Some things I've learned from 4 decades of working with computers and GIS

Lee De Cola
DATA to Insight

Projects and analysis (including GIS) 

Files from project data, documents, graphics, etc tend to proliferate. I store all these directories and files in a single place, preferably at the 'root' position on my computer, e.g.:
and under the project you can create directories for docs, spreads, arc, etc. Note also that this naming convention means that my directory will always appear at the top of any list. I don't understand Microsoft's logic, to "My Documents" etc., and I don't want to.

The ESRI menu system can be confusing, so begin with only the menus you need.
  1. Right-click on the main menu (showing text: "File Edit...") and only check Main, Standard, and Tools.
  2. Later on, if you need them, you can add Layout, Draw, etc.
  3. Some of the extensions require licenses (see below).

Handling a zipped file

  1. Make sure there is a directory where you want to unzip the data.
  2. Click on the file link in the HTML page.
  3. When the 'Opening...' window comes up select "Open with..." then OK.
  4. When the "Folder Tasks" window comes up select "Extract all files" then Next and Browse to the directory where you want to unzip the data and select that directory.
  5. Select OK, Next, and Finish. You should see a window showing the directory containing your data.
  6. Close all the windows that opened during this process and see if your data were unzipped where you want them.

Excel Data Analysis add-in

Excel comes with a useful collection of data analysis add-ins for e.g. descriptive statistics, histograms, and regression. I'm not sure why they're not loaded automatically! To load them in Excel 2010:
  1. File > Options > Add-Ins > Analysis ToolPak > Go and select Analysis ToolPak, then OK.
  2. You should see these functions at Data > Analysis > Data Analysis.

Composing an ArcMap for a Word report

Getting an ArcMap result into a document can be difficult. You can work in Map Layout with all its various cartographic elements, but you're still going to get something that is probably too big to fit legibly into an MS Word document.

In order to have a graphic in your report that will look acceptable, I suggest the following:

  1. Resize the ArcMap window using the Restore Down button on the upper-right of the Window.
  2. Compose the ArcMap window (Table of Contents on the left, Map Display on the right) the way you want it to appear in your report.
  3. Make a screenshot (with Alt-PrntScrn)
  4. Paste the screenshot directly into your Word document

If your map window is maximized to the full extent of your screen, then, yes, it will probably be too big for a Word document.

Here is a screenshot of my whole computer screen that contains what I see: ArcMap on the left and Word on the right.

ArcGIS formats, reports, etc

The Table of Contents (left pane) has hard-to-read text,so if you are giving a demonstration or (like me) have poor vision, you can make the text bigger:
Tools > Options > Table Of Contents > Display Options: uncheck ‘use Windows...' and increase the font size (say to 14 points).
This can be useful if you want to create a screenshot of just the window.

The background in  data frame
is white by default, giving too much contrast with the map data, but you can change it to a darker color:
Right-click anywhere in the data frame > Data Frame Properties > Frame > Background: select a gray, etc.

Moving a project
may mean that a map won’t find its data. If you are keeping a map file (.mxd) with its data, you need to set the following:
File > Document Properties > Data Source Options > Store Relative Path Names...

Clean up any unwanted data files, especially as ArcGIS generates lots of files for each feature and often many features that are intermediate to some result. Use ArcCatalog for this houskeeping, but sometimes you need to go to the operating systems (i.e. Windows Explorer) to get rid of stuff.

ESRI map data and documentation

ESRI Extensions (from ArcGIS Spatial Analyst Tutorial) p. 7

Checking out a Spatial Analyst license:
  1. Click the Tools menu and click Extensions.
  2. Check the Spatial Analyst check box.
  3. Click Close.
Adding the Spatial Analyst toolbar:
Click View on the Main Menu, point to Toolbars, then click Spatial Analyst.
The Spatial Analyst toolbar is added to your ArcMap session.

ArcMap statistical functions

HISTOGRAMS are the fundamental visual tool in descriptive statistics. In various formats they can be found in the following places:

Attribute Table is quick and dirty:
Select a layer > Right click > Open Attribute Table and right-click on a field (column) > Statistics. You can select other fields in the Fields: window
Graphs is the most flexible:
Tools Menu > Graphs > Create > Histogram
Layer Properties gives histograms for field classification (binning)
Select a layer > Right click > Symbology > Quantities > Value: and select the attribute then Classify and you'll see a histogram whose number of bars you can modify.
Geostatistical Analyst also provides statistics (but requires this extension)
Geostatistical Analyst > Explore Data > Histogram

SCATTERPLOTS are the fundamental visual tool for multivariate data. Tools for making them can be found in:

Graphs produces bivariate plots and "trends" but no coefficient estimates (as does Excel):
Tools > Graph > Create > Scatter Plot, and remember to select the Y-value (called Value field) first!
Geostatistical Analyst (GA) offers a much more sophisticated tool for the analysis of Z = f(X, Y) data where X and Y are spatial coordinates.
    GA > Explore Data > Trend Analysis and make sure you select the Attribute you want to analyze.
I have used this to visualize non-spatial variables in 3 (although they can be any continuous variables) attribute dimensions.


Screenshots: A useful way to create graphics is to carefully compose a program's window then hit the Alt-'Prnt Scrn' key combination, which saves the window only. You can then insert it in a report, although some editing is almost always useful (e.g. with a graphics program like Paint).