(Data West Research Agency definition: see GIS glossary
.) A map that displays the spatial distribution of an attribute that relates to a single topic, theme, or subject of discourse. Usually, a thematic map displays a single attribute (a "univariate map") such as soil type, vegetation, geology, land use, or landownership. For attributes such as soil type or land use ("nominal" variables), shaded maps that highlight regions ("polygons") by employing different colors or patterns is generally wanted. For other attributes (like population density - a "metric" variable), a shaded map in which each shade corresponds to a range of population densities is generally wanted.
Thematic maps are used to display geographical concepts such as density, distribution, relative magnitudes, gradients, spatial relationships and movements. Also called geographic, special purpose, distribution, parametric, or planimetric maps.