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An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems (3rd Edition)

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Your encounters with GIS to date may be similar to those of a Martian arriving on Earth and being faced with a motor car. Imagine a Martian coming to Earth and stumbling across a motor car showroom. Very soon he (or she) has heard of a ‘car’ and may even have seen a few glossy brochures. Perhaps you are in the same position. You have heard of the term GIS, maybe even seen one or two demonstrations or the paper output they produce.

Developing the analogy of the Martian and the car leads us to a dilemma. There are two approaches to explaining to the Martian what the car is and how it works. The first method is a bottom-up approach. This involves taking the car apart into its component pieces and explaining what each part does. Gradually, we put the pieces back together so that by the time we have reassembled the car we have a good appreciation of how the car works in theory. However, we may still have little idea about how to use it or what to do with it in practice.

The second method, the top-down approach, starts by providing several examples of what the car is used for and why. Perhaps we take it for a test run, and then explore how the different components of the car work together to produce an end result. If this approach is adopted, we may never be able to build a car engine, but we will have a clear appreciation of how, when, why and where a car could be used. In addition, if we explore the subject in sufficient technical detail we will know how to choose one car in preference to another or when to switch on the lights rather than the windscreen wipers.

We feel that the same two methods can be used to inform you about GIS. Since we believe you are reading this book not because you want to write your own GIS software, but because you wish to develop a better appreciation of GIS, the approach adopted is similar to the top-down method. We focus on the practical application of GIS technology and where necessary and appropriate take a more detailed look at how it works. In a book of this size it is impossible for us to explain and describe every aspect of GIS. Therefore, we concentrate on those areas that enable you to make sense of the application of GIS, understand the theories upon which it is based and appreciate how to set up and implement your own GIS project.

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