Introduction to Geographic Information Systems in Forest Resources
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Exercise: Using ArcGIS Help


ArcGIS 's online documentation system should become your best friend while you are learning to use ArcGIS. The documentation is extensive and quite well written, in comparison to most other software applications' documentation. As you are leaning ArcGIS, you should automatically open Help and keep it open until you are finished with your ArcGIS session. One of the biggest differences between those who learn GIS quickly and those who take longer to learn, or never learn, is that the fast learners use Help extensively. The fast learners will be able to teach themselves a tremendous amount; the slow learners will struggle a lot, attempt a lot of things through trial-and-error (mostly error) and learn relatively little.

  1. Start ArcMap
  2. Start & use ArcGIS help
  3. Usingt the GIS Dictionary
  4. Open Context-sensitive help

Start ArcMap

  1. Start by finding ArcGIS, by navigating through the Start Button on the Windows Task Bar.

  2. You should see a structure something like this:

  3. Open ArcMap by selecting the ArcMap shortcut.

    A banner will appear showing that ArcGIS is opening..

    ArcMap will start with a dialog prompting you to either create a new empty map, a map template, or open an existing map (if you have been using maps previously, they will be listed in the dialog). We won't be working with maps today, so cancel the dialog.

    You will see the ArcGIS application window that contains a single window (the Project Window) containing a few icons, a few menu choices, and a few buttons.

Start & use ArcGIS help
  1. There are several ways of starting ArcGIS 's on-line documentation ("Help") system:

    1. Open ArcGIS Help by selecting the shortcut for ArcGIS Desktop Help (in the same Windows Start menu location as ArcGIS ).
      ArcGIS help functions like any other Windows help system for other software applications.

    2. The second method is to click the Help menu, always the rightmost menu on the ArcGIS graphical user interface.

    3. The third method is to use context-sensitive help, described below.

  2. When Help opens, you will see an application with 4 tabs. The first tab is the Contents tab.

    The Contents tab contains all of the main topics in ArcGIS Help.

    The contents are arranged in a hierarchical order. Each book icon represents an upper-level subject in the documentation. As you open these books, you will see other book icons, which represent subordinate subjects. Each subject contains topics and/or subordinate subjects.

  3. Click the ArcMap subject. You will see the book icon change to look like the book is open , and a dropdown list of other topics will open (topics with explanations have a page icon ; topics with lists of how to perform an action have a list icon ).

  4. Click on the Tables subject, and you will see a dropdown list of specific topics. Click on the Displaying tabular data topic. The help topic will open in the right-hand pane of the help application.

    The window at right hand side will show the introduction of that topic. In this exercise, you will see the topic: Displaying tables and know how to operate it within ArcMap.

  5. Click the Help Topics button, and then click the Search tab on the main Help application. Type "tabulate area" in the text entry control. You will see a list of help topics that contain the search string. Open and peruse the topic Tabulate Area. The usage portion will explain how to use this tool to achieve your purpose of analysis.

Using the GIS Dictionary

ArcGIS help comes with a Glossary of terms. The dictionary is linked on the left-hand pane of the help application.

  1. Open the GIS Glossary by clicking on its link. The application will open.

  2. Find the definition of scale by clicking on the S.

You can find the definition of many different terms by using the GIS dictionary. Browse for a few more terms.


You have just learned how to open ArcGIS help, and how to search for help on a specific topic. The difference between those of you who learn a little or a lot about ArcGIS and GIS will be determined by those of you who learn to use and consult this on-line documentation. If you learn nothing else this quarter, you should learn to use ArcGIS 's Help. You will use online help more in the next lab exercise.


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