Similar to Which topics are essential for a crash course in QGIS?, which topics are fundamental to ArcGIS for Desktop?

Basic through advanced topics are welcome. Should be freely accessible to all.

5 Answers 5


The automation topics that are fundamental for me in ArcGIS are:

Model Builder

ArcPy (Python)

Batch processing

I am also a fan of the spatial statistics tools in ArcGIS, primarily because it is really easy to work with spatial data for statistical purposes in a GIS rather than a programming environment such as R.

ArcGIS also has an incredibly powerful suite of tools called Spatial Analyst tools, which I believe is unrivaled.

  • for lots of things on all topics, there are better and worse, may not be the case for these two in the early stage, eventually they will be combined and that will be the best, leading one Oct 9, 2012 at 0:42

You'd be best served to go through ESRI for some of their content specific training courses:


Depending on your personal needs, you'll certainly be able to find a course or courses that will help you out.

Some of the most useful topics to me are:



Other geoprocessing tasks


I think a different tack is appropriate as an answer to this question. Instead of focusing just on ArcGIS, or on QGIS, it might be more prudent to look at what these software packages are both used for. They are both similar in that they are used for spatial data analysis and display of geographic information. As such, what would seem fundamental to be able to use ArcGIS effectively, would be to have some basis in the following:

The links provided are quick overviews of geography and spatial analysis. The Python link is the main site for the programming language, and has many tips and code samples for implementing Python in all situations, not just GIS.

For more detailed information about these and other GIS related topics, this GISse question has many freely available GIS books: free sources - List of freely available GIS books.

The reason that I focus on these sorts of topics as opposed to simply the software, is that it is a tool used to implement these concepts.

The main free resource for learning how to use the ArcGIS suite of software itself, is the online help documentation:

The online versions of the documentation are going to have the most up-to-date information on any particular topic. In addition, they contain a vast number of code samples and examples of how to implement the functions and procedures using ArcPy, which is ESRI's python site package, or Modelbuilder.

It is up to the individual to decide whether ArcGIS or QGIS are better and/or easier. A lot of this depends on the process they are trying to run. One thing to remember based on your stipulation that the resources be Freely Available, is that ArcGIS is Proprietary Software. Please be clear, this is NOT a knock on the software, or on ESRI, just making it clear where they stand. They are a for profit company, which means that many of the resources related to the software, are not going to be freely available.

In many cases, your best bet for becoming familiar with ArcGIS, will be to take a class at a local community college or university. They tend to have intro classes, some of which may be available through an extension program, for lower cost. You may want to consider some sort of GIS Certificate program, which will provide not only the ArcGIS experience, but also some basic concepts in Geography and Spatial Analysis.

  • +1 - I understand the necessity to learn a piece of software, but it essentially boils down to pushing buttons. What you really need to know are the geographic concepts behind the buttons so you know which ones to push.
    – Roy
    Oct 9, 2012 at 11:35

The other answers focus on the analytical side of GIS, which is important. It is also important to learn how to capture data and present it well.

Some important topics are:

  • Capturing and editing vectors
  • Georeferenceing rasters
  • Symbolisation
  • Labelling
  • Importing data from different formats
  • Selections

These tools can seem complicated at first, but it is vital to have a good grasp of how they work. These topics are covered in Getting to Know ArcGIS with practical worked examples. It will also get you started with ArcToolbox and actual data analysis.


If you are looking for learning resources for ArcGIS Desktop, it means you have basic knowledge and understanding of GIS itself. If that is the case, the best available free resource to gain expertise with ArcGIS system is ESRI's own documentation. A free online version of the documentations is available online. http://help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#/What_is_ArcGIS/00v200000007000000/

ArcGIS help system is very comprehensive and it consists of step by step tutorials and workflows that can get you started fast: http://help.arcgis.com/en/arcgisdesktop/10.0/help/index.html#/ArcGIS_tutorials/00v20000000t000000/

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