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Basic Principles of Surveying

Batta Shivaji
19/05/2017 0 1



  • It is a fundamental rule to always work from the whole to the part. This implies a precise control surveying as the first consideration followed by subsidiary detail surveying.
  • This surveying principle involves laying down an overall system of stations whose positions are fixed to a fairly high degree of accuracy as control, and then the survey of details between the control points may be added on the frame by less elaborate methods. 
  • Once the overall size has been determined, the smaller areas can be surveyed in the knowledge that they must (and will if care is taken) put into the confines of the main overall frame. 
  • Errors which may inevitably arise are then contained within the framework of the control points and can be adjusted to it.

Surveying is based on simple fundamental principles which should be taken into consideration to enable one get good results: 

(a) Working from the whole to the part is achieved by covering the area to be surveyed with a number of spaced out control point called primary control points called primary control points whose pointing have been determined with a high level of precision using sophisticated equipments. Based on these points as theoretic, a number of large triangles are drawn. Secondary control points are then established to fill the gaps with lesser precision than the primary control points. At a more detailed and less precise level, tertiary control points at closer intervals are finally established to fill in the smaller gaps. The main purpose of surveying from the whole to the part is to localize the errors as working the other way round would magnify the errors and introduce distortions in the survey. In partial terms, this  principle involve covering the area to be surveyed with large triangles. These are further divided into smaller triangles and the process continues until the area has been sufficiently covered with small triangles to a level that allows detailed surveys to be made in a local level. Error is in the whole operation as the vertices of the large triangles are fixed using higher precision instruments.

(b) Using measurements from two control parts to fix other points. Given two points whose length and bearings have been accurately determined, a line can be drawn to join them hence surveying has control reference points. The locations of various other points and the lines joining them can be fixed by measurements made from these two points and the lines joining them.


  • Honesty is essential in booking notes in the field and when plotting and computations in the office. There is nothing to be gained from cooking the survey or altering dimensions so that points will tie-in on the drawing. It is utterly unprofessional to betray such trust at each stage of the survey.
  • This applies to the assistants equally as it does to the surveyor in charge. Assistants must also listen carefully to all instructions and carry them out to the later without questions.


  • The second principle is that; all survey work must be checked in such a way that an error will be apparent before the survey is completed.
  • Concentration and care are necessary in order to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to the required standard of accuracy and that nothing is omitted. Hence they must be maintained in the field at all times. 
  • Surveyor on site should be checking the correctness of his own work and that of others which is based on his information.
  • Check should be constantly arranged on all measurements wherever possible. Check measurements should be conducted to supplement errors on field. Pegs can be moved, sight rails altered etc. 
  • Survey records and computations such as field notes, level books, field books, setting out record books etc must be kept clean and complete with clear notes and diagrams so that the survey data can be clearly understood by others. Untidy and anonymous figures in the field books should be avoided. 
  • Like field work, computations should be carefully planned and carried out in a systemic manner and all field data should be properly prepared before calculations start. Where possible, standardized tables and forms should be used to simplify calculations. If the result of a computation has not been checked, it is considered unreliable and for this reason, frequent checks should be applied to every calculation procedure. 
  • As a check, the distances between stations are measured as they are plotted, to see that there is correspondence with the measured horizontal distance. Failure to match indicates an error in plotting or during the survey. 
  • If checks are not done on observations, expensive mistake may occur. It is always preferable to take a few more dimensions on site to ensure that the survey will resolve itself at the plotting stage


These terms are used frequently in engineering surveying both by manufacturers when quoting specifications for their equipments and on site by surveyors to describe results obtained from field work.

  • Accuracy allows a certain amount of tolerance (either plus or minus) in a measurement, while; 
  • Precision demands exact measurement. Since there is no such things as an absolutely exact measurement, a set of observations that are closely grouped together having small deviations from the sample mean will have a small standard error and are said to be precise.

Horizontal Distance Measurement

One of the basic measurements in surveying is the determination of the distance between two points on the earth’s surface for use in fixing position, set out and in scaling. Usually spatial distance is measured. In plane surveying, the distances measured are reduced to their equivalent horizontal distance either by the procedures used to make the measurement or by applying numerical corrections for the slope distance (spatial distance). The method to be employed in measuring distance depends on the required accuracy of the measurement, and this in turn depends on purpose for which the measurement is intended

Pacing: where approximate results are satisfactory, distance can be obtained by pacing (the number of paces can be counted by tally or pedometer registry attached to one leg). Average pace length has to be known by pacing a known distance several times and taking the average. It is used in reconnaissance surveys& in small scale mapping.

Odometer of a vehicle: Based on diameter of tires (no of revolutions X wheel diameter); this method gives a fairly reliable result provided a check is done periodically on a known length. During each measurement a constant tyre pressure has to be maintained.

Tachometry: -Distance can be can be measured indirectly by optical surveying instruments like theodolite. The method is quite rapid and sufficiently accurate for many types of surveying operations.

Taping (chaining): - This method involves direct measurement of distances with a tape or chain. Steel tapes are most commonly used .It is available in lengths varying from 15m to 100m. Formerly on surveys of ordinary precision, lengths of lines were measured with chains.

Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM): - are indirect distance measuring instruments that work using the invariant velocity of light or electromagnetic waves in vacuum. They have high degree of accuracy and are effectively used for long distances for modern surveying operations.


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