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How Do Symbols Help in Reading Maps?

Team StoryWeavers|January 24, 2022, 14:58 IST|

how to read maps

Do you find maps fascinating? Have you ever thought about who makes them and how they are read? Well, we are here to help. Maps are a comparatively smaller representation of the globe, so several types of symbols are used to ensure that a person is able to read a map easily while correlating to the real world. Let’s get into the basics first.

What is mapping?

Mapping is defined as a method of gathering spatial data relating to the surface of the Earth that is provided by map symbols. There are two types of spatial data used for mapping: qualitative data and quantitative data. The map symbols are selected accordingly to suit the category of data.

What is map reading?

Map reading is the act of interpreting or understanding the geographic information portrayed on a map. A reader can successfully read a map with the help of symbols and derive other essential information such as distance, direction, natural and man-made features, and topographical features.

how to read maps

What are symbols and how are they used in reading maps?

An abstract or pictorial representation of something else is called a symbol. On a map, symbols consist of distinct points, lines, or shaded areas. They also have a scale, shape, and typically different colours. Symbols on a map collectively present details about location, direction and several other features. A symbol on a map is also often drawn to look like what it exactly represents. For instance, a triangular shape is often used to denote a mountain, a desert is often shown by a group of dots that might look a little bit like sand.

Map symbols might include point markers, lines, regions, continuous fields, or text; these can be designed visually in their shape, size, colour, pattern, and other graphic variables to represent a variety of information about every feature being denoted on the map. Symbols on maps have been internationally agreed upon by all the countries across the globe and that’s why they are called conventional symbols. It is also possible to use symbols to denote features such as towns, roads and railways.

There are three categories that we can divide map symbols into: point symbol, line symbol, and area symbol.
1. Point Symbols are used to represent houses and dipping tanks.
2. Line Symbols represent railways, bridges, power lines, and phone lines.
3. Area Symbols denote agriculture, orchards and vineyards.

how to read maps

Maps can be easily drawn with the use of symbols and are easy to understand, even though we aren’t all map readers. We might also not know the language of a specific region and can therefore not be able to ask anyone for directions. But with the help of symbols, we could easily gather information from maps.

Map legend, which is present on any map, is a key to the symbols. It provides the readers with a complete list of all the symbols used on the map and the corresponding features they denote. The map can be located along the borders, below a map, or on the back of a map.

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About the Author


Writing has always been Shreesha’s passion, be it for imparting knowledge or expressing opinions. In her former role as a journalist, she contributed to enriching society with knowledge. Now, at BYJU’S, she has moved on to something more exciting – creating tailor-made content for students. When she is not writing, you would find her looking for new ways to engage her child.

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