Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration

Penning Titles

April 2nd, 2013

*****Note: This was originally posted on 10/31/2010. I’m going to start repeating some of the earlier posts on occasion. The Colors For Maps booklet referred to in this post, is, of course, finished. You can find it and it’s companion ebook here. Those two ebooks are now part of a real-book as well. Link to that is to the right.*****

The titles of maps, presentations, and papers have many flaws.* Does anyone stop to think more than two seconds about the title of their work? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. The major flaws in titles these days are twofold:

They don’t tell you about the work

and/or

They are boring

The problem with the first flaw is that you waste half your audience’s time because they thought they were going to look at, listen to, or read something different than what is actually being presented. Also, half the people who might have been interested are not paying attention because the title doesn’t tip off the subject matter adequately.

The second flaw is an aesthetic issue. A boring title does not necessarily guarantee a low audience count but a very interesting title, without a doubt, will increase the audience count. This is probably caused by the inordinately large number of instances of boring titles that audiences are bombarded with, making the audience somewhat immune to them but also thereby making the interesting ones stand out all the better.

A boring title is not necessarily bland. It might contain too much jargon or too many words, for example. A simple title that gets straight to the point is not necessarily boring. Some of my titles that I am particularly keen on include:

Remember, a good title leaves no doubt as to what the content is about. A great title hooks the audience. Have you heard any good titles lately?

*I know someone is going to think that papers in journals can’t possibly adhere to these guidelines. I really wish journal papers could have more interesting titles. Don’t you?

Titles that Engage

December 14th, 2011

Are you interested in maximizing reader engagement? Drawing folks in to see your map? If so, focusing a bit of effort on the title you give that map is essential. (Note that some people aren’t exactly interested in doing anything except telling it like it is in the title. You’ll just have to use your judgement given your audience and your aspirations for your map).

I’ve just been browsing through the Esri Map Book Online Volume 26. The map titles that are most likely to quickly get a map reader’s attention are:

OS Vector Mapping — Your Way
Terror in Afghanistan
GIS Bathymetry Analysis Helps Protect Threatened Ramsar Wetland Site
Thinking Outside the Blocks — Exploring Alternatives to Traditional Neighborhood Design
Footprint of a City
What Can One Do with Geoinformation and GIS? Plan Windmills from Behind the Desk!

Most of the other titles in the collection are descriptive only. I know that some people prefer them that way. But if you are at all interested in gaining the most map readers possible, you’ll want to put some thought into creating an engaging title instead. Or, if you aren’t comfortable with a 100% catchy title, you can compromise and create what I think of as a double title: start with the descriptive bit, then hook the map reader with the engaging bit (much as in the first example on this list). Sure, not every map title needs to read like a small-town newspaper headline, but surely you can give it just a bit of zip to stand out.

Here’s a good example of combining a serious component with an engaging component: Toward a Multipurpose Regional Environmental Network. No one could argue against the seriousness of the content of this map. But at the same time, we can tell that the title was constructed in such a way as to draw us in. The reason? Using a verb/adjective at the beginning makes it much less dull than if “Toward a” were removed.

By the way, what’s the title in this collection that is the least likely to get someone to stand and gaze at your map? “City of El Cajon Sewer System Atlas.” *

*Hey, I have a right to joke about this. Much of my recent work has involved analyzing and mapping sewer areas and other wastewater infrastructure.

Background Screening, Titles

November 29th, 2011

Integrating a title into a map can be hard if it doesn’t have enough “pop” in contrast with the underlying data. Making a halo around the text doesn’t usually look very nice but you can set it apart subtly by making a masking box underneath it.

In ArcMap the steps are to go into data view and make a graphic box (can be difficult when your title text is in Layout view, but just go back and forth a few times to get it right), then right-click “Layers” –> convert graphics to features, then make the newly created feature layer transparent by a certain amount. This pic shows a small snipet of a map that I’m doing this on right now. The 2010 – 2011 is part of a title that needed a bit of masking underneath in order for it to compete with the ocean and dark gray land mass colors.

Penning Titles

October 31st, 2010

The titles of maps, presentations, and papers have many flaws.* Does anyone stop to think more than two seconds about the title of their work? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. The major flaws in titles these days are twofold:

They don’t tell you about the work

and/or

They are boring

The problem with the first flaw is that you waste half your audience’s time because they thought they were going to look at, listen to, or read something different than what is actually being presented. Also, half the people who might have been interested are not paying attention because the title doesn’t tip off the subject matter adequately.

The second flaw is an aesthetic issue. A boring title does not necessarily guarantee a low audience count but a very interesting title, without a doubt, will increase the audience count. This is probably caused by the inordinately large number of instances of boring titles that audiences are bombarded with, making the audience somewhat immune to them but also thereby making the interesting ones stand out all the better.

A boring title is not necessarily bland. It might contain too much jargon or too many words, for example. A simple title that gets straight to the point is not necessarily boring. Some of my titles that I am particularly keen on include:

Remember, a good title leaves no doubt as to what the content is about. A great title hooks the audience. Have you heard any good titles lately?

*I know someone is going to think that papers in journals can’t possibly adhere to these guidelines. I really wish journal papers could have more interesting titles. Don’t you?

Cartographer's Toolkit

Map Making Tips, Tricks, and Inspiration