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Data editing and verification is in response to the errors that arise during the encoding of spatial and non-spatial data. The editing of spatial data is a time consuming, interactive process that can take as long, if not longer, than the data input process itself.

Several kinds of errors can occur during data input. They can be classified as:

Incompleteness of the spatial data. This includes missing points, line segments, and/or polygons.
Locational placement errors of spatial data. These types of errors usually are the result of careless digitizing or poor quality of the original data source.
Distortion of the spatial data. This kind of error is usually caused by base maps that are not scale-correct over the whole image, e.g. aerial photographs, or from material stretch, e.g. paper documents.
Incorrect linkages between spatial and attribute data. This type of error is commonly the result of incorrect unique identifiers (labels) being assigned during manual key in or digitizing. This may involve the assigning of an entirely wrong label to a feature, or more than one label being assigned to a feature.
Attribute data is wrong or incomplete. Often the attribute data does not match exactly with the spatial data. This is because they are frequently from independent sources and often different time periods. Missing data records or too many data records are the most common problems.

The identification of errors in spatial and attribute data is often difficult. Most spatial errors become evident during the topological building process. The use of check plots to clearly determine where spatial errors exist is a common practice. Most topological building functions in GIS software clearly identify the geographic location of the error and indicate the nature of the problem. Comprehensive GIS software allows users to graphically walk through and edit the spatial errors. Others merely identify the type and coordinates of the error. Since this is often a labour intensive and time consuming process, users should consider the error correction capabilities very important during the evaluation of GIS software offerings.

Spatial Data Errors

A variety of common data problems occur in converting data into a topological structure. These stem from the original quality of the source data and the characteristics of the data capture process. Usually data is input by digitizing. Digitizing allows a user to trace spatial data from a hard copy product, e.g. a map, and have it recorded by the computer software. Most GIS software has utilities to clean the data and build a topologic structure. If the data is unclean to start with, for whatever reason, the cleaning process can be very lengthy. Interactive editing of data is a distinct reality in the data input process.

Experience indicates that in the course of any GIS project 60 to 80 % of the time required to complete the project is involved in the input, cleaning, linking, and verification of the data.

The most common problems that occur in converting data into a topological structure include:

slivers and gaps in the line work;
dead ends, e.g. also called dangling arcs, resulting from overshoots and undershoots in the line work; and
bow ties or weird polygons from inappropriate closing of connecting features.

Of course, topological errors only exist with linear and areal features. They become most evident with polygonal features. Slivers are the most common problem when cleaning data. Slivers frequently occur when coincident boundaries are digitized separately, e.g. once each for adjacent forest stands, once for a lake and once for the stand boundary, or after polygon overlay. Slivers often appear when combining data from different sources, e.g. forest inventory, soils, and hydrography. It is advisable to digitize data layers with respect to an existing data layer, e.g. hydrography, rather than attempting to match data layers later. A proper plan and definition of priorities for inputting data layers will save many hours of interactive editing and cleaning.

Dead ends usually occur when data has been digitized in a spaghetti mode, or without snapping to existing nodes. Most GIS software will clean up undershoots and overshoots based on a user defined tolerance, e.g. distance. The definition of an inappropriate distance often leads to the formation of bow ties or weird polygons during topological building. Tolerances that are too large will force arcs to snap one another that should not be connected. The result is small polygons called bow ties. The definition of a proper tolerance for cleaning requires an understanding of the scale and accuracy of the data set.

The other problem that commonly occurs when building a topologic data structure is duplicate lines. These usually occur when data has been digitized or converted from a CAD system. The lack of topology in these type of drafting systems permits the inadvertent creation of elements that are exactly duplicate. However, most GIS packages afford automatic elimination of duplicate elements during the topological building process. Accordingly, it may not be a concern with vector based GIS software. Users should be aware of the duplicate element that retraces itself, e.g. a three vertice line where the first point is also the last point. Some GIS packages do not identify these feature inconsistencies and will build such a feature as a valid polygon. This is because the topological definition is mathematically correct, however it is not geographically correct. Most GIS software will provide the capability to eliminate bow ties and slivers by means of a feature elimination command based on area, e.g. polygons less than 100 square metres. The ability to define custom topological error scenarios and provide for semi-automated correction is a desirable capability for GIS software.

The adjoining figure illustrates some typical errors described above. Can you spot them ? They include undershoots, overshoots, bow ties, and slivers. Most bow ties occur when inappropriate tolerances are used during the automated cleaning of data that contains many overshoots. This particular set of spatial data is a prime candidate for numerous bow tie polygons.

Attribute Data Errors

The identification of attribute data errors is usually not as simple as spatial errors. This is especially true if these errors are attributed to the quality or reliability of the data. Errors as such usually do not surface until later on in the GIS processing. Solutions to these type of problems are much more complex and often do not exist entirely. It is much more difficult to spot errors in attribute data when the values are syntactically good, but incorrect.

Simple errors of linkage, e.g. missing or duplicate records, become evident during the linking operation between spatial and attribute data. Again, most GIS software contains functions that check for and clearly identify problems of linkage during attempted operations. This is also an area of consideration when evaluating GIS software.

Data Verification

Six clear steps stand out in the data editing and verification process for spatial data. These are:

Visual review. This is usually by check plotting.

Cleanup of lines and junctions. This process is usually done by software first and interactive editing second.
Weeding of excess coordinates. This process involves the removal of redundant vertices by the software for linear and/or polygonal features.
Correction for distortion and warping. Most GIS software has functions for scale correction and rubber sheeting. However, the distinct rubber sheet algorithm used will vary depending on the spatial data model, vector or raster, employed by the GIS. Some raster techniques may be more intensive than vector based algorithms.
Construction of polygons. Since the majority of data used in GIS is polygonal, the construction of polygon features from lines/arcs is necessary. Usually this is done in conjunction with the topological building process.
The addition of unique identifiers or labels. Often this process is manual. However, some systems do provide the capability to automatically build labels for a data layer.

These data verification steps occur after the data input stage and prior to or during the linkage of the spatial data to the attributes. Data verification ensures the integrity between the spatial and attribute data. Verification should include some brief querying of attributes and cross checking against known values.