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Essential vocabulary

The following are key terms for understanding ArcGIS for Excel.


A method of summarizing data to make it easier to analyze and explore. Depending on the data and choice of location type, you may be able to use the aggregate functionality when adding data. When you aggregate the data, ArcGIS for Excel creates an Excel pivot table and adds it as a worksheet to an existing Excel workbook. For example, you can aggregate office location data to show the total number of employees in each state, as opposed to the individual office locations that might span multiple cities in a single state.


The brand name for Esri GIS products. ArcGIS provides an online infrastructure for making maps and geographic information available throughout an organization, across a community, and openly on the web. By signing in to your ArcGIS organization, you can access ready-to-use maps and apps, or create maps that tell a story. With ArcGIS for Excel, you can combine your business data with data from ArcGIS to create detailed maps that help you analyze the data visually and make better decisions. ArcGIS also allows you to share maps and map layers within your organization or with colleagues in the field.

For more information, see ArcGIS for Excel.


Enclosed polygons that represent the shape and location of homogeneous features such as states, counties, parcels, and land-use zones.


Fields and values for a single feature or nonspatial record. Attributes are typically stored in a database or service, such as a feature service. They are used to classify and filter data in data-driven visualizations.


An automatic function that updates the map when you make a change to the Excel data. After you've added Excel data to a map, you can update the values in the spreadsheet and insert or delete rows and columns, and the map automatically refreshes to reflect the changes. Changes are also reflected automatically in pop-ups.


A layer that provides a geographical context, or background, for the content you want to display in a map. With ArcGIS for Excel, you can choose from several basemaps hosted on ArcGIS. These basemaps include many options that combine road, aerial, and topographic data with a variety of symbology. If your organization makes them available, you can also access basemaps in your ArcGIS organization.


The function of organizing point features that are within a certain distance of each other into a single symbol. This is different from grouping in which features are grouped by a user-specified category and styled accordingly.

Coordinate system

A reference framework that consists of points, lines, or surfaces, and a set of rules used to define real-world locations.

In ArcGIS for Excel, you can choose between World Geodetic Survey 1984 (WGS84), Web Mercator, and several other supported coordinate systems. You can also import a custom coordinate system from a map or feature service hosted on ArcGIS.

A geographic coordinate system is used to find locations on a globe or sphere. WGS84 is a common geographic coordinate system in which every location on the earth is specified by a set of numbers (coordinates). Coordinates are often expressed as latitude and longitude values.

A projected coordinate system is used to translate locations on a globe to locations on a flat surface, such as a monitor or paper map. Web Mercator is a common projected coordinate system in which locations are identified by x,y coordinates on a grid, with the origin at the center of the grid. Coordinate values in the Web Mercator system generally have 6, 7, or 8 digits to the left of the decimal, and the units are meters. If you are unsure which coordinate system to use, contact the originator of the data or the person who collected it.


A set of values represented by the letters x and y that define a position within a spatial reference. Coordinates are used to represent locations in space relative to other locations. Coordinates are often shown in latitude-longitude pairs, where x-coordinates range from -180 to 180 and y-coordinates range from -90 to 90, or as values with 6, 7, or 8 digits to the left of the decimal point. When using ArcGIS for Excel, these value pairs are often composed of the values from two columns in the data.


Geographic features are representations of things located on or near the surface of the earth. Geographic features can occur naturally (such as rivers and vegetation), can be constructions (such as roads, pipelines, wells, and buildings), and can be subdivisions of land (such as counties, political divisions, and land parcels). Geographic features are most commonly represented as points, lines, or polygons. In ArcGIS for Excel, data you have added is often referred to as features on the map.

Feature service

A data hosting endpoint that provides access to a collection of geographic features. Each feature in the collection has a location, set of properties, map symbology, and pop-up. You can search for feature services on ArcGIS and add them to the map. When you add a feature service to the map, it becomes one or more layers in the map.


The process of placing features in user-specified categories and styling them accordingly.

Heat map

Point features represented as density using colors. Areas where colors are the most intense indicate the highest point density. When you have too many points on the map to interpret patterns or make sense of the information, consider using a heat map.


A method of visually representing geographic datasets. A layer is rendered as a map, and each layer has a legend. A map can contain multiple layers. On a road map, for example, roads, national parks, political boundaries, and rivers may each be considered unique, separate layers. When you add Excel data to a map, ArcGIS for Excel creates a layer for that data and includes it in the layer list. Once the layer is created, editable functionality such as layer visibility, style configurations, and transparency is enabled.


A type of feature geometry containing ordered point coordinates and a spatial reference. Each point on a line can be expressed as an x,y coordinate, a z-value for elevation, and an optional m-value for linear referencing.


A collection of layers that displays geographic data and is used to explore and interact with that data. You can add Excel data directly to a map and combine it with additional content from ArcGIS Online.

Map service

A data hosting endpoint that provides prestyled collections of map cartography organized by location and scale. You can search for map services on ArcGIS and add their contents to a map. When you add map service content to a map, it becomes one or more layers in the map.


The process of standardizing data to reduce outliers. In ArcGIS for Excel, the values in a selected Divided By attribute are used to divide the value of another attribute; this is used to style the map using ratios. Normalization ratios are useful when other factors influence numeric data. For example, population can be influenced by each county's size, so you can divide a population count by area to standardize the data. Data normalization is also useful for providing a meaningful comparison when field values do not use the same units of measurement.


The function of shifting a map image relative to the display window without changing the viewing scale. Panning a map can also be thought of as moving the map image in the display window to view different parts of the map.

PivotTable (Excel)

An Excel tool used to aggregate data values so that table content can be sorted, filtered, and rearranged dynamically to emphasize different aspects of data. In ArcGIS for Excel, a pivot table is used when adding data to a map. A pivot table is not added to the Add data wizard if it contains a nonnative data type, has a hierarchy, or has more than one row label. Nonnative data types that are generated by third-party Excel plug-ins and do not directly conform to typical data types are stored in a RDBMS. For more information, see Overview of PivotTable and PivotChart reports in the Microsoft help.


A type of geometry that represents discrete locations of geographic features, such as well locations, telephone poles, and stream gauges. They contain a single set of x,y coordinates and a spatial reference, and are often expressed in longitude (x) and latitude (y) values. They can also have an optional z-value for elevation and an m-value for linear referencing. Points can also represent address locations, GPS coordinates, or mountain peaks.

Polygons or areas

Geometric enclosed areas (many-sided figures) that represent the shape and location of features such as states, counties, parcels, and land-use zones. Polygons are often called areas. Each polygon is composed of a series of x,y coordinates, or points, and a spatial reference, as well as an optional z-value that defines each x,y coordinate's elevation, and an m-value for linear referencing. These define the precise location (latitude and longitude) of the polygon's boundary.

Table (Excel)

A specific set of rows and columns in an Excel worksheet. In Excel, a table is an item specifically created by the user of the workbook and is not equivalent to the spreadsheet. To see if there are tables in a worksheet, click the Name Manager button on the Formulas tab on the ribbon. For more information, see Overview of Excel tables in the Microsoft help.

Web map

A digital map file that contains a map's layers, styles, and related data. You can search for a web map on ArcGIS and add it to a map. When a web map is added to a map, the individual layers in the web map become layers in the map.

Worksheet (Excel)

The primary document used in Excel to store and work with data. A worksheet is sometimes called a spreadsheet. It consists of cells organized into columns and rows. A worksheet is stored in a workbook.