Rules of thumb for spatial data

On this page will be placed some of the rules of thumb that have been identified by practitioners in the fields of Cartography, Remote Sensing, GPS, GIS and Spatial analysis. If you have developed your own rules of thumb, or know of any rules of thumb not described below, I would be delighted to hear from you. Please contact me.

One view "recognnizes the use of rules of thumb as an immediate and semiconscious kind of knowledge that could be called tacit knowledge. Using rules of thumb might explain why practice remains unchanged although educational activities result in more elaborate knowledge" (

Rules of thumb in cartography

Rules of thumb in remote sensing

Rules of thumb for GPS

Rules of thumb in GIS

Rules of Thumb for Mapping Component Customers, By Jeff Cole

Spatial analysis

Variograms: There are 2 rules of thumb for selecting a lag size:

  1. Have at least 30-50 pairs minimum for any one variogram point. Smaller bins or lag size means less pairs and probably better structure, but too small a bin or lag size typically introduces more noise into the variogram.
  2. Multiply the lag size by the number of lags, which should be about half the largest distance among all points. (Source)

Crime analysis

Sequential patterns that occur reliably can be used to formulate heuristics (rules of thumb): “we should pitch crime C to persons who are involved in A and B.” (From Spatial and collateral data mining for crime detection and analysis)



Project management

Dan Widner, GIS Program Manager, Virginia DOT states: Web enabling of environmental review process is a top priority for VDOT’s environmental and data management organizations. A “rule of thumb” applied at VDOT states that for each month of delay to each $50 million worth of construction projects, $166,000 is added to the cost of the project. VDOT is working with other natural resource agencies in the state to improve the ease of access to data and information using spatial data, tools and technologies.   (Source)

Other rules of thumb that are of interest to those working with GIS, remote sensing, etc.

What are some rules of thumb for converting GIF images to JPEG? (For example: A good rule of thumb is not to bother converting any GIF that's much under 100 Kbytes; the potential savings isn't worth the hassle.)

Rules of thumb for metapopulation conservation management.  

Rules of thumb about color that you may find helpful. 



The concept, and these pages, were initially produced by Brian Klinkenberg© January, 2004.