Preparing a map for editing

When you are building a map to edit, there are several items to consider that will make your editing experience easier and more successful.

Preparing the layers

All the layers you want to edit together should be in the same workspace, where a workspace is a single geodatabase or a folder of shapefiles. If the feature classes are not stored together, you will not be able to edit them at the same time. When you add the layers to the map, all the layers you want to edit together should be within the same data frame, since editing only occurs in one data frame at a time.

The coordinate systems of all the layers should match each other and should match the coordinate system of the data frame. If layers are being projected on the fly, there may be unexpected alignment problems when making edits. In addition, consider projecting data in a geographic coordinate system to an appropriate local projection to improve accuracy when editing. This will also make it easier when you need to enter values, such as lengths. If your map is in WGS 1984, for example, ArcMap is expecting the lengths to be entered in decimal degrees. In addition, you are also only able to use distance units abbreviations to enter values when a projected coordinate system is being used. Distance units abbreviations allow you to specify measurement values when editing in a unit different from the map units.

A data frame maintains its own x,y tolerance, resolution, and domain values, which are taken from the first layer added to the map. Certain edits may fail, or features may collapse unexpectedly, because of the differences in these values between the data frame and the layers you are editing. The map tolerance is not exposed in the user interface, but you can reset the spatial reference properties of the data frame to match those of a particular layer. When you do this, the data frame takes on the coordinate system of the layer as well as the other properties.

Name your layers clearly and accurately, since feature templates are grouped under the layer name by default. You can rename a layer in the table of contents.

Preparing the symbology

You should symbolize your layers as you want them before you start editing for the first time on a map (a time when feature templates are created automatically for you), or when you go to create feature templates yourself. If you change the symbology often, you may end up with templates that no longer reflect the features you want to create. In that case, simply delete the templates and re-create them.

Prior to starting editing for the first time or creating feature templates, you should look on the Layer Properties dialog box > Symbology tab to make sure the labels for your symbols are meaningful, as the symbol labels become the names for the feature templates. If you edit the symbol labels first, it reduces the amount of cleanup you need to do on your templates after they are created and helps other editors understand which features they are creating.

For example, you have a layer of land uses with symbol categories taken from the raw attributes of AGR, COM, IND, RES, and UNK, which are shortened versions of various types of land uses. By default, these are also the symbol labels, and therefore, the feature template names. To help clarify the feature template names, you should enter better label names for the symbol, such as Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, Residential, and Unknown. The symbol labels are also used in the entries in the table of contents and the map layout legend, so there are additional reasons to do this.

The symbols on the Symbology tab on the Layer Properties dialog box

You can edit the labels for the symbols on the Symbology tab of the Layer Properties dialog box.
You can edit the labels for the symbols on the Symbology tab of the Layer Properties dialog box.

The resulting feature templates in the Create Features window

Create Features window with the feature templates named after the symbol labels
Create Features window with the feature templates reflecting the clearer symbol labels

Simplifying the attribute fields

Editing attributes is an important part of the editing process. Setting the properties of fields can help streamline your attribute editing experience. The settings you make on the Layer Properties (or Table Properties, for stand-alone tables) dialog box are used throughout ArcGIS, including while editing.

Firstly, you should specify the display expression, which is used to represent a feature in the Attributes window (and the Identify window, among other places in ArcMap). The display expression can simply be a field by itself, or you can customize the display text, which allows you to enter your own text or combine the contents of multiple fields. While editing, the display expression is what you see in the tree in the Attributes window. It is also shown in the selection chip, which appears to help you select the correct feature when you click multiple overlapping features with the Edit tool.

Use the Fields tab on the Layer Properties dialog box to set options for working with attribute fields, since this can simplify the attribute editing experience. For example, if you have a long list of fields but only plan to edit the attribute values for a few fields, hide the fields you do not need to avoid cluttering your attributes list and make it easier to locate the fields you do want to edit. You can also hide the system fields that ArcGIS does not allow you to edit, such as the Object ID, Shape, Shape_Length, and Shape_Area.

You can add highlighting or change the order of fields to promote to the top of the list the fields you use most often. If your field names are cryptic to adhere to data source limitations (such as no spaces between words or a maximum field length), set field aliases so you can see the user-friendly names when editing.

You can set a field to be read-only, so you cannot edit its contents. This is useful when you need to see the value of a field for context, but do not want to inadvertently update its value.

You should follow these guidelines when working with stand-alone tables, since the display expression and field properties are used with tables, too. For example, you have a table containing landowner information that is related to a parcel layer through a relationship class. When you are editing the parcel's attributes in the Attributes window, you can navigate through the related records to edit the landowner table. If you set a display expression, turn off unwanted fields, reorder fields, and set other properties, it is easier to edit the values in the table.

Authoring feature templates

Effective use of feature templates can make your editing experience more productive. Feature templates define all the information required to create a feature: the layer where a feature will be stored, the attributes a feature is created with, and the default tool used to create that feature. Feature templates also have a name, description, and tags that can help you find and organize them. When creating new features, you should ensure that you have set the appropriate properties for your feature templates.

Cases wherein ArcMap creates feature templates automatically

When you start editing either a saved map document or a brand new map, ArcMap checks to see if you have any existing feature templates in the map. If no templates are found, ArcMap automatically creates them to help you get started adding features. If you have layers from several different geodatabases or folders of shapefiles in a data frame or multiple data frames in a map document, ArcMap creates templates the first time you start editing in each workspace or data frame if there are no existing templates.

When templates are created automatically, they are generally created for all types of symbology. However, templates work best when creating features symbolized by categories, as a single symbol, or by representations, rather than with quantities or charts.

Once templates are created the first time you start editing, they are not added automatically after that. You need to create the templates yourself for layers subsequently added to the map. This allows you to control the creation of templates and avoid cluttering the list of templates with templates for layers that may not be used for editing.

Creating your own new feature templates

To create feature templates, open the Organize Feature Templates dialog box from the Create Features window and start the Create New Templates wizard. The wizard steps you through the quick process of making a template: first, you choose the layer or layers, then, if applicable, choose any or all classes within that layer to make into individual templates. Once the templates are created, you can change their default properties, copy and paste them, or delete them.

You can make a copy of an existing template to use it as the basis of a new template. For example, if you want a different default attribute for one of the fields in the layer, copy and paste the template, then change the new template's properties. This saves you from going through the wizard to make just a slight change to a template.

If you add a layer to your map, significantly change the symbology used to draw the features, or add a symbology category (such as for a layer drawn with unique values), you need to create new templates to be able to add features in that layer.

Setting feature template properties

The default attribute values are some of the most important properties you can set for a feature template. The attributes set on the Template Properties dialog box are assigned to new features created with that feature template. Setting the appropriate default values saves you time and improves accuracy, since the attributes are populated automatically in the new features.

Each template has a default construction tool, which you can set in the template's properties. Setting the default tool can help you avoid an extra click to choose a different tool to create new features. For example, when you are drawing rectangular building footprints, set that template's default construction tool to the Rectangle tool so that tool automatically becomes active when creating building footprints. You can always override the default tool and choose a different one in the Create Features window.

You can create multiple templates for a layer even if you are symbolizing with a single symbol. You might do this when you have a layer that should all be displayed the same way but the features you want to create have different attribute values. For example, if you are creating lines to represent pipeline features, you could create several feature templates with different default attributes for the common types of material or diameter sizes.

Managing feature templates

The Organize Feature Templates dialog box allows you to author and manage the templates in your map, such as by creating, deleting, copying, and renaming templates and setting template properties.

If you had many layers that you will never edit in your map the first time you started editing (so templates were created automatically), you can delete the templates you are not using. For example, if you have 10 layers in your map but are only creating new features in two of them, delete the other templates so it makes it easier for you to find the templates you need.

If you have changed the rendering of several layers since the templates were initially created, it may be best just to delete all your templates and start again so the templates are synchronized better with your current symbology. Once you delete them, simply start the Create New Templates wizard and make templates for only the layers in which you want to create features.

A better practice, however, is to spend some time preparing the map and its symbology prior to actually starting editing and creating templates.

Creating maps to share with other editors

If you are creating a map that other editors will use, you should ensure that all the elements necessary to create features are easy to understand by all the editors. This involves clearly naming layers and symbol labels, since these are used to identify the feature templates in the Create Features window. This also applies when you are serving the map through ArcGIS Server, as editors who edit the contents of the map through the Web or by downloading the data locally also receive the feature templates from the map.

General recommendations for ArcMap

Any suggestions that improve performance when working in ArcMap in general can also help when editing. For example, set visible scale ranges on your layers so they will display only at the appropriate map scales. Use simple symbology when you can, such as the symbols from the ESRI_Optimized style that look similar to default ESRI symbols but are designed to perform better.

Utilizing ArcGIS basemap layers is another way to improve display performance. This layer type provides optimized display logic that provides fast map navigation and screen refresh. As the name implies, you could consider creating a basemap layer from any layers that would normally be a basemap in your map—terrain, imagery, or static parcel features. To create a basemap layer, right-click the data frame name in the table of contents, click New Basemap Layer, then drag your layers into the basemap layer in the table of contents.

In terms of the data sources, access data locally or use the feature cache when working with features across the network. Consider using file geodatabases rather than shapefiles or personal geodatabases, since file geodatabases are faster (in addition to the format's other benefits).

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