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Introducing the QGIS program

A basic overview of the QGIS software application.

Last week we told you a little bit about QGIS and why we are using this particular GIS software. Hopefully, you have had a chance to download and install the program, but if not then you can go back and review the instructions in Week 1.10. Once you are ready, we can get started!

The QGIS user interface

Start by opening QGIS – you will be able to find it on your desktop or in your Start menu. There may be several options to choose from, the right one will look something like “QGIS Desktop 3.22.3”. Don’t worry if the last two numbers are different, as long as you have “QGIS Desktop 3” you will be fine!

QGIS screen QGIS opening screen.

The first thing we need to do is start a new project – a blank page for us to add data to and play around with.

  • 1) On the Main Menu go to “Project” > “New Project”.
You can also click the “New Project” button on the top-left of the screen.
You will now have a less busy screen with four main areas: 1) the Main Menu and Toolbar; 2) the Map View; 3) the Browser Panel; and 4) the Layers Panel.
QGIS interface The four main areas of the QGIS user interface.
  • The Main Menu and Toolbar contain most of the different commands and buttons that are used to operate QGIS.
  • The Map View is where our data will be displayed.
  • The Browser Panel shows us our files and some other sources of data that we can add to a QGIS Project.
  • The Layers Panel will list all the different data we have added and show what it looks like.

QGIS basics

Let’s add some simple data and learn some basic controls!
Below the Map View, there is a Coordinate Box – this shows the exact geographical location of the mouse pointer. But it can also do something else useful!
  • 1) Select all the text inside the Coordinate Box, delete it, type “world” and press enter
Your previously blank map should now contain a simple map of the world, and “World Map” will have been added to your Layers Panel.
Adding a world map “World Map” is now added to QGIS Map View and Layers Panel.
  • 2) Scroll around the map and have a good look at the data.
To do this you can use your mouse wheel, zooming by scrolling up and down and clicking and holding to pan around. You can also use the navigation tools in the Toolbar, the “Pan” button (the white hand) to move around, and the “Zoom In” and “Zoom Out” buttons (the magnifying glasses with + and – symbols) to zoom.
The “World Map” data is vector data – polygons representing the location and boundaries of every country. We can access some of this information by using the “Identify Features” button (a mouse cursor with a blue and white ‘i’).
  • 3) Click this button and then click on a country on the map.
A window will pop-up providing some information about the country, including its name and internationally recognised abbreviations.
Identify example Identifying Syria.
Try this for a few countries. To stop identifying click the “Pan Map” tool.
Well done, you have learned the basics of QGIS! Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.
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