Topographic Map Symbols
The purpose of a map is to permit one to visualize an area of the earth's surface with pertinent features properly positioned. The map's legend contains the symbols most commonly used in a particular series or on that specific topographic map sheet. Therefore, the legend should be referred to each time a new map is used. Every effort is made to design standard symbols that resemble the features they represent. If this is not possible, symbols are selected that logically imply the features they portray. For example, an open-pit mining operation is represented by a small black drawing of a crossed hammer and pickax.
a. Ideally, all the features within an area would appear on a map in their true proportion, position, and shape. This, however, is not practical because many of the features would be unimportant and others would be unrecognizable because of their reduction in size.
b. The mapmaker has been forced to use symbols to represent the natural and man-made features of the earth's surface. These symbols resemble, as closely as possible, the actual features themselves as viewed from above. They are positioned in such a manner that the center of the symbol remains in its true location. An exception to this would be the position of a feature adjacent to a major road. If the width of the road has been exaggerated, then the feature is moved from its true position to preserve its relation to the road. Field Manual 21-31 gives a description of topographic features and abbreviations authorized for use on our military maps.
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