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ArcGIS “Manual”


If you have come this far then you just might have what it takes to do all this GIS
stuff. You should now that this monster is about ten times more complicated than
anything the GPS could have thrown at you. In fact it is so obtuse that we did not bother
writing a real manual for them! Do not worry though, I mean it is not like the other
manuals were that great. Instead we have decided to create a “light” manual that gives an
overall sense of what the GIS system is and how to get started with it.


Unlike GPS, GIS it is not a very common term. I mean in the movies the
commandos always have mobile GPS units strapped to their backs not a laptop with
ArcView on it. Your new minivan does not have ArcCatalog or any of that, instead it has
OnStar with GPS technology. Hence GIS is not in the mainstream like its trendy cousin
so you have probably never even heard of it before this whole endeavor. That is why,
before we start, we will explain exactly what GIS is.
GIS stands for Geographic Information System. Unlike GPS, GIS has no
hardware and it is actually a broad term used to describe a series of different software
packages. The best way to explain GIS is to use a hypothetical application of the software
that demonstrates it abilities.
You want to see the environmental impacts on a new housing project that is going
up in a prairie. Now since the temperate grassland is North America’s rarest biome it
would be really depressing it if this project went up with no consultation. One way to
measure the impact is to lay a map of the proposed project on top of a map of the field.
This can be done manually but it requires surveyors, cartographers, printers and graphic
artists to work together to make these paper maps. Instead you can get two idiot kids give
them a shiny yellow palm pilot and let them loose in the field. Let them map out the field
first and its features. These features can include factors such as the concentration of
biodiversity, population densities, areas where endangered species live, etc. Then map
out the location of the proposed buildings using the plans made for the construction.
Once both maps are made you can feed it into a computer and then send it to the GIS.
Once on the GIS you can turn the information into digital layers and put them on top of
each other. Now you can see the impact easily on the computer. While on the computer
you can tinker with this data by zooming in and out, panning and just getting a better
view of your map. By selecting features you can get the information that relates to them
such as their attributes/values.
This is the basic function of any GIS; however they are not limited to that. Most
GIS programs allow you to organize your data, create a legend for it, change the look of
the map, and layer almost any kind of data. If a something can be expressed spatially then
it can be made into a layer for the GIS. If you want to learn more about GIS check out: or
The GIS we have

Like we said earlier, there are several GIS programs out there for you to choose
from. For this application we purchased one of the most popular systems by the leader in
the GIS industry. The software is ArcView 8 by Environmental System Research
Institute, ESRI for short. This system is actually three separate pieces of software that
build up on top of each other. The three systems are: ArcCatalog, ArcMap, and
ArcToolbox. Catalog allows you to edit/manipulate your data, Map turns this data into a
map, and Toolbox allows you to make major changes that affect all of your data such as
changing the coordinate system.
A typical GIS project will take you from ArcCatalog where you will create data
that will be turned into layers and then into ArcMap where you can view your data. In
ArcMap you can change the symbols/characteristics for each feature, add text, legends,
and north references. Typical application will not have you go into ArcToolbox but it is a

How to use the GIS

One reason we decided to create manuals for all the products we used was
because most of them had none to begin with. Seriously! The Geos and Pathfinder came
with nothing except some Trimble brochures and a survey card! Maybe they thought
their products were so simple that anyone could figure them out or maybe they expected
us to pay up for expensive lessons. Hence we set out to create some manuals so you
would not have to spend three weeks finding out how to turn the Geo on! However the
people at ESRI must have realized the awesome complexity of their product and decided
to actually create some manuals. And they went all out because there are six of them!
Most of them follow a tutorial/walkthrough style so you learn the functions by actually
using them. We realized that there was no way that we could create manuals that were
original so we decided to create this light manual. Here is a break down of the manuals
that came with the software:

- Getting Started with ArcGIS: This is the all-around tutorial that covers the three
programs that create ArcGIS. Like the name implies, it is a good place to start.
- Using ArcCatalog: A more focused manual that has tutorials that run through all
the functions on ArcCatalog.
- Using ArcMap: Same as above except that it deals with ArcMap instead.
- Editing in ArcMap: Gives you even more detail about how to tinker in ArcMap.
- Linear Referencing in ArcGIS: Simply put, linear referencing in ArcGIS is
relating something to a line feature. It is like stating something’s position in
relation to a line such as a road or rail way. This will teach you how to make the
best of this.
- Understanding Map Projections: A very helpful manual that explains what exactly
is a datum, coordinate system and the differences between all the map projections
used by cartographers.
- What is ArcGISs?: Propaganda put out by ESRI that explains what ArcGIS can

While reading the manuals you might come across the term “extensions for
ArcGIS desktop”. These are programs that can improve the performance of the
ArcGIS system but are completely optional. For example, ArcGIS Street Map USA,
is an extension that contains all the roads, streets and highways in the U.S.; this can
serve as additional data for layering. Some of the extensions are just extra data while
others are programs that allow you to conduct more advanced tasks that are beyond
the scope of the default components. Some of these extensions come built in, others
have to be installed with CD’s that came with the programs and others have to be
downloaded. We decided not to install any of these applications and see how far we
could get on the basics. Our suggestion is to take a look at what every extension can
do (Use the manual What is ArcGIS? for this or look online) and see if you need its
capabilities. If you think you do then go ahead and install it.


Most of the terminology in GIS applications is either carried over from your GPS
adventures or is self explanatory. However, there are a few terms that are completely
new but most of them hardly ever come up, except for one. That word is raster.
A raster is a collection of equally shaped squares or rectangles in which every
square represents a value. When each of these squares is placed side by side they
create a complete map with different values in different areas. For an explanation on
what this is imagine this hypothetical and very simplistic example:
1) Imagine three squares of different colors. The colors are red, blue and yellow.
2) Each color represents a level of population density. Red is high, blue is medium,
and yellow is low.
3) Each square represents a tiny fraction of your map and its population density.
4) When placed next to each other the squares begin to create a pattern in the
population density but also a map of the area.
This is the basic essence of what a raster image is: a series of pixels that create a map
when assimilated into one whole unit. Most of the time raster images look grainy,
pixilated, and as you zoom in their individual squares become much more obvious.
This is because their size is related to the zoom and scale at which you are viewing


We previously stated that GIS is a really obscure technology that no one outside
of its inner circle knows about. That is still true but you have to understand that GIS
has a HUGE inner circle that has been around fro 30 plus years. It affects our daily
lives and it is a multibillion dollar industry. Thousands of books, manuals and guides
have been written about the topic and here are some suggestions:
- Getting to know ArcGIS Desktop by Tim Orsby, Eileen Napoleon, Robert Burke,
Carolyn Groessl, and Laura Feaster. It is like the guides that came with the
software but it has much more interesting projects and demos. Colorful scheme
and good use of pictures reinforce what is being told in the text. Since it uses the
same exact software as we did there should be no problem applying what you
learn here. It comes with a “trial” version of ArcGIS but that is a half-truth. It is
complete and is limited to the projects provided on the disk. Still a very good
- Geographic Information Systems and Science by Paul A. Longley, Michael F.
Goodchild, David J. Maguire, and David W. Rhind. Unlike the aforementioned
book this one does not try to teach you how to use a specific GIS system. Instead
this is a more informative piece that talks about the history, terminology, uses,
careers, and techniques of GIS. It is reminiscent of a textbook, is easy to follow,
and is reinforced by real world examples of the uses of GIS.
- The ESRI Guide to GIS Analysis Volume 1: Geographic Patterns and
Relationships by Andy Mitchell. Those people at ESRI really take their GIS
seriously because they do not like it when you “just map something” with their
products. They put all those confusing icons there for a reason and they want you
to use them all! So they told this guy to write up a book on how to maximize your
GIS experience. This book does not tell you how to do that, instead it provides
hints on how to make the best use of these features. It will break down all the
jargon into easy language and really teach you how to turn the table on ArcGIS. If
you make it to a stage when you will actually need all of this then maybe you
should be writing this instead!


You are probably pretty annoyed that we decided not to write a manual for
ArcGIS but once you take a look at all the material that came with this software you will
see why we decided to forgo the real thing. We do suggest one thing: do not use the trial
and error method that we suggested for all the other programs. Make maximum use of all
the tutorials and knowledge base out there. Since GIS is more complicated than GPS
there is huge amount of data and help out there. Good luck!