Academic Writing Task 1. Describing a Map.


Kinds of map questions

There are three main types of map question:
  1. Describe one map in the present day.
  2. Describe two maps- one in the present and one in the future.
  3. Describe two maps- one in the past and one in the present.
  • The first kind is very rare, as it only requires you to use the present simple and it is impossible for any comparisons to be made.
  • The second kind does come up occasionally and would require you to use present and future tenses. This kind of question is normally about the future development of a town or city. It requires the same vocabulary as the other two.
  • The third is the most common and will be the main focus of this post.
  • You will normally be shown two maps, as above and asked to select and report the main features, and make comparisons where relevant. You will obviously be using both present and past tenses to describe the maps and how the town has developed.
Also, as this is a man-made process we will use the passive.


  • Introduction - Paraphrase the statement
  • Overview - General changes
  • Feature 1 - Three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred.
  • Feature 2 - Further three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred
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Key vocabulary for describing general changes

  1. Over the period, the area witnessed dramatic changes.
  2. From 1995 to 2005, the city centre saw spectacular developments.
  3. The village changed considerably over the time period.
  4. During the 10 year period, the industrial area was totally transformed.
  5. Over the past 20 years, the residential area was totally reconstructed.
  6. Over the time period, the old docks were totally redeveloped.
  7. Between 1995 and 2005, the old houses were rebuilt.
  8. The central business district was completely modernised during the time period.

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How to Describe Locations ( where changes have occured).

  • to the north of
  • to the east of
  • in the west
  • to the south of
  • north west of

Prepositions are essential when describing location on a map, such as:

  • on
  • next to
  • near
  •  from north to south
  • from east to west
  • by
  • across from
  • nearby
  • between
  • beside
  • over
  • alongы. 



  1. The trees to the north of the river were cut down and a new office block was built.
  2. A railway was constructed to the east of the housing estate with the introduction of a new train station.
  3. The forest to the west of the park was cut down and a new housing complex was constructed.
  4. The industrial area to the south west of the station was expanded.
  5. Houses were constructed next to the primary school.
  6. The forest near the river was cut down.
  7. A new railway running from north to south was built.
  8. The footpath by the river was expanded.
  9. Parking facilities were added in the city centre.
  10. The school across from the park was extended and new sports facilities were built.
  11. The forest to the south of the river was cut down.
  12. A golf course was constructed to the north of the airport.
  13. The houses in the south-west of the town were demolished.
  14. The green fields to the north-west of the city were redeveloped as a park.
  15. The airport in the centre of the city was relocated to the north-east of the river.
  16. The school to the south-east was knocked down and a new one built to the east of the forest
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Prepositions of place

Finally, you will also be expected to use prepositions of place, e.g. at/in/on/by/beside/to/off/from, to describe where things are.
  1. Dramatic changes took place in the city centre.
  2. To the south of the town, there is a golf course surrounded by trees.
  3. A new school was built next to the swimming pool.
  4. The old road running from north to south was replaced by a new motorway.
  5. A marina was built on the banks of the river.

Vocabulary to give an overview of the main differences between two maps.

  1. Over the 20 year period the area has witnessed big changes especially to the farmland areas which were redeveloped.
  2. From 1990 to 2010 a new housing estate was constructed where a school once stood.
  3. The forest and green spaces have been profoundly affected over the two decades and were replaced by housing.
  4. In the period from 1990 onward, the leisure facilities were completely renovated.
  5. The city centre has seen dramatic changes over the years.
  6. In the years after 1990 the city centre was extensively modernised.
  7. The town used to be very green but it has become much more industrialised in the last 15 years.
  8.  A new stadium has been built and more sports faciities have been opened up over the years.
When we describe change, the present perfect and the present perfect passive is often used. Also time phrases are used such as: over the 20 year period , from 1990 to 2000, over the years, in the last 10 years, in the years after 1990and so on.
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Vocabulary to describe changes.



  1. The offices were demolished and the surrounding area was redeveloped with a new leisure centre opening up.
  2. The shopping centre was extended and the parking area was enlarged to accommodate more cars
  3. The trees were cut down and a new office block was erected.
  4. A railway was constructed with the introduction of a new train station.
  5. The industrial area was modernised and made bigger with lots of new factories being built.
  6. The local government had the sports facilities renovated and the small park was made into a children’s playground
  7. The park was replaced with a new housing complex.

Sample Task and Model Answer

‘The two maps below show the changes in town of Denham from 1986 to the present day. Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.
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Introduction and Overview Paragraphs

Introduction - Paraphrase

The two maps demonstrate the main changes which have taken place in the town of Denham between the year 1986 and today.

Overview - General changes

  1. In1986 Denham looked like a rural area. Present - urbal area, Expansions of housing have driven land out of farming.
  2. Gardens were cut down - farmland was converted to the residential area
The town has experienced considerable changes over the time period. Initially Denham was a rural area with a lot of farmland, while now it has made into the urban part. Expansions of housing have driven land out of farming. Gardens were cut down and farmland was converted to the residential area with new housing extension.  

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Main Body

Feature 1. Specific changes

One change that stands out is developments of housing dominating the area to the east of the river stroke. In 1986 there were shops and just a handful of residential properties. Now there are neither shops nor farmland left, although the post office is still there. The bridge over the river stoke still stands as it did in 1986.

Feature 2. Specific changes

Another noticeable change is that there have been more roads constructed around the housing complex, additionally, the gardens, that were a feature in 1986, have been removed and replaced by houses and a retirement home. The primary school in the east of the town still stands and has been extended in the decades since. The footpath to the river that was running north of the gardens in 1986 is no longer there.

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