An atlas is a type of reference book that contains maps and other geographical information. Atlases are organized -- with indexes and a table of contents -- to make it easy for you to find the specific map you are looking for. Knowing how to use an atlas helps you study geography, cartography, history or political science.

Locating a Map

Find a specific map in an atlas using the table of contents or index page. The table of contents lists the main sections of the atlas in order by page number. The content of an atlas is usually divided by continent. The index page lists all the continents, countries and cities in the book in alphabetical order and all the pages they appear on; the index covers maps, charts and lists. For example, if you were looking for information about Jamaica, you would locate the "J" section of the index to find the country and relevant pages listed. Some atlases may feature a reference page at the back that has the locations organized by longitude and latitude. This helps if you want to know the specific coordinates of a city.

Reading a Page in an Atlas

An atlas page includes a map of a specific area as well as charts or diagrams. Refer to the charts and diagrams for information about the scale of the map, populations, area size, states or regions and capital cities. The colors used in the map often indicate different landforms or features. For example, a map of the U.S. may include beige, blue and green -- beige indicating land, blue indicating bodies of water and green indicating densely forested areas. Dotted lines are generally used to show state or province borders, while a solid line indicates international borders.