GIS 101: Learn About GIS

Caitlin Dempsey


GIS is a multi-faceted discipline built that incorporates a variety of technologies and concepts. To really understand the capabilities of GIS, it is important to learn cartography, spatial and statistical analysis, database management, and programming.

Looking to get started in GIS?  This GIS 101 page is the launch page for accessing information about GIS on this site.  Find information about what GIS is, the basics of GIS (data, software, etc.), career advice in GIS including where to find a job and GIS internships, plus access to GIS concept pages.

table of contents

Getting Started and GIS Concepts

What is GIS? – starting page for understanding what Geographic Information Systems is.  Read about the basic premise of what GIS is.

GIS Glossary – glossary of common geospatial terminology.

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Understanding scale – What is map scale, and how does scale affect feature representation on a map.


Basics of Cartography

What’s in a Map? – Understand the basic elements that make up a well formed map.

Basics of a Map – Introductory text about maps, resolution, and cartographic design principles.

Power of Mapping – Maps are a powerful tool in spatial analysis, helping problem solvers on many levels.

Ten Things to Consider When Making a Map – effective cartography involves making careful design choices.

Cartographic Resources – Resources for learning more about cartography and cartographic techniques.

Cartographic Styles and Techniques

Area Cartograms Explored – A look at contiguous, noncontiguous, and Dorling cartograms as a way of representing quantitative data by area.

Heat Maps and GIS – What are heat maps, hot spot analysis, and density surfaces?

Spatial Unmapped – Innovative ways of displaying geographic data with using a map.

Time and GIS – Exploring the ways and challenges of representing time on a map.

Map Projections and Coordinate Systems

What is a Map Projection? – introductory text about map projections

Types of Map Projections – This article explores map projections, illustrating how cartographers translate the globe’s three-dimensional curvature into two-dimensional representations, each with its unique advantages and distortions.

State Plane Coordinate System – Explanation of this United States based coordinate system.

Measuring Map Distortion: Tissot’s indicatrix – Tissot’s Indicatrix is a tool used in cartography to illustrate the distortion of shapes, sizes, and angles caused by projecting the globe onto a flat map, through a series of circles that transform to show how spatial properties vary across the projection.

GIS Data

GIS Data – describes the different types of GIS data and where to find GIS data on the Internet for downloading.

GIS Data: A Look at Accuracy, Precision, and Types of Errors

Metadata – Data about the data.

Geodatabases Explained – Unfamiliar with the types of spatial datasets? This is a good introductory article on the different types.

About Elevation – Over hill and dale … what different ways can elevation be depicted? From DEMs to Hypsography, different elevation types described.

Geocoding 101 – A basic overview of what geocoding is with a step-by-step example using ArcView. Find out how to map out your addressed databases.

Orthophotos and GIS – Aerials and orthorectification – it’s all about removing distortion. Find out how digital imagery can help your GIS.

GIS Software

There is a growing number of options for GIS software from commercial and open source desktop GIS to web mapping to the GeoCloud, the use of GIS capabilities via cloud computing.  The GIS software launch page contains further resources for learning about commercial GIS, open source GIS, web mapping, and more.  Visit: GIS Software

Learning GIS

How to Learn GIS – With its multi-faceted approach, learning GIS can seem daunting. Fortunately there are a wealth of approaches you can take to get started. From structured curriculums to distance learning and online tutorials, check here to find out more.

Where to Learn GIS – Learn about your choices for online GIS training (aka distance learning) and certificate programs.

GIS Primer – From Pacific Meridian, a nicely organized primer on the basics of implementing and understanding a GIS.

Programming in GIS

Customizing GIS applications is a core component of many GIS analysts and GIS developer positions.  Visit the Learning Programming for GIS launch page for information about the different programming languages in use for GIS.  The page lists the major languages such as Python that in use as well as pointers to further resources.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.