Share the story of an expedition

Study an example

One of the most effective ways to learn is to copy good examples. In this tutorial, you'll use the example of three National Geographic explorers who visited Guatemala to learn more about the coexistence of volcanoes and communities. This story contains a mix of text and media that is designed to keep readers' attention throughout the entire story. It introduces scientific inquiry without being too technical, and it uses maps and other geographic elements to help readers step into the shoes of the explorers.

  1. Read through In the Shadow of a Volcano, a tale of three National Geographic explorers on an expedition in Guatemala.

    Having a clear narrative arc is key to a good story. You may have noticed the example story is told chronologically—it has a natural beginning, middle, and end. It starts with the explorers arriving in Quetzaltenango. Ready to make a difference, the explorers head up the volcano to test their gear. It finishes with the photo exhibit created for community members, bringing the narrative back to the stated mission of the explorers and providing a satisfying sense of closure to its audience.

    Volcano diagram

    The author describes the geologic processes of volcanoes without relying on a lot of scientific jargon. Because there aren't many technical terms, a reader who isn't familiar with earth science can still move smoothly through the narrative, focusing on the high-level ideas that make the expedition important in the first place.

Gather visual content

Now that you've seen an example of the story you want to create, you'll start gathering material. It's helpful to have the story written and multimedia elements organized before you start putting the content into the ArcGIS StoryMaps builder.

  1. Download the StoryMap_Data folder and unzip it to a location you can easily access.

    This folder includes visual assets you can add to your story as well as a draft of the story you can use to fill in content.

  2. Identify content that can speak to your journey's beginning, middle and end.

    The folder includes a list of the key messages and visuals associated with each part of the story.

Create an outline

With your content inventory complete, you'll start thinking about how you might weave all these pieces together into an outline. Outlines can take a variety of formats, from a simple bulleted list to an entire storyboard, a slide deck, or even a collection of index cards you shuffle around on your desk. The exact format isn't very important—what matters most is that you choose whichever one makes it easiest for you experiment and get creative.

  1. In the StoryMap_Data folder, open the In the Shadow of a Volcano Text document.

    As you make your outline, you should keep two things in mind: your target audience and the key takeaway.

  2. Reorder the content to make sure the story flows in a way that your audience can easily follow, and that emphasizes the main ideas.

    There are countless ways to tell a story; your audience and key message are integral to finding the structure that's best for you. You'd take a very different approach to storytelling with an audience of middle school students versus your social media followers. The same is true depending on how you want a reader to feel when they get to the end of your story.

  3. Compare the example you're using to this version of the story.

    Changing a story's structure can dramatically change the message and emotions it communicates. This story is written in the first person from the perspective of one of the explorers.

  4. Give your outline a final review to make sure it accomplishes the following five objectives, which are essential for any expedition story:

    • Who — Establish who is venturing out into the world and explain why they've embarked on this journey.
    • Where — Locate the place or places to which they are traveling and re-create the feeling of being there for the reader.
    • When — Clearly communicate the chronological order of the events that occurred on the expedition, even if the story doesn't follow a linear timeline.
    • What — Include elements that evoke tension or uncertainty in the reader's mind, keeping them invested in finding out what happens next.
    • Why — Explain the key takeaways from the expedition once it has ended, helping the reader understand why these takeaways are significant.


    If you're working on this story with a group, now is a good time to review your story outline with collaborators or colleagues, so you can make any big structural changes before you start assembling your story.

Add content blocks

Now that you have the story text and media, you'll start building the story using content blocks. Each title, paragraph, image, and media type is added as a separate block from the block palette. Using the published story as an example, you'll add blocks to the story to form your own version.

  1. Open the ArcGIS StoryMaps builder and sign in to ArcGIS Online.


    If you are signing in using your Enterprise account you must access ArcGIS StoryMaps from the app launcher.

    App launcher

    The app is also accessible in ArcGIS Online via the app launcher.

  2. Click the New story button and then click Start from scratch.

    Start a new story from scratch

    A blank story template appears.

    Title page of the StoryMaps builder

  3. For Story title, type In the Shadow of a Volcano. For Start with a short introduction or subtitle, type or paste the following text:

    Around the world, volcanoes threaten nearly half a billion people. Scientists are working to better forecast when eruptions will occur.

    The ribbon updates with the new title.

    Autosave the story draft

    You can change the title at any time. Next to the Draft badge, you'll see evidence of the autosave feature in ArcGIS StoryMaps; any time you edit your story, that text will let you know your story is saving and then confirm that your changes have been saved. 

  4. Scroll past the cover. Next to Tell your story, click the Add content block button.

    Add content block button

    The block palette contains options for adding content. You'll tell your story using these blocks to add sections of content to the body of your story.

    There are a few types of blocks you can choose from. There are Basic elements such as text blocks—paragraph, heading, quote, and so on—and there are also a few options for adding small visual accents, such as a separator or a button. Then there are Media blocks such as an embed (for external web content), image, video, or map. And finally, there are Immersive blocks such as sidecar, slideshow and a map tour.

    Immersive blocks are unique in that they become full-screen takeovers of your story, providing different, interactive reading experiences. Those familiar with the classic Story Maps Journal template, for example, may recognize the split-screen feel of sidecar, where a fixed media panel displays visual content while a smaller narrative panel scrolls by. 

  5. Under Basic, click Text.

    Text option

  6. Type or paste the following:

    In 2017, a volcanologist, a photographer, and a cartographer traveled to Guatemala on a National Geographic-funded expedition.

    Their goal was three-fold: to conduct innovative research that could help shape volcanic eruption warning systems; to create educational materials that explain the risks of living in the vicinity of a volcano; and to better understand what it is about these locations that is appealing enough for communities to remain there despite the risks.

    These paragraphs serve as both an introduction and a summary to your story. You'll make them stand out by italicizing them.

  7. Highlight the first paragraph. In the text menu, click the Italic button.

    Italicize the overview paragraphs.


    You can also use keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl+I for italics and Ctrl+B for bold.

  8. Use the same method to italicize the second paragraph.
  9. Add a third Text content block and type or paste There's nothing quite like the thrill of going into the field for research.
  10. Highlight the text, click Paragraph and choose Heading 1.

    Subheading text format

    This text serves as your first heading. Now, you'll add the rest of the text.

  11. Paste the rest of the story content to the builder from the In the Shadow of a Volcano Text document you downloaded. Use the block palette to format all subtitles and paragraphs as needed.

    The text is broken into sections, each with a few paragraphs. Once all the text is in place, you'll start adding media elements.

Work with media

Once you've added your text, you'll start adding and adjusting media to bring your expedition to life. Images, videos, and other media are important because they break up a long narrative and provide context. You'll add both individual images and an immersive sidecar to the story and change their appearance to best fit the story. You'll also add video footage to the story.

The first image you see in the example story is one of the volcano complex the explorers visited that serves as a banner image.

  1. Between the italicized introductory paragraphs and the first heading, hover over the left margin and open the block palette. Choose Image.

    Image block

  2. In the Add an image window, on the Upload tab, click Browse your files and browse inside the StoryMap_Data, Story Images, and Beginning folders.
  3. Choose VolcanoPanorama.png. Click Open and click Add.

    The image is added to the story in the smallest form. Because this is a panorama, it's meant to be shown as a large image.

  4. Hover over the volcano panorama image. In the toolbar, click Large.

    Large image size.

    Depending on the width of the image you upload, larger sizes may not be available, ensuring that your content is never stretched beyond its maximum width. Full-width media, for example, must be at least 2,001 pixels wide. 

  5. Hover over the image again and click the Options button.

    Options button

    The Image options window appears.

    You'll add alternative text, or alt text, that describes the image so that anyone consuming your story with a screen reader (typically used by the visually impaired) can still experience your work in its entirety. You can specify alt text in the properties menu for each media item using the Options button. Unlike captions, which appear below an image, the alt text associated with an image can be viewed by hovering over it.

  6. In the Image options window, click the Properties tab. For Alternative text, type Santiaguito volcano complex and click Save.

    Add alternative text for accessibility.

    The next image also includes a caption.

  7. After the goals paragraph (The goals for the expedition are threefold), open the block palette and add another image.
  8. In the Add an image window, click Browse your files and choose arrival.jpg from the Beginning folder in the tutorial images. Click Add.
  9. Under the image, click Add a caption for this image and type or paste the following text:

    Dr. Stephanie Grocke sets up and tests photogrammetry equipment before the expedition up Santa María Volcano. Photo: Gabby Salazar.

    Caption added to image

    Media should break up your text and underscore the points you're trying to make in each section. 


    As you go, be sure to pause and ask yourself if this is working the way you expected. While having a plan for your story is important, it's okay to iterate and adapt as you go; some things that seem good as a concept don't work out as expected in practice.

  10. Modeling your story on the published version, continue adding text and images to the story until you reach the Why do people live so close to active volcanoes section.

    This section contains several images with scrolling text instead of captions. These scrolling image elements are called sidecars and help emphasize certain media items.

  11. In the Why do people live so close to active volcanoes section, after the first paragraph block, click the Add content block button and choose Sidecar.

    The Select a sidecar layout window appears.

  12. In the Select a sidecar layout window, choose Docked and click Save.

    Docked sidecar

    A Sidecar is added to your story.

    Sidecar added

    A sidecar is an immersive block with a side-by-side reading experience composed of a narrative panel on one side and a media panel on the other. Together, these two panels constitute a slide.

  13. Click Add and choose Image or video.

    Add image or video option

  14. In the Add an image or video window, click Browse your files, choose coffee.jpg from the Beginning folder and click Add.

    The image of raw coffee beans is added to the story. You'll add explanatory text to the image.

  15. Next to the image, click Continue your story and type or paste the following:

    Agriculture around volcanoes thrives in the productive soil. Coffee grows particularly well around Santa María.

  16. Add another text block and type Photo: Gabby Salazar.

    Together, a media panel and narrative panel constitute a slide, and you can have multiple slides in one sidecar block.

  17. Highlight the caption text, click Paragraph, and click Quote.
  18. Highlight the photo credit text and click the Italic button.

    Finished sidecar slide with image and caption

    The first sidecar slide is complete.

    At the bottom of the sidecar block is the slide panel. In the slide panel, you can add or remove slides, adjust the transitions between them, or remove the sidecar block from your story entirely. You can change which side the narrative panel is on by using the double-arrow button where the media and narrative panel meet.

  19. In the slide panel, click the New slide button.

    Add another sidecar slide.

    A blank slide is added to the pane.

  20. Click Add and click Image or video. Choose hotsprings.jpg. Add the following sidecar text:

    Hot springs are common in this region because of the geothermal activity near volcanoes. Tourists and locals alike can relax and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.

    Photo: Gabby Salazar

  21. Add a final slide with flowers.jpg and the following text:

    Volcanoes have spiritual significance to local communities. It is not uncommon to see flower offerings as you climb a volcano.

    Photo: Gabby Salazar

    Finally, you'll add a video to the story. Videos can be hosted on Vimeo or YouTube. Any URL parameters you add to the video link—to start the video at a specific time, for example—will be preserved. 

  22. In the Like all good expeditions section, under the first paragraph, click the Add content block button and click Video.
  23. In the Add a video window, click the Link tab, paste the URL, and click Add.

    Add a video link.

    The video is added to your story.

  24. Point to the video and click the Options button. In the Embed options window, for Alternative text (optional), type Hiking Santa Maria and click Save.

    Make sure you're providing a mix of different views with your visual assets. Wide shots are important for setting the scene and letting a reader fully appreciate the setting of your expedition, but tight shots of textures and little details will give them a more intimate understanding of what it was like to be there. Also keep in mind that it's okay to include silent clips to provide visual texture to your story. Atmospheric clips can catch a reader's eye and pull them into the scene, but do so in a way that is subtle and doesn't interrupt the story with a separate audio narrative.

Work with maps

This story takes place in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. To help readers picture where this is, you'll add a locator map using an express map. Express maps are a unique feature of ArcGIS StoryMaps. These simple, focused maps can only be created in the story builder and will only be stored in the story in which they are created. With basic drawing and annotation tools, express maps enable you to add points, lines, areas, arrows, and more with ease. You'll also add content from ArcGIS Online, a 3D web scene of the volcano and surrounding peaks.

  1. Scroll to the top of the story. After the first paragraph (starting with In 2017, a volcanologist), click the Add content block button and choose Map.

    With ArcGIS StoryMaps, there are a number of options for adding and configuring a map in your story. You can add maps from your ArcGIS Online content, your organization, or ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World. You can also make a simple locator map using the express map feature.

  2. In the Add a map window, click New express map.

    New express map button


    If the Meet express maps window appears, click Skip.

    A map of the world appears. First, you'll locate the site of the expedition, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

  3. In the search bar, type Quetzaltenango, GTM and press Enter.

    The map zooms to Quetzaltenango.

  4. On the pop-up, click Add to map.

    Add a point to the map.

    A pin is added to the map. In the Map layers pane, you can add an image and descriptive text to this point. This information will be displayed in a small pop-up window if a reader clicks it for more context.

  5. In the side panel, click Add image.

    Add image in side panel

  6. Choose the quetzaltenango.jpg image from the Beginning folder. For Description, type or paste Quetzaltenango is home to approximately 224,703 people (the second largest city in Guatemala).

    Image description

  7. Click Save.

    In the Drawn features pane, you'll see your newly named feature in a Layers tab.

    Drawn features pane

  8. At the top of the pane, click the Options tab and click the Legend toggle button to turn on the map legend.

    Legend turned on

    A legend button appears at the bottom of your map.

    Legend button

    Since this map only has one feature, though, a reader can understand the map without a legend.

  9. Turn off the Legend button and return to the Layers tab.

    If you choose to keep the legend on your map, you may also want to change the layer name. You can rename the layer in the More Options menu on the Layers tab, which will also rename it in the map legend.

    Unless your reader is familiar with the cities of Guatemala, this map still won't be very helpful. To provide more context for the location of this story, you'll zoom out.

  10. Zoom out on the map until you can see the entirety of Guatemala and some of its neighboring countries.
  11. Position the point near the center of the map.

    Position the express map.

  12. Click Save.

    The map is added to your story.

    You can now adjust the size of the block, interact with the map itself and preview its pop-up. 

    Express map showing the location of the expedition

    A map showing the rough location of the expedition is added to the story.

    You can use express maps for many purposes in an expedition story. You can add numbered points to the map to show important places you went chronologically, draw a line that retraces a route you traveled, or even outline the boundaries of your area of study. Explore the drawing tools to see how each of them works—you can always press the undo button or delete a feature to remove something you've added.

    Next, you'll add a 3D scene showing the route the explorers took. This scene was authored in ArcGIS Online. To add maps and scenes to your story, you can create them in ArcGIS Online and navigate to them in the map browser when you add a new map block.


    To learn how to create a web map or web scene, explore the Learn ArcGIS tutorials to make your first interactive web map or build your first 3D web scene.

  13. In the Like all good expeditions section, below the video, after the second paragraph, click Add content block and choose Map.

    In the Add a map window, the map browser separates content into tabs like those you see in ArcGIS Online.

  14. In a separate browser window, open the item details page for the Santa Maria Volcano scene. If necessary, sign in to your ArcGIS Online account.

    You can also search in ArcGIS Online for this content by typing Santa Maria Volcano Data owner:RossDonihue in the global search bar and ensuring you have the Only search in my organization filter turned off.

  15. On the item details page, under the thumbnail, click Add to Favorites and return to the ArcGIS StoryMaps window.

    Add the volcano scene to your Favorites list.

  16. In the ArcGIS StoryMaps builder, in the Add a map window, click the My Favorites tab.

    The My Favorites tab shows all the ArcGIS Online content that you've marked as a favorite, including the scene you just added.

  17. Click Santa Maria Volcano Data.

    Map in My Favorites

    The scene opens in a map editor similar to the one you used to create your express map. The Scene layers pane lists the layers included in the scene. In this case, these layers show the path that the expedition took up the volcano as well as the names of the peaks. You can make these invisible or edit them by clicking the buttons on the Scene layers tab. Note that these edits will only be applied to the scene in the story; to make permanent changes, you need to edit the scene in Map Viewer Classic.

  18. Move the scene until you can see all the labels and click Place scene.

    Continue authoring your story using the template and the final result story map.

Review the story

Before publishing, you'll review the story. This step is important because you want to make sure what you're sending out to the public is accurate and represents the best telling of your story. In addition to proofreading and editing your own story, this is a good point to ask others for feedback on the story.

  1. On the ribbon, click Design.

    The Design pane appears with options to choose the cover layout and theme that best suit your narrative. Finalizing your story's design—its overall look and feel—is just as important as choosing the right content for your story. You want to ensure that the story's visual cues (its colors, typography, map symbology, and so on) match the tone of the narrative. These cues are what form a reader's first impression of a story's tone: dark, muted colors paired with formal fonts will signal a more serious story lies ahead, for example. When your design aesthetic and your content tone don't align, it makes for a jarring reading experience.  

  2. For Cover, Minimal is selected by default.

    Minimal design scheme

    The story cover is the first thing a reader sees, so you want to make sure you start off with an interesting image. For In the Shadow of a Volcano, it was important to provide immediate context about the expedition and its location, which is why the story begins with a minimal cover followed by an express map and synopsis of the overall expedition.  


    While you're looking at covers, revisit the title and description of your story to make sure they're accurate and engaging and set the right expectations for a reader.

  3. In the Design pane, under Optional story sections, turn on Navigation.

    Turn on navigation

    The navigation ribbon appears above showing all the headings in the story.

    Navigation tab

    Navigation provides a link for readers to jump to the various sections. Next, you'll set the theme for the story.

  4. For Theme, switch between Summit and Obsidian.

    When choosing a theme, find the one that best matches the tone of your story and the look of its visuals. 

    Since In the Shadow of a Volcano is a fairly light story, with images featuring strong sky blues and rich vegetation greens, Summit was the right theme choice. This light theme's modern typography and minimalist feel let the content come forward, helping communicate the excitement the explorers felt while on the expedition. 

    Story themes affect everything from color scheme to typography to the basemap and symbology of an express map, all with a single click. You can switch between themes as much as you like while trying to decide which one is most aligned with your story, watching your content transform immediately.

  5. On the ribbon, click Preview.

    Preview the draft of your story.


    If asked to continue to Preview mode, click Yes.

    The Preview mode allows you to see a story as a user would.

  6. Review the story for typos, missing alt text, continuity, and other changes to make before publishing.

    Pay careful attention to the narrative flow, and the kinds of emotional responses it elicits.


    It's best to do a full review after you've taken a break from story crafting; you'd be surprised what you pick up on when you review the story a second time. Remember, storytelling is an iterative process. It's okay to change your mind about decisions you made when outlining your story. When in doubt, show someone else your draft and ask for their reaction.

  7. When you are done reviewing, at the bottom of the screen, click Close preview to return to the editing mode to make changes.

    Close preview button

  8. Optionally, now is a good time to ask others for feedback or suggestions for your story. 

Publish and share

Finally, you'll publish your finished story and share it with others. Once it's published, you can choose to share the story with only people in your organization, or you can share it publicly.

  1. On the ribbon, click Publish.

    The Publish button is only visible in the Draft view.

  2. In the Publish options window, for Set sharing level, choose Organization

    Set sharing level set to Organization

  3. Click Publish.

    Sharing the story publicly allows anyone to search and view it. Choosing Organization keeps viewership limited to your ArcGIS organization. You can update these sharing settings later through the More Options menu in the story builder's header.

    The story is now available to others. If you click More actions and Edit story, you see the Draft badge is replaced with a Published badge. 

    After publishing, you can continue to make edits or updates without affecting the shared story. When you make a change, the Published badge in the builder header changes to Unpublished changes. This signals that you've made some revisions to your story, but they have yet to be pushed to the published version.

    Once you have your adjustments finalized, click Publish again to update the shared story. Or you can discard your unpublished changes using the More actions menu in the header. This is also where you can unpublish your story entirely, which will revert it to a draft and unshare the story.

Now that you know the basic block elements of ArcGIS StoryMaps, you can use them to build any kind of story you want. Try telling the story of your latest vacation or adventure. When you're happy with your story, you can share it on social media, send it to everyone on your email list, embed it on your website, or share it any other way you want. Also, be sure to share it with the ArcGIS StoryMaps team by tagging them on Twitter.

You can find more tutorials in the tutorial gallery.