all maps contain errors, but since error cannot be eliminated, the next best thing is to reduce the magnitude of our errors, and in so doing, perhaps also the count. now that we know what the map is and what it is for, we are ready to consider the process of map making.
the key techniques for improving your map making skills over your natural abilities are well known and studied, but they are also scattered and difficult to implement. the map making skills of your ancestors beget your natural mapping skills, but they only had to be good enough map makers to produce you. that still makes them excellent map makers, ergo also you, but it does not imply you have reached the limits of your map making abilities. sure, you can already make maps that are good enough, but our goal is not a good enough map, but the best map we can make!
the first thing is to have a good map of the map. this cannot be underestimated, because your map of the map constrains your thoughts about the map, and if you want to make better maps, you need a strong process for reasoning about the map that allows you to improve upon it. without a good model of the map many map making techniques, commonly referred to as critical thinking and rationality, will seem confusing. this doesn't mean you can't start learning techniques before you have your model of the map figured out: it just means you will face confusion and difficulty as you figure out how to reason about the map in a way that makes some of the most powerful techniques useful. that's why i like to write more about the map and less about map making.
so assuming you have a good enough map of the map, let's highlight the core knowledge and techniques humans have accumulated to help them make better maps.
- reasoning from evidence
- avoiding rationalization
- following the evidence, even if you don't like it
- correcting for heuristics and biases when they are unhelpful
- regularly checking your map against the territory
- assessing the precision of your map
of course this list is incomplete. map making is a skill that requires learning a million little things and then putting them all into play at once largely without rising to the level of consciousness (or forcing such a rise when appropriate). and in truth it is a skill you never stop working on because, if nothing else, constant vigilance is required to avoid slipping back into easier, natural methods of map making. we'll return frequently to the topic of map making, but for now let this serve as a start on your journey to make better maps.