(feel free to offer comments or suggestions to stefan)
see also: ArcGIS Cartography Tips
Online Cartography Links
Cartography is as much about style and artistic design as it is about information and communication. Try to keep in mind both of these goals (style and communication) when designing maps. While there are very few hard and fast rules for cartography, there are many standards or conventions that are widely adopted. Taking advantage of these commonly recognizable standards will generally make your maps more readable for your viewers. Thus, while the following are by no means rules that must be followed, they are found on many maps...
There are a number of commonly recognized symbols that can be taken advantage of:
Capital Schools Hospital Marina
Rivers Highways Interstate Internat. Railroad
Oceans Forests Wetlands
Text and Annotation
Natural Features: Italics
Human-made features: non-Italics
Hydrology features are often labeled with Blue Italic text
If for a river, text should be 'splined' (follow the line of the river)
States and/or Countries are typically labeled - non-Italic, bold
Major Cities are typically labeled - non-Italic
Avoid crossing feature lines with text (add a 'halo mask' text if necessary)
Mountain ranges typically have splined text following the range
Mountain ranges often use wide spaced lettering
Text can be horizontal or rotated up to 90 degrees or down to 85 degrees
Vertical text should read from bottom up, not top down
Not all layers in a map need to be included in the legend. Examples of layers you might choose to leave out of the legend:
Such imagery should, however, be listed in a data note or the like, listing the date and source of the image.
Use even numbers for Scale (1:200 or 1:2,400 as opposed to 1:243)
Zoom in to the area of interest.
Avoid showing areas beyond the available data (or areas with only some of the data layers)
The human eye (and the common printer) can only differentiate between a few shades of any one color (do not attempt to have 6 shades of red or 8 shades of green). The exception to this is in the case of a color ramp where the purpose is to indicate a gradient of many colors (in which case the viewer is not expected to need to or be able to precisely identify any one color).