untouched
  • Double-click on each of the patches in the Symbol column to change the symbol associated with it. 
    • For the MRAP Received in 2013 symbol, change the Fill Color to be Medium Apple
    • For the MRAP Received in 2014 symbol, change the Fill Color to be Tarragon Green
    • For the MRAP Received in 2016 symbol, change the Fill Color to be Leaf Green

Since on the top layer, you've made the county level data transparent, along with any village or cities not receiving MRAPs, your map now looks something like this. Places that received the MRAP vehicle that you're interested in are in varying shades of green.

Map of New York State with both the drug arrest county-level data displayed and the information on MRAPs

However, you may notice that the borders for the counties look a little strange. The black border from the counties that didn't receive an MRAP is overriding the green outline for the ones that did. This means you'll need to change the symbol levels. 

Altering Symbol Levels

  • Double-click on Counties Receiving MRAPs to open the Properties window and proceed to the Symbology tab.
  • Click on the Advanced button and choose Symbol Levels. Just like how you can change what layers are on top of each other by dragging them up and down in your Table of Contents, this is where you can change what your symbols do where they overlap, which symbol to put on top of the other in that situation

The higher the number, the closer it is to overriding the other symbols, so since you always want one of the counties that are the area your study, (those with Mine-Resistant Vehicles) to be on top,  give the Label No Mine Resistant Vehicle the lowest number.

Once you've done this and hit OK and apply, you'll see that the borders of the counties with the MRAPs is more pronounced

Fine-Tuning Your Symbols

Since the Drug Arrest By County layer is from 2012, it would seem that the information you'd want to display on this map to try and answer the question 'Do places that have a high drug crime rate request MRAPs?' would be which places requested MRAPs in 2013. The places requesting MRAPs in 2014, 2016, 2017 would be responding to crime rates from different years. So you'll want to change your symbology to only display that data. 

  • Double-click on Counties Receiving MRAPs and choose Symbology in the Properties window. 
  • Highlight the Symbols for MRAP Received in 2016 and MRAP Received in 2017 and click Remove. This doesn't remove the information from your sheet, you will always be able to add this information back. This is convenient if you have a sheet with many different kinds of data on it, but only a few categories that you are interested in, like if you have a sheet with all the schools in New York City but only want to map the middle schools. You can pick and choose which categories you want included as symbols
  • Click OK.
  • Go into the Cities_Towns Receiving MRAPs layer and Remove the MRAP Received in 2014 and MRAP Received in 2016 symbol.
  • Click OK.

Your map now reflects the information you want to display for your research question about whether counties with higher drug arrest rates in 2012 have law-enforcement agencies within them requesting Mine-Resistant Vehicles in 2013 to deal with this issue. 

Adding Metadata

Whenever you add data to a layer, you'll want to add information to the Description and Credits section of your layer. This is called metadata since it is data about what your data is and where you got it from. You may be working on projects with many layers, and you'll want to know where the information on those layers came from. This is a very good habit to get into so that when you cite the sources on your map when you print or share it, you will just be able to get that information in the description of the layer, instead of digging back through your computer to remind yourself where you got your information from. Viewers of your map will want to know your sources.

  • Double-click on the Counties Receiving MRAPs layer to open the Properties window and navigate to the General tab. You'll be interested in the fields for Description and Credits
    • You'll notice that in Description you already have the information from the GIS office automatically transferred over. Leave this. Scroll to the bottom of the GIS office's description and add
      Information on the receipt of MRAPs by law enforcement agencies courtesy of Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office from the 2017 dataset "LESO Property Transferred to Participating Agencies" from: 
      This is the place where I got the information that I included on my spreadsheet.
    • Add to Credits
      Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office 
      since that's the source for your information.
  • Repeat the above process with the Villages Receiving MRAPs and Cities_Towns Receiving MRAPs layers.

Save your map, and if you want to be able to use it as a template for future exercises, copy it to the 'MapTemplates' in your ArcGIS folder as described in the last exercise. I've attached the map document below if you want to see how I constructed it.


Learning Goals

You aren't just creating a map to see the geographical locations of your area of study yourself, you'll also want to be able to display those results to other people in a way that is clearly understandable. Though there is an option to export your map as a jpeg or to screenshot, if you create a layout, you can include not just the image of the map but items such as a legend, a title, a scale and other navigational aids. You can do so in a way that will let you easily see how it will appear at different sizes, and you can ensure the information is neatly organized.

In this exercise you'll be taking the map created in the last exercise and creating a layout for it that will include a legend, supplementary text, and other cartographic elements. You'll learn how to format it so that all the information that you're displaying is easily understood and so that it will fit comfortably on a standard sized piece of paper.

If you did not create this map in the last exercise and are just skipping ahead to see how to create a layout, the file for this map is below


Getting Started

  • Open the MRAPs2013_And_DrugArrests2012.mxd in ArcGIS
  • Go to View in the toolbar and switch from Data View to Layout View.

What you see on your map canvas will change. Instead of being the only element on the canvas, your map is in a smaller frame within a white box with a drop shadow. The larger box with the drop shadow that represents the piece of paper your map would be printed on and the dashed line a small space in from the edges represents the printer margin. 

The inner box with your map in it is the data frame represented in the Data View of your map, everything within that icon at the top that just says Layers. 

In this example we only have one data frame, but you might have a map with multiple data frames because you want to compare many different maps on your eventual final display. Maybe you have demographic maps of New York, Chicago and San Francisco or maps of the same city over time that you'd want to all display on the same piece of paper. In that case you'd put each in its own separate data frame, and then each would appear in a different movable box for this map. That's covered in a later exercise.

If you want to change the size of the data frame for your map or where it is located on the page, you just need to doubleclick on it, until the blue squares appear on the corners and midpoints of the lines and from there you can resize or move it around. 

The New York state map you created in the last exercise is within a larger canvas, and then surrounded by a diagonal lined border


Changing Layout of Map

  • To change the size or shape of the piece of paper your map is being placed upon, go to File and choose Print and Page Setup.
  • New York State is wider than it is long, so your map will be bigger if you change to Landscape.  Do this with the radio button next to Landscape by Outline.  This window also reminds you that the dashed lines are your printer margins, so nothing you put outside of it will show up on your printer sheet.

Using Guides to Create a Balanced Composition 

To this map, you want to add a title at the top, a source line at the bottom, a legend on the side, as well as a scale and North Arrow somewhere on the map. To be sure you're leaving enough room, use the Guides tool. Guides draw a blue line on your canvas that will be invisible when you print, but that you can snap the borders of your elements to when adding those items to your map. 

  • Make sure that the Guides are set to visible by going to the View item on the menu and making sure that the boxes next to Guides and Rulers have blue outlines around them indicating they're active.
  • You add guides to the map by clicking at the rulers on the left side and at the top at the point where you want the guide to be. This creates an arrow that you can adjust up and down or side to side as you need when you're fine tuning.
  • Add a guide: 
    • 1/2 an inch from the bottom printer margin so you have room to enter text about your source
    • 2 inches from the right printer margin so you have room to add a legend
    • 3/4 an inch from the top so you have room for a title.

  • Move the data frame with your map in it to match up with the edges of those guides.
  • Click in the map's data frame and use the navigation tools to make the shape of New York State in the center of the frame and as big as you can get while still leaving a margin on the side. The navigation controls for the data frame are up in the top. You can also type in the scale by hand using the scale measure at the top if you're having trouble fitting it all in the frame. Note: Using the scroll bar on your mouse or the arrows on the side moves your view of the layout, not the map within the data frame. 

Adding Text to Your Map

In order for your viewers to understand what they're looking at, your map will need a title, your listed sources, and importantly for your sake, your name.

  • Add your title by going to the Insert  menu item and selecting Title. A window will pop up asking you what you want your title to be. Type in "Drug Arrest Rates by County, 2012 and MRAPs Received by Law Enforcement, 2013"
  • It will put the title across the middle of the layout by default. Use the corners of the title box to drag it up to the top so the title fits within the margin you created for it.
  • Change the font and size with the Draw toolbar that should appear above your canvas. If it's not there go to Customize and hover over Toolbars, then select Draw from the options available. I made my font dark blue Arial font size 19. 
  • Your sources list and title will be created with a freehand text box. Go to Insert and select Text. 
  • By default a little box appears that just says Text, drag it down to the margin at the bottom you've created for your source list with the guides, and double-click on it to open the Text window.
  • Since you've used the description and credit fields for each of the layers on your map, you already have my sources.  Copy and paste each one in after typing "Source:" These are: "NYS Office of Information Technology Services GIS Program Office (GPO); Division of Criminal Justice Services, New York; Defense Logistics Agency, Law Enforcement Support Office." You'll have to hit enter partway through so it's spaced correctly.
  • Add your name to the map by adding a new text box with Insert  and Text. 
  • In the box it offers, type "Map by" and your name.  Change the color and font-size to whatever you want and drag it to a point towards the bottom of the map, and to the right of your data frame

Adding a Legend to your Map

The symbols you create won't be helpful to the viewer in understanding what your map says about your research question unless you tell your reader what the symbols mean. That's why creating and formatting a legend is very important to the presentation of your map. Remember that when you click on the items of the legend in your Table of Contents field you are changing things like the color, the title and the symbol size on the map itself, but if you double-click on the Legend on your Layout View after you've created it your changing the formatting of those elements: the size of the text, what elements you're showing, things like that.

  • Go to Insert menu and click on Legend
  • This opens the Legend Wizard that asks you what layers you want to appear in the legend. I find it easiest to move all layers back and then just highlight and use the arrows to move over the map layers you want included. In this case that's the layers Counties Receiving MRAPs, Villages Receiving MRAPs and Cities and Towns Receiving MRAPs as well as Drug Arrests by County, 2012
  • I click to move to the next window which has the title. I'll leave the default title of Legend in for now.
  • Click to the next screen gives you options on what frame you want. I go to the Border drop down and choose a solid 0.5 Point border.
  • Click to the next window which lets you choose the area for each of the different patches to tell people what each symbol looks like. Go with the defaults
  • Click to the next window that lets you choose the spacing between different parts of your legend. Go with the defaults here too and click Finish.
  • At first it looks like a bit of a mess, even after you move it over to the corner you've set aside for it. When you resize, the font and symbol patch sizes will resize too but there's a lot of extra information.

Rough draft of the Legends window. There is a lot of extra text.

  • Change the titles of the different layers so that they are easier to understand by clicking and hovering on them in the Table of Contents window until they appear highlighted and can be altered 
    • In the Drug Arrests by County, 2012​ layer, change ArrestsByP to Arrests per 100,000 people. You'll notice this changes in the Legend too, making it so that you can then simplify the symbol labels to save room so they only have the number and not the extra label. Any change you make in the Table of Contents to a layer on the legend will be dynamically reflected on the legend in the layout. This means, if you switch back to the Data View and turn a layer off or change the colors or labels used then the information will change on the map in Layout View and in the legend. 
    • Double-click on Arrests per 100,000 people to open the Layer Properties window and move to the Symbology tab. Delete the "arrests per 100,000 people" that appears at the end of each Label
    • Do the same for the layers about MRAPs Counties Receiving MRAPs, Villages Receiving MRAPs and Cities_Towns Receiving MRAPs changing their labels from Item_Name, Ship_Year to Counties, Villages and Cities and Towns respectively

If you want to get rid of anything in the legend, or change it you just double click on the menu and from there you can remove the title, change what explanatory labels are visible for each layer, and even take items off the legend.

This one looks good to me as is, so I'll move on to the next item.

The new Legend with simpler information and clearer labels.

Adding Cartographic Elements

You'll also want your reader to be able to know rough distances between places on your map, and to be able to tell if you've turned it so North is not the direction from the top to the bottom of your paper. You can do this by inserting a scale and a North Arrow.

  • Go to Insert in the menu bar and select Scale Bar. The nice thing about a scale bar, versus scale text is if a map is blown up or shrunken down, it will still be accurate. While if your map just has '1 inch = 50 miles' written on the bottom, and your map is blown up to a larger size, then that text is no longer accurate.
  • The Scale Bar Selector window will pop up to show you a bunch of different options for your scale bar. Scroll and click Alternating Scale Bar 1. Leave all the defaults intact and click OK.  
  • When it appears on your map, drag it down to a place below the state. You can use the arrows that appear when you move your cursor to the corners to make the scale bar smaller. Helpfully, the font-size and mile designations will change when you do this to keep the scale accurate


The scale bar at the bottom of the map going up to 120 miles


The North arrow is also an important navigational element, less so in this case because you won't actually be using this map to drive or walk anywhere but it will still help orient the viewer.

  • Go to the Insert menu at the top of the window and select North Arrow.
  • The North Arrow Selector window that appears has lots of options, I select a simple N in a circle with an arrow part of the way down the list. You might like a different one for your map. Click OK.
  • The North Arrow appears on your map, and you can move it to wherever you think it fits and size it up or down.

The North Arrow appears below the map and points which direction is North.



And when you're done, you'll have a map that's suitable for printing. I've attached the file below that has my map layout on it so that you can see how I constructed it.