A map is a graphic representation of a portion of the earth's surface drawn to scale, as seen from above. It uses colors, symbols, and labels to represent features found on the ground. The ideal representation would be realized if every feature of the area being mapped could be shown in true shape. Obviously this is impossible, and an attempt to plot each feature true to scale would result in a product impossible to read even with the aid of a magnifying glass.
a. Therefore, to be understandable, features must be represented by conventional signs and symbols. To be legible, many of these must be exaggerated in size, often far beyond the actual ground limits of the feature represented. On a 1:250,000 scale map, the prescribed symbol for a building covers an area about 500 feet square on the ground; a road symbol is equivalent to a road about 520 feet wide on the ground; the symbol for a single-track railroad (the length of a cross-tie) is equivalent to a railroad cross-tie about 1,000 feet on the ground.
b. The portrayal of many features requires similar exaggeration. Therefore, the selection of features to be shown, as well as their portrayal, is in accord with the guidance established by the Defense Mapping Agency.