Here is a short tutorial that outlines the steps for formatting spreadsheet (tabular) data in preparation for joining it to features (points, lines, or polygons).
If you aren’t familiar with joins, they allow you to attach attribute data that is separate from (external to) your features. In order for joins to work, a common field that contains a unique identifier is needed in both the features and the external data. A join will match records in the external data table to features in the GIS layer based on the values in the unique ID field.
An example of features and data that have this relationship is Census tracts, which change infrequently (features). To the tracts you can join any number of metrics collected or calculated by the Census bureau: residents tabulated by race, income, education; housing stock and attributes (tabular data).
This is a very generic and basic tutorial. Please email with questions or comments.
A brief tutorial for finding, downloading, and displaying Census data in an ArcGIS thematic map is now available.
These instructions illustrate only a small portion of the information available from the U.S. Census Bureau. If you wish to work more with these data, I encourage you to experiment…
See this post for the announcement from ESRI. This Service Pack will be available in July, 2012 (about the same time as ArcGIS 10.1).
A manual for learning to use ArcGIS 10, produced by Amy Hillier at the University of Pennsylvania, is available here. This 80+-page document covers many of the options new users should be familiar with, and includes tips on making maps, georeferencing, spatial joins, creating spatial data, and troubleshooting.
See http://resources.arcgis.com/content/patches-and-service-packs?fa=viewPatch&PID=17&MetaID=1857 for more information. This patch addresses multiple issues with spatial joins, including null output and crashes.