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What is scale?

Scale refers to measurements on a map, as compared to measurements in the real world. For example, the distance represented by one centimeter on a 1:20,000 scale map would be equivalent to 20,000 centimeters, or 200 meters, on the face of the earth. It is best to think of scale as a fraction in determining whether a particular scale is small or large. For example, data at 1:1,000 or 1:5,000 would be referred to as large scale, while data at 1:100,000 or 1:1,000,000 would be referred to as small scale. In fractional terms, 1:1,000 equals 0.001, while 1:1,000,000 equals 0.000001, and therefore, the 1:1,000 scale data is at a larger scale because the resulting value (0.001 versus 0.000001) is larger. This distinction can be confusing because the amount of area depicted at smaller scales increases, while the amount of detail decreases.