Describing Drainage, Vegetation, Land Use, Settlement and Communication

You will be required to analyze a section of a map. The map’s key will be crucial for this task. Also, your knowledge from various parts of the syllabus will be useful here. You must first ensure that you are analyzing the right area. For instance, the area might be south of a particular northing and east of a particular easting.  You will be required to describe some or all of the following:


When describing drainage it is useful to ask yourself:

Are there many rivers and streams or just a few? You can scan the section of the map to determine this.

Are there seasonal streams? Some streams are permanent whereas others are seasonal. Seasonal streams dry up during periods of little or no rainfall. Seasonal streams may be represented by broken blue lines. Check your key to be sure.

Is this area well drained? If an area has several rivers and streams and no swampy or marshy areas you can conclude that it is well drained. If there are swampy or marshy areas (or areas with mangrove) it is safe to conclude that these areas are poorly drained. The section of the map you are analyzing may have well drained and poorly drained areas. You can indicate that.

What drainage pattern am I seeing? Is it dendritic? Is it radial? Is it trellis? Does the drainage pattern indicate something about the underlying rock or topography of the area? If you are unfamiliar with drainage patterns click here.

Are there any disappearing streams? Rivers or streams that run for some distance along a map and then suddenly disappear may have gone underground. This may indicate that this is a limestone area. If you are unfamiliar with limestone areas click here.


When describing vegetation look out for:

Natural vegetation: There may be natural vegetation in the area you are analyzing. There may be areas with scrub, woodland, forest, mangrove or some other form of natural vegetation. Your key will be very useful in helping you describe the natural vegetation of an area. Each type of natural vegetation has a distinct symbol in your key. 

Cultivation: There may be areas where people grow crops. This can range from small scale mixed or scattered cultivation to large scale commercial agriculture. Once again your key will be very useful in helping you to describe the types of cultivation in an area. Some crops such as sugarcane or rice may be represented by distinct symbols as well.

Be sure to describe the types of vegetation found in the area and where they are located. 

Land Use

This is exactly what it sounds like. What is the land being used for in the section of the map you are analyzing? Some of the types of land use you may observe on the map include:

Agriculture: Some land may be used to grow crops. Can you see any areas of cultivation? Check your key. Can you tell what crops are being grown? Can you see any pasture? Pasture would indicate that this land is used for grazing animals like cows or sheep. Where on the map are these areas located?

Settlement: The presence of buildings indicates that the area is used for human settlement. Within settlements some land may be used for commercial activity or to provide services such as education and healthcare. Where are settlements located? What kinds of settlements are you seeing? (There is more information about this below)

Recreation: Some land is used for various forms of recreational activity. Can you see any cricket or football stadiums or playing fields? Are there any playgrounds or parks? Where are they located?

Study the map and key carefully. You may find some interesting or unusual things like a mine, a quarry, a landfill or sewage treatment plant.


Usually when we use the term communication we are talking about transferring information from person to person. However communication is a much broader word. In its broadest sense, communication refers to the ways in which people or things are taken from one place to another. Forms of communication which may be represented on a map include:

Roads, railways etc.: Look at the section of the map. Can you see any major roads? Are there any minor roads? Are there any railways? Can you see any footpaths or tracks? Where are they located?

Airports and seaports: These also facilitate the movement of people and things from one place to another. Can you see any airports or seaports on the section of the map? Where are they?


Scan the section of the map for areas with buildings. Ask yourself:

What type(s) of settlement can I see? Clusters of buildings are known as nucleated settlements. Settlements where buildings are widely spaced are known as dispersed settlements. Some settlements consist of buildings that are strung out in a line along a road, river or some other feature. These are known as linear settlements. Where are these settlements located?

Is the area densely or sparsely populated? Areas with large settlements with many buildings clustered together (such as a town or city) can be described as densely populated. Areas with a few scattered buildings are sparsely populated. Areas with no buildings at all can be described as uninhabited. 

How is the population distributed? It is quite likely that some parts of the map will show high population densities while others will show very low densities. Where can you find high population densities? Where are the sparsely populated areas? Does the map offer any clues about why an area may be densely or sparsely populated?

For more information on population density and distribution click here.


The A to Z of Land Uses: Understanding Land-Use Specifics

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