2. Setting up your project

3. Creating data (first steps)

4. Creating and editing data

5. Creating polygons

6. Preparing a print-quality map


This tutorial is based on a much more condensed write-up put together a couple years ago by Mike Oskin at UC-Davis for a project in the Structural Geology series.  Here, it is set up to help guide you through making a complete geologic map using ESRI ArcGIS software.  However, it will only cover the basics (i.e. bare bones, not every function will be explained), and is not meant to serve as a “cook-book” for using this program.  ArcGIS programs are extremely powerful, and you will benefit greatly from exploring all the things that it allows you to do in terms of creating and manipulating geospatial data.

Here’s how the tutorial will be laid out-  First, you’ll get a brief introduction to the various flavors of the ESRI Arc suite of software and what their main functions are.  Next, you will be given the proper steps to set up your workspace and file management tips for getting your Arc project started.  And the third (and longest) part will walk you through creating and editing the layers present on a geologic map.

This tutorial is written assuming a couple basic things-  One, you already have a prepared and scanned field map; and Two, you aren’t afraid (in fact, you are willing) to explore various parts of the program on your own.  Trial and error and self-discovery are great ways to learn this particular bit of software.

NOTE:  Though this tutorial is written for ArcMap v10x, some of the screen shots are from a previous version.  So if some of the toolbars and various windows look slightly different, that’s okay!  The steps, processes, and tools that you will use/ go through are still the same, even though the user interface may be slightly different.

Programs & Sub-programs

Workspace: A Workspace is a location on the file system where you keep all of your map data for a project. This location must be named so that it obeys the rules of names, below. For example, the common default working directory for ArcGIS is C:\workspace.  I’d suggest setting up a separate \arc folder on your computer (or on a USB thumb drive) where you can keep all your data organized.  More on this in a bit.


ArcCatalog:  ArcCatalog is a general-purpose data management utility that comes as a part of the ESRI ArcGIS package.  Here we can create (or destroy) folders, geodatabases, datasets, shapefiles, etc.  Most of our data setup will be conducted in this program prior to working with the data in ArcGIS. To start ArcCatalog, click on its icon (a yellow file cabinet) under the ArcGIS subfolder of the Windows Start menu, or on its small file cabinet icon in the ArcMap window.


ArcToolbox:  ArcToolbox is a collection of ArcGIS scripts that can be used to manipulate and convert data, arranged in a tree-style menu system. It is available to you in ArcCatalog and ArcMap from the red toolbox icon.


ArcMap:  ArcMap is the program where you will spend most of your time. It acts as a portal into your data, allowing you to visualize and edit maps. ArcMap also has a ‘layout’ mode where you can make finished maps for exporting or printing.

File management

Perhaps the most important parts of getting Arc to work properly are file management and using an appropriate naming system for your folders and data.  Because Arc is built on older Unix-style platforms, there is a specific file naming procedure that must be followed.  Here is the “Rule of Names”:

                  1.  Filenames shall be 12 characters or less

                  2.  Thou shalt not use spaces in the filename or path

                  3.  Thou shalt not use capital letters in a filename or path

                  4.  Thou shalt not start any filename or directory with a number

Unfortunately, your likely default directory “My Documents” violates three out of these four rules!  If you start out by following these rules (e.g. setting up a directory “arc\tutorial\data”) you’ll have a better chance of avoiding this friendly user interface later:


Additionally, keeping your files and data organized will not only make it easier for you to find things, but for Arc to find it as well.  I can’t tell you how to manage your own data- that’s a system you’ll have to figure out on your own.

A suggestion might be to create a folder in your \arc directory for each project, then subfolders in the project folder for things like field maps, imagery, DEMs, etc.

NEXT:  2. Setting up your Arc project


One thought on “1. INTRODUCTION

  1. Pingback: How to use this tutorial | Creating a geologic map using ArcMap 10.x

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