Basics in Collecting Geo-Location Data

These basic tips will help you collect clean geo-location data sets during or possibly after your fieldwork. With this data, you will be able to create layered maps that display relationships among selected locations, and in connection with the wide variety of other data sets that you might create or obtain (e.g. census, health, real estate activity, etc.) for the same areas.

Generating Geocoded Data Sets for Excel or Google Sheets

  1. Open Google maps with a web browser at
  2. Use the Search field to find your selected location of interest.
  3. Zoom in, move the map, and then click on the specific location you identify as your most accurate data point.  
  4. Generate latitude and longitude information, using one of these methods:
    a. Click on a select location, to open a small box with location details, or
    b. Control/right-click on a spot to open a menu, select “What’s here?”, or
    c. Click on a red location marker, select “What’s here?” if needed.
  5. Click on the latitude and longitude data that appears in decimal degrees in the location information box at the bottom. These latitude and longitude details will appear in the Google Search field.
  6. Highlight and Copy both the latitude and longitude data together from the Search field. (Do not copy the version with the hemispheric initials, i.e.  N,W,E,S).
  • Create a new workbook in Excel. Name the workbook and save it on your local drive. Title the first three columns, “Name,” “Latitude” and “Longitude.” 
  • Paste the copied latitude and longitude data into the latitude column. 
  • Separate the latitude and longitude values into their respective columns by cutting and pasting the longitude (the second decimal number) to the longitude column. Be sure to remove the leftover comma in the latitude column. 
  • You are ready to import the geographic data into software, such as ArcGIS, to create layered maps for data analysis and visualization. Be sure to save the workbook (sheet) on your own computer, or download it when you are ready to import to data analysis/visualization software.


  • Create or Open a new on-line workbook in Google Sheets. Name the workbook and  Title the first three columns as “Name,” “Latitude” and “Longitude.”
  • Paste the copied latitude and longitude data into the Latitude column.
  • Separate the latitude and longitude values into their respective columns by clicking on the small pop-up paste menu that appears, and selecting “Split text to columns….” Leave the Separator as “Comma,” by clicking outside the menu. [Note:  This step is done manually in Excel; see above.]
  • You are ready to import the geographic data into software, such as ArcGIS, to create maps for data analysis and visualization. To do this, first download the sheet from the google on-line platform. Export it as a new Excel, CSV or TSV file on your local drive.


Export and archive your Sheets and Excel worksheets in either the .TSV (tab separated values) or .CSV (comma separated values) format. Both Sheets and Excel are proprietary software tools that contain invisible formatting data. Further, Google Sheets can can only download your data in Excel, PDF, OpenDocument, .html (web pages), .CSV and .TSV files. So in order to ensure that the data from your worksheets can be imported, read and visualized using the widest variety of other software tools, it is important to preserve your data in one of these plain formats. Even if some visualization software tools are currently able to read Excel files (e.g. Tableau), saving your work in plain .TSV or .CSV formats will ensure that you will be able to access your data from a wider variety of existing visualization tools and future generations of technology. (See more tips on collecting structured data here.)

Generating Geocoded Data Sets and Maps from Street Addresses

If you have a large set of street addresses, finding geo-location data could be time consuming, if not tedious. GPS Visualizer is a free tool that can generate tablular data as well as maps from GIS coordinates, addresses, travel routes, and a number of digital sources.



  • You can use your iPhone to collect geographic locations during your field research at your fieldsites where there is a GPS signal. Open the Compass app and your current geo-coordinates will appear on the bottom (your elevation appears beneath). Tap and hold on the latitude and longitude line, and select copy
  • From there you can paste the location data into a notebook, from which you can later copy and paste each location as an entry into an Excel or Sheets document. As you copy the data, you can remove the N,S,W,E initials from each entry.   
  • There are a number of Apps in the App Store for iPhone that collect GPS and geo-location data.

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