How to Read a Map Compass

Updated February 21, 2017

The compass rose began showing up on maps in the 1300s. Originally used to dictate wind direction, the compass rose also helps identify directions of items on a map. Knowing those directions will help you know which direction to travel to arrive at your destination. Knowing how to read a map compass can be a useful skill for children and adults alike.

Find the compass on the map. It's usually in one of the corners.

Locate the main lines that run horizontally and vertically in the centre of the compass. On a map, north is at the top, south is at the bottom, east is on the right and west is on the left.

Understand directional abbreviations. N stands for north, S stands for south, E stands for east and W stands for west.

Consider more specific directions listed on a map compass. Northeast, abbreviated NE, is between north and east. Southeast, abbreviated SE, is between south and east. Northwest, abbreviated NW, is between north and west. Southwest, abbreviated SW, is between south and west.

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Kristan Hart is an award-winning journalist in Springfield, Mo., who provides SEO web copy as a freelance writer/editor. She has a decade of experience and holds a bachelor's degree in mass communications with an emphasis in broadcasting.