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5 commands you should know in ArcGIS

Nowadays, it is so easy to use maps and geography can be loved by everyone (almost everyone…).

The easy access to these tools draws attention of new professionals eager to learn and use them. However, when we start learning something, we can trip on some obstacles. So we decide to write some commands and tips you should know when starting using ArcGIS that can improve your maps and save some time.

1. Define your projection

The first thing you should do when you open your map project is to define the projection. This can save a lot of time in the future, especially when you try to modify the scale of your map in the map layout.

If there is no projection, there is no scale.

So, save your most used projections in the favorites (just click in the star with a plus sign) and always define it in the beginning of the project.

2. Capitalize the firts letter of the labels

If the data in your data set has a label column with letters (texts) all in uppercase, it would be very tiresome to rename all of them one by one.

Instead, you can use python programming to solve this quickly (don’t worry, it is easy – take a look).

Open the properties window of your shapefile and select the label window. Here, click in the expression button and in the new window. Mark the advanced check box and change the parser menu to Python.

Now, you will have an expression like the one below. Just add .title() to your field name and voilá.

def FindLabel( [NAME] )
  return [NAME].title()

Finish by clicking in OK.

3. Create new shapes – Points, Lines and Polygons

The easiest way to create a new shapefile is to draw one. To do that, you will have to enable the Draw Toolbar (to activate it, go to Customize > Toolbars > Draw).

In this toolbar, you can select what you want to create, let’s say rectangle, then you simply draw it on your map.

This still not a shapefile, you have to convert it.

Now, to convert it, in the draw toolbar, click in Drawing and select Convert Graphics to Features. Then, You will be asked to choose the name and where you want to save the file and now you have a shapefile of what you have drawn.

4. Editing Shapefiles

Now that you have created your line or polygon, you want to edit it. Most of GIS softwares does not allow direct modification of shapefiles. So, what you have to do?

You need to turn on and off the Editor Mode. This option is available in Customize > Toolbars > Editor. To start editing, click in Editor and then Start Editing. Many other tools will be available now.

5. Project

And finally, if you have to change the coordinate system of your shapefile, you will have to access the ArcTool Box and use the Project Toolbox.

This toolbox is located in ArcToolBox > Data Management Tools > Projections and Transformations > Project. In the opened window, you just have to define the shapefile you want to change, its coordinate system, the new shapefile with its new coordinate system.

Also, you will have to choose how this transformation is going to work. Select the one that fits your needs and click Ok.

And those are some commands that I find useful and saved me some time when I am working with ArcGIS.

Have I forgotten any command? Feel free to comment and share it with us.


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