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Create a simple map

A simple map is a simplified representation of reality. It’s a drawing of the essential elements of a territory or geographic phenomenon.

Typically you build a simple map early in the learning process, with a title related to the “situational problem” you are considering.

To view a simple map being built, using Cartograf, see the video here or at right.

 Then click through the following pages  for more details and advice.


“Simple maps” help to graphically communicate the observations you make. They also help you present additional information and answers you gather through your research.

Title: Your map should have an appropriate title. The title should relate to the social sciences unit you are studying, and to the specific problem or task you are working on. (Note that on Cartograf maps you can also add a space for a more detailed description for your map.)

Scale: The scale you draw on your map tells how far points are in the real world. You can express this as a ratio, like 1:1,000,000 (One to one million). That says that a space of one indicated on the map equals one million of those same spaces on the ground. Typically a more useful representation is a graphic scale like this:

Note that Cartograf and other mapping tools have built-in scales that change as you zoom. But for your simple map that focuses on a specific region, you might want to use drawing tools to make a more visible graphic scale. (see red scale below)

Legend: “The legend should be on your map for easy reference, and it should include all of the symbols that you have used.” By using colours and icons, the legend can help indicate how you categorize different areas (industrial, residential, etc.), and it can help us identify key sites and key facts your confirmed through research.

Consider organizing legend items and the elements they represent on a paper organizer (Simple Map Component Notes) before you actually add them to your map.

You will likely start by using a satellite image, aerial view, or perhaps a photograph of the area you are studying. You will then identify obvious and visible things you can see, and if possible mark them right on your simple map as you go. (Maybe you can draw overtop over the satellite view, or you could start sketching on a blank map space.)

Certain features might already be identified on the source materials you are using, like mountain ranges, borders, etc. For other features, like waterways, ports, rivers, urban areas, rural farms, and sometimes even buildings – those too you might also be able to identify them on your own. (Can you see the Pyramids in the picture!?)

Mark what you know with shapes, arrows, icons or if possible words. Use existing legend icons, or consider whether you need to add new items to your legend as you go.


Depending on the task at hand, or the situational problem you are trying to answer, you will likely need to group and organize the elements on your simple map.

For example, you could organize “areas” according to types, such as whether they are historical, financial, industrial or residential areas. Key cities and their specific sites can also be organized in a similar way, using different icons to represent different types of locations.

At this point your simple map should already be taking shape. A “schematic representation” of the key elements, using graphic symbols rather than realistic pictures, is already beginning to form. What is left now is to investigate these territories and locations further in order to discover relationships, and get answers to your questions!

Note that when using Cartograf, your simple-map schematics can be overlaid right on top of other map and satellite views!


Establishing facts sounds simple: You find more information, get the facts, get some statistics to support your facts, delve into the details, etc.

But then it is the “etc” part here that is important. What was your assignment? What issue or question or problem are you trying to understand? The facts you look for, find and then highlight in your map, they need to support your “Interpretation” of what is there AND of what is going on. For example, you can determine how an area is used, or how it changes, or how people are involved, or where people are going. (Note the arrows indicating movement from residential to industrial and business districts below.)

Through additional research, you can discover how areas and locations are involved in an “issue” too: like how a region contributes to pollution, or how people affect a territory, or vise versa! Mark the “important elements” on your simple map that help explain these issues, and use shapes and symbols to illustrate your ideas. Again, you may need to change or add items to your legend as you add new information.

During research you may want to use a paper organizer such as Simple Map Research Notes to note down information for what you need to demonstrate on your map.

Here is where your simple maps really gets simple. Your goal is to isolate your icons, captions, drawings and schematic representations. You want them to appear by themselves, to better represent what your map is trying to explain or show.

Your simple map alone, on a blank canvas, should show the categorization of locations, and the relationships or issues you want to describe. Your simple map should be the answer to the question(s) your assignment posed. Below is a sample from Cartograf.


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