Map specifications provide the rules and guidelines for the issues associated with making a map. Specifications are needed for both printed and electronic maps.

For simple, one-off, maps these may be very simple (being no more than vague guidelines), but for complex series maps these can be very complex. By way of example, listed below is a contents summary for one of the more complex Australian Specifications. These are for both printed maps and digital data and the range of topics covered are a good indication of the issues which may need to be addressed in a specification.

An important component of Specifications are Data Dictionaries. These are a vital component in ensuring that everyone has the same understanding of something as someone else — in other words: use language consistently. By way of example, one map producer may use the term ‘road’ to only mean major highways, while another would describe an out-back dirt track as a road. This can cause great confusion when a third person tries to use their maps and does not understand the difference.

To overcome this problem Australia wide Data Dictionaries have been developed. Examples of these are available on the ICSM website:

  • The ICSM defines different terms used by ICSM agency to legally describe tides. See /tidal-interface-compendium-terms
  • The ICSM Feature Catalogue, Standardised National [Mapping] Feature Codes; and Topographic [Mapping] Feature Catalogue define features - what they are, its 'standard' attributes, its relationships to other features and included terms. See Standardised National Feature Codes


Geoscience Australia Topographic Data and Map Specifications

for Topo 250K and Topo 100K National Topographic Databases and NTMS Series 1:250 000 & 1:100 000 Scale Topographic Map Products

Version: 6.0

Release Date: 20th January 2012

Further Reading
Geoscience Australia – Topographic Data and Map Specifications for TOPO250K & TOPO100K National Topographic Databases and Topographic Map Products
Natural Resources Canada – Standards and Specifications