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Tips for Creating Maps

Like in any other profession, there are “tricks to the trade” associated with creating maps. Below are just a few of the most common ones – particularly for the types of maps that can be created in

Creating Maps for Presentations

The most common mistakes made when creating maps for presentations are (1) creating too many data breaks – resulting in the presentation of maps that contain too many colors, (2) choosing too much variety in colors, and (3) changing color schemes throughout the presentation.

  1. It may look nice to have a lot of colors in a map but too many data breaks in maps create confusion with the audience. Audiences rarely have enough time to process (well) more than 3-4 colors on U.S. 50 state or state county maps.
  2. Choosing which colors to display (along with the data breaks) is also important. If you are representing a small number of data groups (3 or 4), you may want to choose gradations of the same color (from light to dark). Another good practice is to choose two colors and gradations of each (e.g. red, light red, light blue, blue). Both of these strategies are most useful in creating a theme with your color display. For example, if you are showing several maps in a presentation, the audience begins to associate the certain colors with “low” and certain ones with “high” – and the comprehension of the maps becomes much easier.
  3. In order to create a color theme within your maps, you should stick to the same color scheme throughout your presentation. The following map of personal income in Colorado is a good example – where, after a few maps are shown the audience begins to understand that red is low and blue is high.

Creating Maps for Reports or Documents

Mapping for reports and documents (as opposed to presentations) is somewhat different because the audience has more time to interpret the maps – so the number of data breaks within maps is not as much of an issue. Printing poses the main issue for maps in reports and documents. While color printers are more prevalent now than in the past, many people still print reports and documents in black and white. Therefore, it is helpful to use a color scheme that prints well on black and white printers – which is most often gradations of the same color (See the example below).

Like in presentations, it is preferable to use the same map color scheme throughout reports and documents.

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