Creating a Map Layout from Start to Finish - North Arrows

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North Arrows

A map’s north arrow is designed to show north relative to your map. While this may seem rather elementary, there are times when it may not be clear due either to the map’s content or the actual data frame has been rotated to better display the concepts or content.

General reference maps will almost always have a north arrow due to the navigational nature of the map type. Thematic maps allow for more choice on the cartographer’s part - if the map benefits from the north arrow, it should be present, if it is simply a space filling element, it should likely be left out.

GIS software often offers a large variety of pre-existing north arrows in the cartographic layout section. When selecting a north arrow, it is best to first consider the audience and map purpose before making a selection. Nothing will make your map like care was not taken then a cartoonish north arrow on a serious subject map.

North arrows, as a map element, serve the purpose of enhancing the data and clarifying the map’s intended direction, especially when that varies from what might be expected. North arrows are not, however, a space filler. If you look at your map and think “Holy North Arrow, Batman!”, your north arrow may be too big and you might want to consider reducing the size, adjusting the map’s layout, and resizing the more important elements to take up the white space.

To add a north arrow in ArcMap, launch the North Arrow dialog box from the Insert menu, select one, and adjust the properties.