Wikipedia:Using maps and similar sources in Wikipedia articles

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This map is a commercial map of the Denver and Rio Grande Western and Western Pacific Railroads as they existed in 1914. This map is valuable as a source of information and as illustration for what it depicts. The map depicts the general route of the two railroads advertised, the route of their primary rivals, several long abandoned short line railroads and short-lived mining boomtowns in the western United States, and this map is used appropriately in articles about these subjects. However, the map's limitations should also be understood. Comparing this map with others will reveal that this commercial map is drawn on an inconsistent scale, perhaps to minimize the fact the competing Overland Route is more direct than the route of the railroads advertised.

Any map or line chart used in Wikipedia should conform with Wikipedia's policies of neutrality, reliability and verifiability. Maps can be used for two purposes in Wikipedia articles, as sources or as illustration. Regardless of the point of using a map in an article, the following points should be kept in mind:

  • The presence of an object on a map is not sufficient by itself to show notability of a subject.
  • Even maps produced using reliable sources (such as GIS data) can have minor errors as a result of errors in the underlying database, or the cartographer trying to overlay data from two non-linear sources. Minor map errors are common, for that reason any map detail that is key to the article should be confirmed with a separate map from a different publisher. Rarely are map errors notable, even if they have gone uncorrected for decades.
  • Many cartographers intentionally introduce minor errors in inconspicuous locations as a form of copyright trap. Likewise, rarely are such introductions notable.
  • It is not uncommon for companies that publish a yearly edition of a map to use a year for an edition number that is a year ahead of when the map was actually drafted. In such cases, it is not uncommon for cartographers to draw projects as completed that were still under construction or being proposed when the map was drafted, as an effort to compensate for the discrepancy in the dates. This can introduce another source of error in an otherwise reliable map, should a project be cancelled or significantly changed. Such errors can be detected by comparing multiple editions of the same map.
  • Any cultural bias apparent in a map (such as a disputed boundary or a territory claimed by two entities) should be clearly explained in a neutral fashion.
  • Editors who use maps should be aware that maps covering large areas almost always have one type of distortion or another, depending on the map projection used. Care should be taken to select a map whose projection is appropriate for the purpose to which it is being put.


See also WP:No original research#Original images, WP:Images#Pertinence and encyclopedic nature and WP:Image use policy#Image titles and file names.

When a map is used for illustration, the map should follow the same principles as photos used for illustration. Maps that are classed as primary sources may be used as illustrations provided that the accompanying text identifies their authorship.

Editor created maps should be careful to only depict details supported by reliable sources in the article and common information that would appear on any published map relating to the subject. For user created maps based on GIS or satellite images, it is acceptable to use details already present in the database used to create the map. Before adding details to third-party created maps, ensure that the addition both meets the above criteria, and that the derivative work will not create issues with copyright laws.



Maps are used not only in geography, but also in many branches of mathematics, science and engineering where gradients are calculated in areas such as vector calculus, electric fields, fluid dynamics and so on. Geographical features such as saddle points are often discussed in a mathematical rather than a geographic context. However, topological assessments made from maps follow the same rules in all of these subjects and are often first introduced at secondary school level geography. Making topological assessments using techniques that are standard in two or more disciplines is a reasonable way of judging if a map has been properly used as a source.

Remember that people who have good spacial visualisation ability have no problem using maps, but people who have poor spacial visualisation ability may find it difficult to relate to maps. This is often the underlying reason for disputes as to what constitutes original research and what does not.

From a mathematical point of view, line charts are nothing more than one-dimensional maps, so the same rules regarding the extraction of information apply.


Similar to other types of sources, maps should not be self published sources, and the reliability of the publisher should be considered before use. Maps directly derived from government surveys, GIS data and aerial or satellite images are generally reliable. Maps made by commercial interests for promotion of business may not be reliable. Online maps should be treated the same as web sources, listing both the date the cartography was completed (if known) and the date the information was accessed, as online content can frequently change.


Maps can be used to source specific details about the subject, consistent with the intended purpose of the map. For example, It would be appropriate to use a geographical map to source elevations, common names or relative locations, but not necessarily historical timelines. Maps depicting the historical growth of a city are appropriate for historical information, but may not be accurate in other details, such as geographical names. Road maps may be appropriate to source distances and routes, but not land ownership, etc.

Original research[edit]

Use of a map to source information beyond the intended use of a map can violate Wikipedia's policies, such as no original research, verifiability or reliability. For example, if an object does not appear in the 1950 and earlier editions of a map, but does appear in the 1951 and later editions of a map, this does not prove the year of construction was 1950, unless there is additional information in the map, as this is using the map in a different manner from its intended purpose. It would be acceptable to say "The freeway first appeared on the department of transportation's map in 1951" or "The freeway was constructed by 1951" (assuming the source has a reputation for accuracy in its map updates) in the above case. Some maps are totally unreliable if used in a manner for which they were not designed. For example, maps of mass transit systems are usually not drawn to a scale, as they are drawn to show the interconnections of a system in such a way that the map will fit in a limited space. This makes such maps unsuitable for other uses. For example, the London Underground Map is an unreliable source for estimating the distance between two stops, but it is an excellent source for the number of stops on a given route.

When using maps as a source for topographic descriptions, care should be taken not to read more into the map than is already there. It is quite in order to state the “Valley X is ‘U’ shaped with glacial moraine at its entrance”, assuming that is what the map shows; the words “glacial moraine” should be explicitly stated on the map. However it is original research to state that “Valley X is glacial in origin” unless the map actually states that (e.g., in a caption), because there might be some other explanation for the valley's origin or the presence of the glacial moraine.

When describing the route of a waterway, mountain range, road, railroad, etc., a single map should not be used the sole source used to provide the description. While a map is useful to source details in a general description section, other types of sources should also be used, if available. For some subjects the only sources available will be maps and it will be necessary to have the entire general description sourced from comparing details from several maps. However, this should be done with care. If a description only contains details from one map, the reader could save time by just looking at the map to get this information. The author should remember that a good article will describe an object above and beyond what is visible in a map.