Geographical Information Systems

Nathan Graham

As a geography major interested in technical communication, I constantly challenge myself to find intersections for both areas of study. Using geography involves effective and accurate communication of technical information. Geographical informational systems (GIS) involves much expertise in technical communication.

About GIS: A computer system, GIS assembles, stores, manipulates, and displays geographically referenced data. Essentially a network of tools, GIS relates real-world geographic features such as stop signs, power lines, or city boundaries to computerized geographic features. All this information, gathered in a specific manner, gives detailed information on a map (see example on the left).

GIS and technical communication require much thought to determine how to relay technical information through the use of maps. GIS technicians use several steps, including collecting data, analyzing the data, and relaying the data to pertinent sites.

GIS technicians manage several different job responsibilities. A technician's work involves compiling, editing, producing, and maintaining computer-generated maps and geographic data. Specific job duties that a technician carries out includes the following:

1. Prepare, revise, and maintain computer-generated maps.

2. Perform research and data collection necessary to compile, draft, and edit maps for city staff, the business community, and the general public.

3. Create, edit, and manipulate computerized files to support the city’s mapping and geographic information programs.

4. Research and review information such as plans, maps, drawings, and survey data; conduct field investigations to confirm and obtain additional information.

Who Uses GIS: Several different professions use the services of GIS.

1. Urban Planners use GIS to show the distribution of land and resources in towns and cities.

2. Civil engineers use GIS for planning the routes of roads and canals and to estimate construction costs.

3. Police departments use GIS to give them the spatial distribution of types of crimes.

4. Medical organizations use GIS to help research areas of sickness and disease.

5. Retail businesses use GIS to show the best locations for marketing and store locations.

GIS also helps simulate possible disasters. If chemicals from factories near a wetland accidentally spill into a river, GIS could simulate the route of the chemicals by calculating the direction and speed of the stream flow.

Components of GIS: Three basic components of GIS consist of hardware, software, and data.

1. The hardware used in GIS includes personal computers, workstations with Unix platforms, minicomputers, and mainframe computers.

2. The software used in GIS helps technicians relay information in a useful manner. GIS uses Arc View, Arc Info, Geo Media, and Map Info.

3. The data used for GIS receives careful analysis due to heavy reliance by so many different organizations. Data is put into maps via two options: vector or raster.  Vector data, such as poles, wells, or trees, shows up as an x,y coordinate system.  Raster data, such as precipitation, appears as grid cells that show distribution.

GIS technology helps many professions by providing very specific information in several useful and various ways. GIS technicians relay information on maps to help with understanding the processes and effects of global changes on all aspects of life.

GIS relays technical information to the world in unexpected ways using diverse and uncommon applications. However, the use of this vital and important information remains a critical component for the success of each job in several different industries in the private and public sector. Because technical communication emphasizes clarity, conciseness, and precision, people in GIS related work admit that technical communication deserves a lot of the credit.


Back to Features