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ENGL 229: Introduction to Creative Nonfiction: Mapping Resources & Tools

Online Maps & Data


Digital Tools

Option 1:

StoryMap JS Logo

Story Map JS is one of the tools created by and supported by Knight Labs at Northwestern University, in support of journalism.

The basic features of StoryMap JS are intuitive and easy to use. The quality of your StoryMap depends upon the research you've completed on your topic and the ways in which you've created a compelling story with a strong visual element.


  1. Click the button to "Make a StoryMap" and log in with your Google account.
  2. Create your title slide. The title slide shows all points from your other slides.
  3. Add a slide for each place in your story. Setting the location is as easy as a text search for the name or address.
  4. For each slide, you can add a headline, explanatory text, and/or media, such as an image, video, or audio.
  5. You can change the visual style of your map with a few presets (located under "Options" at the top left of the screen).


Option 2:

Image result for padlet

Use Padlet to create an online bulletin board to display information for any topic. 


  1. Go to and sign up for a free account. 
  2. Log in and select "Make a Padlet".
  3. Of the options available, select "Map". 
  4. Use the options on the right menu to name your map and modify its visual style.
  5. You are now ready to begin adding sites to your map! Click the pink + icon to add a location. Search by place name, address, or drag and drop the pin anywhere on the map. For each location, you can add explanatory text, an image, and/or link to other content on the web.


Option 3:

 ThingLink logo

ThingLink is an easy-to-use online tool that allows you to upload an image and make it interactive by adding links, video and audio clips, photos, and text. Use this option if you have a historic map that you would like to annotate.


  1. Go to and click "Start Now."
  2. Select "Create an account," and choose the "free teacher" account.
  3. Click "Create," then "upload image."  At this point you will upload the high quality image of your map.
  4. You are now ready to begin annotating your image!

Featured Tool: Social Explorer


Practice: Explore Tacoma with Social Explorer

Pick one aspect of Tacoma's population that interests you and see if you can find some more information about that subtopic in Social Explorer.

Click the link for ‘Social Explorer’ (above) and sign up for a personal account. Doing so will allow you to save, export and share the maps that you create.

Create a new project and then select maps. Give your project a descriptive name that reflects the data you are mapping.

Enter ‘Tacoma, WA’ into the search box and click on Tacoma, WA under ‘place.’

Then click ‘change data’ in the upper right to explore demographic data about Tacoma.  

  • For instance, if you’re curious about educational attainment in Tacoma, you might select the ‘Education' category and then select ‘Highest Educational Attainment for Population 25 Years and Over: Master's Degree or More'


Intermediate Social Explorer:‚Äč 

You can also use Social Explorer to create more complex maps for visualizing and comparing data. For example, use the button on the bottom right corner of the screen to create a swipe comparison to compare the same variable in different years or a side-by-side comparison to examine different variables in the same year.


Map Annotations: 

Social Explorer offers several different kinds of annotations to enhance your map. These include place markers, hotspots and a variety of drawing tools. To access the annotations menu, click on the bars to the right of the map title, and then select "Annotate Map." 

Writing Captions

In the library and museum worlds, captions are viewed as interpretive acts. You are not just conveying information; you are attempting to provoke a response in your audience. When you have only a few words in which to do that, every word counts! 

Labels should show authority and knowledge, but have a less formal tone than you might use in an academic paper or article. Be sure to keep your audience in mind, and to place your locations in context. For each label, consider what the take-away or message is for the viewer. Use this to frame your writing.

Need Help?

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Katy Curtis, Humanities Librarian
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