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General Reference Maps

These are simple maps showing important physical (natural and man-made) features in an area.  They usually have a primary purpose of summarising the landscape to aid discovery of locations.  They are usually easy to read and understand.  Most of the early mapping of the Earth falls into this group.

As a general rule, General Reference Maps would only show relief in a stylised manner. Street and tourist maps are good examples of general reference maps.

Geoscience Australia, 1:10,000,000 scale map, Australia

A typical late-20th century general reference map of a country:

  • is colourful
  • cities are named
  • major transport routes (highways and railways) are identified
  • natural features such as rivers, lakes and mountains are named
  • elevation is shown using a simple colour shading
  • has themes included – eg city population size


South Australian, Department of Transport Energy and Infrastructure, Flinders Ranges

This is a fine example of a map which is usually called a tourist map.  It is a general reference map which has been enhanced for a specific reason – that of highlighting places of interest that people might like to visit.  Because of this, it can also be described as a thematic map (the theme being tourism).



Tasmania, Department of Planning, Industry and Water, Tasmanian Towns Street Atlas

The Street Map is well known to all maps users, indeed it may be the only map some people use.  Street maps contain all the elements of a general reference map in that they are a summary of the landscape and that their primary purpose is to aid in the discovery of a location.  In this example of a street map, individual buildings are identified.


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Last Updated: 25 Jan 2016