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Geographic Information Systems (GIS): What is GIS?

A guide on GIS and mapping-related resources

Introduction to GIS

What is GIS?

Geographic Information Systems also know as GIS, refers to the toolkit or software that equips individuals to manage and visualise spatial data, so that they can be analysed for any trends, patterns and relationships. In summary, GIS is more than just mapping and comprises of the following 3 components:

1) Spatial Data Management of both spatial and non-spatial data

2) Visualisation of the data on maps, for instance

3) Analysis of the data such as for locations, trends and patterns. 


There are many types of GIS systems, including commercial/proprietary software as well as openly available tools. The clip below from Louisiana Sea Grant provides a 3-minute introduction on GIS: 

GIS Applicability

What it GIS used for? 

Beyond urban planning and geography, GIS has been widely applied across various industries and topic areas including the social sciences, epidemiology, health, education, conservation, business and also safety and risk assessment. As long as there is a location (eg. address), data of any kind can be analysed for patterns using GIS tools!

Some examples:

  • Tracking of disease outbreaks and clusters based on occurences
  • School locations and real estate price patterns
  • Locations for new retail ventures in proximity to infrastructure 
  • Endangered species biomass and sightings in relation to topography

Research Librarian, Economics

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Melody Chin
SMU Libraries
6828 0352

GIS Help

Need help with GIS? 

If you have a query on how you can apply GIS in your projects, a librarian may be able to help. Contact or your Research Librarian for your school. 


The use of electronic resources must comply with the Appropriate Use of Electronic Resources Policy and Singapore Management University Acceptable Use Policy