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Academic Skills Human Geography and Spatial Planning


Maps are almost always a useful addition to a social geography or spatial planning text. You can use them in the results chapter, as well as in the introduction, theoretical framework or the methods chapter.

It is very important that you use a suitable map. An image from Google Maps is usually not good enough; often, more detail is required. For example, for a text about the industrial area in Cologne, you should not use a copy of a road map of Germany. If you cannot find a suitable map, you will have to create one yourself.

In this section you will find out the basics about using maps. For more information, consult the GIS/Cartography course material. The University Library also has a large collection of maps. You will find them in the map room on the sixth floor. Under the ‘Special collections’ tab on the University Library website you will find more information about the services provided by the map room.

All maps contain at least the following elements:

  • A legend
  • A title
  • Reference to a source, which is also listed in the bibliography
  • A scale or ratio in the title (1:1000) (with the exception of thematic maps of an area with which the target group is familiar)

Some maps also have:

  • An arrow indicating north (if the map is not oriented to the north)

Types of maps

There are basically two types of maps: topographic and thematic maps.

1. A topographic map
  • accurately reflects the fixed, visible elements of the Earth’s surface (relief, rivers, roads, houses, etc.).
  • contains names (of cities, regions, countries, etc.).
  • shows only those elements that contribute to the purpose of the map.
  • is usually created on the basis of aerial photographs.
2. A thematic map
  • reflects the distribution, relationship or nature of spatial phenomena that may or may not be visible (e.g. the unemployment rate in the south of Utrecht).
  • contains a minimum of topographic information for orientation.
  • can display both absolute and relative values.
  • provides dot or area information (for example, a dot whose size represents the population size or a coloured area where a dark colour represents a higher population density).