The above map contains elements that are fundamental to cartography:
- The title should be clear, concise and placed at a prominent place which does hot overlap with other elements.
- The scale is also relevant to help the reader visualize the geographical extent of what is being displayed (although on the above map, the scale is not necessary since it deals with a well known feature; the continental United States).
- The projection and credits (such as the source and the cartographer) can also be stated. They are particularly useful for someone wishing to retrace the source data and to replicate the map if necessary.
- By convention, the top of the map is the north. If this is different, a north arrow should be placed on the map (it is pointless to place a north arrow on a map where the north is straight up).
- A locator map is a more advanced element used to situate the main map in a wider geographical context. This is particularly relevant when the location depicted is generally unfamiliar to the average reader, notably when shown at a large scale (in the above case, a locator map is not very relevant since the general location of the United States is well known).
- An inset can be considered as a sub-map depicting in more details a portion of a larger map. An inset frame is also used to specifically locate the extent of the inset map on the greater map (above, an inset of Long Island is provided as well as the inset frame on the larger map).
Major map elements can be categorized as:
- Common elements. Can be found on the great majority of map projects (scale, legend, north arrow and source).
- Context sensitive elements. They are related the nature of the information being displayed (title, projection, legend, credits).
- Effective communication elements. Used to improve the readability of the map (locator maps, insets).