Ask A Cartographer

North Arrow

November 23 2011 | 0 comments
Categories: Map Elements

Dear Sir/Mme, 

I know that, conventionally, the north arrow should be always directed upwards in a map. Kindly do you know any reference or sources proving this. I have to back this point by a reference. I'll be glad if you can help me.


Mapping Center Answer:

As you note, cartographic convention is to position the map so that north at the top of the page. Sometimes this is not the most practical choice (eg., when you are mapping an area that has to fit into a particular space on the page or screen.) In these instances, it is extremely helpful to the map user to have a north arrow on the map that shows the true orientation.

Some maps should not have any north arrow (e.g., when using a conic projection for a large map extent such that north varies across the map). In these cases, it is useful to provide an indication of the orientation using other means such as the graticule.

We have blogged about the use of north arrows on maps -- see our blog entry titled Does every map need a north arrow and scale bar?

Conventions for the proper use of north arrows and other orientation indicators such as the graticule, are outlined in all of the major cartographic textbooks.  Here are some of them:

  • Robinson, Arthur H., Joel L. Morrison, Phillip C. Muehrcke, A. Jon Kimerling and Stephen C. Guptill. 1995. Elements of Cartography, Fifth Edition. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. - PAGE 337
  • Dent, Borden D., Jeffrey S. Torguson, and Thomas H. Hodler. 2009. Cartography: Thematic Map Design, Sixth Edition. Boston, MA: WCB-McGraw Hill. - PAGE 243
  • Slocum, Terry, Robert B. McMaster, Fritz C. Kessler, and Hugh H. Howard. 2009. Thematic Cartography and Geographic Visualization, Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. - PAGES 210-212

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