Spatial analysis or spatial statistics includes any of the formal techniques which study entities using their topological, geometric, or geographic properties. The phrase properly refers to a variety of techniques, many still in their early development, using different analytic approaches and applied in fields as diverse as astronomy, with its studies of the placement of galaxies in the cosmos, to chip fabrication engineering, with its use of 'place and route' algorithms to build complex wiring structures. The phrase is often used in a more restricted sense to describe techniques applied to structures at the human scale, most notably in the analysis of geographic data. The phrase is even sometimes used to refer to a specific technique in a single area of research, for example, to describe geostatistics.
Complex issues arise in spatial analysis, many of which are neither clearly defined nor completely resolved, but form the basis for current research. The most fundamental of these is the problem of defining the spatial location of the entities being studied. For example, a study on human health could describe the spatial position of humans with a point placed where they live, or with a point located where they work, or by using a line to describe their weekly trips; each choice has dramatic effects on the techniques which can be used for the analysis and on the conclusions which can be obtained. Other issues in spatial analysis include the limitations of mathematical knowledge, the assumptions required by existing statistical techniques, and problems in computer based calculations.
Classification of the techniques of spatial analysis is difficult because of the large number of different fields of research involved, the different fundamental approaches which can be chosen, and the many forms the data can take.