As you are probably aware, in the IELTS academic writing task 1, you are asked to interpret diagrammatic representations of certain data. Sometimes you have to describe pie charts, sometimes tables and sometimes maps.

Describing maps is definitely not something that you have to worry about. There are several things you should keep in your mind and that is all. What is a map answer? Since the writing task 1 is the shorter of the two, where you will need to write at least 150 words, you must be well equipped with the proper vocabulary to nail this task effectively.

Types of Map Description Questions

Map description type questions are usually of three types:

  • Describing one map in the present day.
  • Describing two maps- one in the present and one in the future.
  • Describing two maps- one in the past and one in the present.

The First Type

The first kind is quite rare. Here you only need to use the simple present tense and it requires no comparisons to be made.

The Second Type

The second kind comes up occasionally and requires you to use present and future tenses. This kind of question is normally about the future development of a town or city.

The Third Type

The third is the most common and we will focus on this in our article here.

You will normally be shown two maps and will be asked to select and report the main features and make comparisons where relevant. You will have to use both present and past tenses to describe the maps and how the town has developed. Also, as this is a man-made process your essay should be in the passive voice.

How to Structure a Map Description Essay?

The structure of the map description essay is simple:

Paragraph 1– Should include the paraphrase of the question.

Paragraph 2– Overview

This is where you should make two general statements about the map. You should describe the maps generally and write about the most noticeable differences between the two maps.

Other Parts

Paragraph 3– Main Body 1

This must include three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred.

Paragraph 4– Main Body 2

Another three to four sentences about specific changes that have occurred. You can group information together in paragraph 3 and 4 by time or location, depending on the question asked.

Also Read : IELTS Writing task Essay with its evaluation

Sample Answer

This is how a Band 9 answer should look like:


The map below shows the centre of a small town called Islip as it is now and plans for its development.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features and make comparisons where relevant.

map answer

The diagrams illustrate some proposed changes to the central area of the town of Islip.

It is clear that the principal change to the town will be the construction of a ring road around the centre. Various other developments with regard to shops and housing will accompany the building of this road.

Looking at the map of Islip as it is now, we can see that the main road runs through its centre from east to west. The second map shows the planned pedestrianisation of this road. Traffic will be diverted onto a dual carriageway that will form a ring around the town centre.

Break the Paragraph

Currently, there is a row of shops along either side of the main road. However, it appears that the shops along the north side of the new pedestrian street will be demolished to make way for a bus station, shopping centre, car park and new housing area. The shops along the south side of the street will remain, but it seems that the town’s park will be reduced in size so that more new houses can be built within the ring road.

Total word count – 187 words

Vocabulary to express General Changes in a Map

While comparing two maps you must describe the noticeable changes between the two. To do so effectively here are some examples of general statements:

  • Over the period, the area witnessed dramatic changes.
  • From 1996 to 2007, the city centre saw spectacular developments.
  • The village changed considerably over the time period.
  • During the 15 year period, the industrial area was totally transformed.
  • Over the past 30 years, the residential area was totally reconstructed.
  • Over the time period, the old docks were totally redeveloped.
  • Between 1985 and 2001, the old houses were rebuilt.
  • The central business district was completely modernised during the time period.

Vocabulary to Describe Locations

Maps are all about locations. Therefore, to describe locations clearly you must use a range of relevant vocabulary.

Some are listed below:

  • You can use ‘to the left’ and ‘to the right’, but a better way is to use ‘north’, ‘south’, ‘east’ and ‘west’.
  • The forest to the south of the river was cut down.
  • A golf course was constructed to the north of the airport.
  • The houses in the south-west of the town were demolished.
  • The green fields to the north-west of the city were redeveloped as a park.
  • The airport in the centre of the city was relocated to the north-east of the river.

Some More Vocabulary to Describe Locations

  • The school to the south-east was knocked down and a new one built to the east of the forest.
  • Lastly, you must also use prepositions of a place like: at/ in/ on/ by/ beside/ to/ of/ from, to describe where things are.

For Example:

  • Dramatic changes took place in the city centre.
  • To the south of the town, there is a golf course surrounded by trees.
  • A new school was built next to the swimming pool.
  • The old road running from north to south was replaced by a new motorway.


Describing maps in IELTS academic writing task 1 is all about using the correct vocabulary and understanding the maps. While practising you must focus on the kind of words you should use and the structure you must adopt. With this, you can easily hope to achieve a good score.

Also Read : IELTS Speaking Tips: Here’s Your Study Guide to Crack the IELTS Exam

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Indulekha Prabha

My name is Indulekha Prabha. I am an English teacher and a content writer by profession. When I'm not working you can find me writing fiction, reading poetry and painting.

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