How are maps used in research? An exploratory review of PhD dissertations
Keywords: maps, cartography, PhD dissertations, communication, research
Abstract. Maps are a powerful medium for communicating research. Tools for analysing geospatial data and preparing maps are now readily available and widely used in research. Despite this, concerns are being raised over the quality of maps produced with online and desktop mapping products. As academics and supervisors of postgraduate students, we conducted an exploratory study to determine if and how these concerns apply to maps in PhD dissertations. We reviewed just over 1,000 dissertations published in 2015 and 2017 at three universities. Maps for indicating locations or study areas were used in a diverse range of topics, confirming our reliance on maps to communicate information about geographic space. Maps that communicated scientific results were prevalent in the natural sciences and in the humanities, and in these cases, the dissertations included a large number of maps. We provide a qualitative description of problems identified in the dissertations, which highlight challenges with the accurate and responsible presentation of scientific results in maps. The accumulation of minor inaccuracies on maps, especially if one result is based on another, can have serious consequences for scientific knowledge production. Future work could review maps in PhD dissertations to inform guidelines for preparing and evaluating maps to be included in dissertations.