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Story Maps Guidance

On this page:

About Story Maps

A story map is a type of online template that visually displays data in relation to places, location, or geography. Story maps use maps, charts, graphical elements, and text to convey information as a story and inform and engage the audience.  They help you use the power of maps and geography to tell your story.  

To begin developing your story map, log into the EPA GeoPlatform using your EPA Enterprise Account (your LAN ID and password).  Make sure that you've already consulted with your GeoPlatform Administrator, and that you are following the review process outlined below.

Story maps on Esri's server: EPA offices often produce story maps hosted by Esri on their server at epa.maps.arcgis.com (but do not go to this URL to create your story map.  Instead, go through EPA's GeoPlatform).   Esri is a company that builds ArcGIS, a mapping and spatial analytics software. EPA's GeoPlatform maps rely on ArcGIS software. Story maps are a type of Esri product that also relies on ArcGIS, but unlike the GeoPlatform maps, story maps let you combine maps with narrative text, images, and multimedia content.  Publicly-accessible story maps published on the Esri server are subject to all the requirements described on this page.

Story maps on EPA servers: Some EPA offices produce story maps using EPA's geoplatform, where they are published on gispub.epa.gov or geodata.epa.gov.  Offices can also produce story maps on their own servers. Publicly-accessible story maps published on EPA's servers are subject to all the requirements described on this page; in addition, offices creating them must receive a waiver from EPA's look and feel requirements, unless the story map uses one of the Esri templates available on the GeoPlatform, and follows the guidelines below.

Esri Resources

​EPA Resources

In addition to the Esri resources for story maps, EPA's Geoservices team offers assistance with story maps. Interested parties at HQ can stop by the GeoViz Lab any Tuesday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m., room 5130A William J. Clinton West building, for help with story map development.

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Story Map Criteria: When to Use the Story Map Template vs. the Drupal WebCMS

  • Create a story map ONLY if it the content cannot effectively be displayed using maps displayed within the Drupal WebCMS.  
  • A story map should not be used to display a list of case studies, success stories, or award winners, unless they are linked to an interactive map.  Without the map, these types of content should be presented as slideshows in the Drupal Web CMS.
  • The story map should be map-centric.  It should combine one or more interactive maps with narrative text, images, and/or multimedia content.  The template selected should be used to its full potential and functionality.
  • The data and content being presented must relate to the maps being displayed.
  • The content within the story map must be substantially enhanced by presentation in one of the story map templates.

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Things to Consider Before You Develop

If you're collecting info from the public...

Any story map that includes data or information collected from the public must comply with EPA's Information Collection Policy. The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) stipulates that every federal agency must obtain approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before collecting the same or similar information from 10 or more members of the public; any such collection of information must have an OMB-approved Information Collection Request (ICR) associated with it.  Unsure how to get an ICR?  Contact the ICR Center. Intranet

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Choosing a Story Map Template

Esri offers a number of story map templates.  
NOTE:
  • If you are looking at Esri story maps as models for a story map you'd like to create, you still need to follow all EPA criteria and guidelines, and the story maps shown on Esri's website may not adhere to those criteria and/or guidelines.
  • Some of EPA's guidelines for story maps apply to all templates, and some to specific templates.  
  • EPA permits the use of the Crowdsource template on public access sites only in these circumstances:
    • The + Participate button must be disabled
    • The map must be owned by an EPA employee (no contractors, fellows, interns etc.)
    • The + Participate button must never be enabled.  The Geoplatform Administrator for that office and the map owner are responsible to ensure that the button remains disabled.

Examples of EPA Story Maps

Follow ESRI's Five Principles of Effective Storytelling

Taken directly from Esri's Five Principles pageExit

  • Connect with your audience.  Who is your audience? Before you build your story map, think about who will be seeing your story. Craft your text, maps, and other content to suit your audience. A useful trick: think about your mom. When you describe your work to your mom, you avoid jargon and use accessible language. It's not about dumbing down; it's about striving for clarity and simplicity.
  • Pull in your viewers.  Start your story with a bang. Choose an image that's exciting and attractive. Craft your title to be active and descriptive. "Walking Tour of Springfield" is okay, but "Discover the Hidden Treasures of Springfield" is better. Make sure people know where they are. Springfield, Illinois, or Springfield, Massachusetts? Put your core concepts at the beginning rather than the end. Don't include outbound hyperlinks in your introduction that would distract someone from starting to navigate through your story—put those at the end.
  • Choose the best user experience.  The Esri Story Map application templates come in a variety of flavors. Choose an app with a user experience appropriate for your story. The Story Map Tour, for instance, is great for sets of places with photos and short captions. If you have longer text, the Story Map Journal might be better. If you want your audience to be able to compare different maps, the Story Map Series makes the most sense. For a long, less structured narrative that people read like a web page, use the Story Map Cascade.
  • Make easy-to-read maps.  Make sure your maps are as simple, clear, and user-friendly as possible while incorporating cartography that matches your project. Edit your map to eliminate unnecessary detail. Choose an appropriate basemap; for example, in many cases, a simple gray background map might be better than satellite imagery. Think about what custom pop-ups, legends, and symbology you want to provide to deliver your map's message.
  • Strive for simplicity.  Stories are distillations. The more you do to remove nonessential elements, the more likely you are to tell an effective story. Remember that attention spans are short in the digital age. Shorten your text and simplify your maps—and then go back and do it again. A person should not have to get to the fifth or sixth section in your story to understand its underlying concepts and mission.

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Guidelines for Using Story Maps

Guidelines that Apply to All Story Maps

  • All applicable EPA standards and guidelines should be followed. 
  • Three consistent issues we have found in our review of story maps are:
    • Writing issues:  See EPA's writing for the web  standard
    • Problems with complying with Section 508:  See OWC's Section 508 compliance requirements for story maps
    • Problems with links:
      • The story map should include the Exit EPA disclaimer where appropriate.
      • Links in the story map that go to related EPA content should include the following characteristics:
        • The related EPA content opens in a new tab, and
        • A text identifier like "(link will open in a new tab or window)" follows each link.
      • All links on related EPA content that take visitors to the story map include the following characteristics:
        • The story map opens in a new tab, and
        • A text identifier like "(link will open in a new tab or window)" follows each link to the story map.
  • The story map must have a noindex file attached to it or some other feature that prevents it from being found by external search engines; it should only be findable through a link on a page on EPA's Web CMS and/or by searching EPA's website.
  • Logo guidance that applies to all story maps:

Guidelines: Basic Template

  • Color theme:
    • Header background color: #112e51
    • Title text color: #FFFFFF
    • Subtitle text color: #F4F4F4
    • Legend header color: #969696
      Basic Story Map Template, required color themeColor theme for Story Map, Basic Template

Guidelines: Cascade Template

Note: when you initially select the Cascade template, you will get a warning: "Story Map Cascade builder is supported only Chrome and Safari." That means you must use Chrome (or Safari) to build the map; the built map itself will be viewable in any browser. 

  • Settings:
    • Tagline: Contact Us
    • Tagline Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
      Cascade Story Map Template

Guidelines: Crowdsource Template

EPA permits the use of the Crowdsource template on public access sites only in these circumstances:
  • The + Participate button must be disabled
  • The map must be owned by an EPA employee (no contractors, fellows, interns etc.)
  • The + Participate button must never be enabled.  The Geoplatform Administrator for that office and the map owner are responsible to ensure that the button remains disabled.

Guidelines: Journal Template

  • When selecting Side Panel:
    • Layout Options:  
      • Select Left and Medium (if you require different alignment or layout, please consult with your Geoplatform Administrator):
        Journal Story Map Template, Layout Options for Side PanelJournal Story Map Template, Layout Options for Side Panel
      • If you are asked about the option "Display sharing links at the bottom of each section", do not check it.
  • Theme: Select:
    Journal Story Map, Side Panel Layout Options: Select this ThemeJournal Story Map, Side Panel Layout Options: Select this Theme
  • Fonts:
    • Section title: Lucida Sans Unicode
    • Section content: Tahoma
  • Header:
    • Text: Contact Us
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
      Journal Story Map, Side Panel, Layout Options: How the Header Should LookJournal Story Map, Side Panel, Layout Options: How the Header Should Look
  • When selecting Floating Panel:
    • Layout Options: 
      • Select Left and Medium:  Journal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Choose ThisJournal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Choose This
      • Do not check Display sharing links at the bottom of each section. 
    • Theme: select:  Journal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Choose This ThemeJournal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Choose This Theme
    • All other options same as in Side Panel (see above).
      Journal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Header Should Look Like ThisJournal Story Map, Floating Panel Layout Options: Header Should Look Like This

Guidelines: Series Template

  • When selecting Tabbed:
    • Layout options:
      • Make sure description is checked.

      • Legend placement: Select below the description

      • Description and legend panel should be Left and Medium

      • Do not check Descript and legend panel can overlap map location

    • Theme:  Select:  Series Story Map, Theme: Select This OptionSeries Story Map,Tabbed,Theme: Select This Option
    • Header:
      • Text: Contact Us
      • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
      • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
      • Check Use compact header (no subtitle)
  • When selecting Side Accordion:
    • Layout Options:
      • Select Left and Medium
      • Check Display number. Reverse numbering should not be checked.
    • Theme:  Select: Series Story Map, Side Accordion Layout:  Select This ThemeSeries Story Map, Side Accordion Layout:  Select This Theme
    • Header:
      • Text: Contact Us
      • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
      • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
      • Check Use compact header (no subtitle)
  • When selecting Bulleted:
    • Layout options:
      • Check Description
      • Select Left and Medium.
      • Reverse numbering and Description and legend panel can overlap map location should not be checked.

    • Theme:  Select:  Series Story Map, Bulleted Layout:  Select This ThemeSeries Story Map, Bulleted Layout:  Select This Theme

    • Header:
      • Text: Contact Us
      • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
      • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
      • Check Use compact header (no subtitle)
        Series Story Map HeaderSeries Story Map Header

Guidelines: Shortlist Template

  • Edit tab:  Theme color should be: #4d8e4d
  • Settings, Header:
    • Text: Contact Us  
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
    • Check Use compact header (no subtitle)
      Shortlist Story Map, Tabbed HeaderShortlist Story Map, Tabbed Header

Guidelines: Swipe and Spyglass Template

  • When selecting Vertical bar:
    • Header pop-up background color should be: #112e51
    • Text: Contact Us
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share

    • Select this header color series:  Swipe and Spyglass Story Maps:  Select this Header Color SeriesTour Story Maps:  Select this Header Color Series
  • When selecting Spyglass,
    • Header pop-up background color should be: #112e51
    • Text: Contact Us
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
    • Select this header color series:  Swipe and Spyglass Story Maps:  Select this Header Color SeriesTour Story Maps:  Select this Header Color Series
      Swipe and Spyglass Story MapSwipe and Spyglass Story Map

Guidelines: Tour Template

  • When selecting Three Panel Layout,
    • Text: Contact Us
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
    • Select this header color series:  Tour  Story Maps:  Select this Header Color SeriesTour Story Maps:  Select this Header Color Series

  • When selecting Integrated Layout,
    • Text: Contact Us
    • Link: Link should go to a Contact Us page in the Web CMS.
    • Select: Facebook, Twitter and Share
    • Select this header color series:  Tour  Story Maps:  Select this Header Color SeriesTour Story Maps:  Select this Header Color Series
      Tour Story MapTour Story Map

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Review Process

Who Reviews, and What Reviewers Look For

Story maps, like all other new web content, must be reviewed by several groups.

Concept Review

Once you have a concept for a story map,
  • Review the information in the GFG Innovation Hub that you will need to submit about the story map.   
    • This information is located on a form in the Hub, under the "List of Current Projects" tab (see the red text). 
    • The Hub is managed by the Guild Facilitation Group (GFG), which provides consulting services to projects that use new technologies/software or innovative designs.  
  • Contact your Web Council member and Geoplatform Administrator before submitting your story map concept to the Innovation Hub.  Your Web Council member will then coordinate with your Public Affairs Director or Communications Director.  If you are in an ORD lab, contact your lab's web and communications lead before you contact the Web Council member or Geoplatform Administrator.
  • Once approved by your Web Council member, create a new project entry in the GHG Innovation Hub.
    • OPA/OWC will receive the concept via the Innovation Hub, and will review your concept and get back to you with an approval/disapproval. This includes OPA senior management review, which is required for all new web content.
    • If you haven't heard from OWC in a week, please contact Christine Dibble.
    • OPA/ OWC must review and approve your concept before you can proceed. 

Final Review  

When you are close to being ready to publish your story map,
  1. Go back to your project entry in the Innovation Hub and enter the URL of the draft story map.
  2. Check your draft against the following:
  3. Submit the draft to your Web Council member, Public Affairs Director/Communications Director, and your Geoplatform Administrator, who will all review.  If you are in an ORD lab, contact your lab's web and communications lead before you submit the draft for review.
  4. Once your Web Council member and Public Affairs Director/Communications Director have reviewed and approved, your Web Council member notifies OPA/OWC, your Geoplatform Administrator and the GFG leads that the draft is ready for review.  Web Council members should include in the email this information:  link to story map, title, and owner’s name.
  5. OPA/OWC then reviews your story map and will email you with any comments, cc'ing your Web Council member and your Geoplatform Administrator.   You should typically receive this email within a week.  If you haven't heard from OWC in a week, please contact Christine Dibble.    Once OWC's comments have been incorporated, let OWC know.  Once they approve the story map and email you with their approval, your Geoplatform Administrator can publish it when you are ready.

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Complying with Federal Rules and Regs Before You Post

Meeting OMB's Requirement for Web Analytics

OMB and EPA require that all *.epa.gov content send data to Google Analytics. To send this data, ensure that your story maps includes EPA's Google Tag Manager Code.

Meeting OWC’s Section 508 Requirements for Story Maps

Ensuring that maps provide sufficient color contrast for visitors with visual disabilities

  • Distinguishing areas on a map using color. If you are designing a chloropleth, isoline, qualitative areal-extent or similar map, then use a color scheme that follows the guidelines on ColorBrewer.
    1. Determine whether your map will display a sequential, diverging, or qualitative color scheme.
      Resources:
    2. Determine the number of data classes you will need for your map.
    3. At the ColorBrewer site Exit,
      • Select the number of data classes you need, and
      • Indicate whether your data are sequential, diverging or qualitative.
      • Pick your color scheme among the schemes indicated. Color schemes that are colorblind-safe, print-friendly, AND photocopy-safe are preferred. Your scheme, at a minimum, should be colorblind-safe.
      OWC may ask you to show how you used ColorBrewer to develop the colors on your map.
  • Distinguishing locations or facilities on a map using pushpins, flags or other identifying markers. If the locations or facilities shown on your map fall into different classes (e.g. locations of different types of federal cleanups), then the pushpins, flags or other identifying markers should not rely solely on color to distinguish those classes. The markers should also rely on shape to distinguish the classes of locations or facilities.  Alternatively, you can have them rely solely on color if you also provide a way to filter the map so only markers of one color are displayed.  See the Well Class tab on the Aquifer Exemptions map for an example of this filtering.

  • Accommodating people with colorblindness. Run Vischeck Exit on your map to ensure that people with the three major different types of colorblindness can distinguish the colors on your map. You can run Vischeck on:

OWC may check your map against the results on Vischeck.

Ensuring that visitors who cannot view the information provided through maps and other story map features have access to equivalent information

Visitors who rely on screen-readers and/or have visual impairments may not be able to discern the information that a map or other feature provides to sighted readers. Section 508 requires that we provide equivalent information in a way that is accessible to them.

To provide this equivalent information,
  • Make sure that all the photos and other images you use have alt text associated with themExit
  • Provide a link just below or to the left or right of the map that goes directly to the equivalent information, i.e., the raw data underlying the link.
    • This information should be in an Excel table or other format capable of being read by a screen reader.

    • The link should include an Exit EPA icon if the information is on a non-federal-government location.

    • If the information is located in a source file other than an HTML file, indicate this after the link, following EPA standards.

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Maintaining Your Story Map

The content of story maps must be maintained and kept up-to-date just like any other EPA web content. Please be sure to maintain your map and web page so that it continues to be useful and relevant to your audience.  Remember to pull the page down when it ceases to be useful or relevant.

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