GIS (Geographic Information Systems) is about making maps, but you do not have to be a geographer to use GIS technology. There are actually many easy-to-use and free applications that will allow you to make maps. It all depends on what you want to show, who you want to show it to, and what message you want to give. Maps are like images: they worth 1,000 words….but only if they convey the right message.

There is a lot that goes into creating a map before you even start designing it. You have to know why you are creating the map (purpose), who you are making it for (audience), and how you are going to present your story (data). The same map can be interpreted differently by various audiences, so you must take time to think about what you are going to map before you actually start mapping it.

Once you have thought about the what, how and whom, you can start thinking about the best technology to use for making your map. There are several ways you can create maps without being a bonafide cartographer. Let’s say you are just trying to map an event about how many people ate at a food truck today in Washington DC. You can try using Crowdmap, which allows you to crowdsource information and visualize data on a map.

If you wanted to calculate the shortest distance between your house and the nearest hospital, you may need to perform distance analysis using Arc GIS (examples of maps created by ArcGIS below), which allows you to create layered maps and view spatial data.  ArcGIS is available in the Hurst lab.

Then there is the free and popular option, Google Earth, that allows you to create placemarks and add data to specific locations.

Bottom line: Then answer is YES, you can use GIS even if you haven’t taken a geography course. These are only a few of the names out there that will help you map data.  Once you know what you want to map, you just need to choose the right tool to get started.