Contours on a map convey the shape of that part of the surface of the earth: its topography. Topography is made up of an assemblage of landforms - the shapes of the individual and groups of natural features of the earth's surface. Common landforms are hills and valleys, plains and plateaus, continents and mountain ranges. Taken together, the landforms that are present in a region are the foundation of its landscape.

An important skill is the ability to transform the contours you see on a topographic map into a mental picture of the landscape they represent and then to turn that image into a written or verbal description so that you can convey your ideas to other people.

There are no 'formulas' for writing landscape descriptions; there are no unique 'correct' descriptions. How successful you are will depend upon your ability to 'read' contours, your powers of observation and your facility with language.

A useful first step in gaining such ability is to observe and learn how to describe a single, common type of landform, such as a hill. When you have mastered that skill, you will be able to transfer what you have learned to other landforms and to landscape in general.

© 2010 David Leveson/Revised by G. Rocha and Michelle O'Dea