Today, we are going to look at another IELTS writing task 2 sample answer. It is from a question that asks you about whether vertical or horizontal cities are better. Let’s look at what this means and how you can write a great essay about it.

Analysing the Question: Vertical vs Horizontal Cities

Here is the question:

Some people think that vertical cities are the best, where people live and work in tall buildings. Others think that horizontal cities are better, where there are few tall buildings.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

So what do you have to do here?

Firstly, this is a “discuss both views” question, so you need to examine both sides of the issue and also give your opinion. The means you need to:

  1. Say why vertical cities are the best.
  2. Say why horizontal cities are the best.
  3. State your opinion on the issue.

But what do “vertical” and “horizontal” mean?

Fortunately, these terms are explained in the question: vertical cities are ones that are built up (ie with tall buildings) and horizontal ones are built out (ie with more space and shorter buildings).

vertical vs horizontal

Brainstorming the Question

Now that we understand the question, we need to plan our answer. To do that, we need to think about what to say. We can start by looking at the pros and cons of each city type.

Vertical CitiesHorizontal Cities
Pros: They take up less space, so more green land
More efficient use of land
Pros: Fewer tall buildings, so more scenic
Also less crowded
Cons: Can be ugly, claustrophobicCons: Can spread out too far and consume the countryside

You don’t need to think of many ideas. Just get a few good ones and be prepared to develop them with explanations and examples.

Then we can start plotting our structure. Remember that not every idea you come up with in the brainstorming stage will make it into your final essay. This is not a list of ideas. It is better to show development and organisation. (This is important for Coherence and Cohesion.)

IntroductionIntroduce the topic (different modes of urban planning) State my perspective (they are just different; neither is better)
Body Paragraph 1The main reason for vertical cities – better utilisation of space
Body paragraph 2The main reason for horizonal cities – more attractive and less crowded
ConclusionState that it is really just a matter of opinion

Special note: You might think it is odd that I have not given a strong opinion. Certainly, that is easier. However, it is not necessary. Sometimes you can provide a balanced answer. In this case, I wanted to give a nuanced discussion that essentially said that both cities types have strengths and weaknesses and that neither is completely superior to the other.

Also, I will add a concession paragraph at the end of BP2 to emphasise the equality of these ideas. Because my ideas in BP2 might seem stronger, I think this is important in balancing the weight of the two perspectives.

Sample Band 9 Answer

There are various models of urban planning devised to cope with the growing human population. Expanding cities thus have a choice: to grow upwards or to grow outwards. These both have their merits and choosing which is best is a difficult task. It depends upon whether you value efficiency or comfort.

When cities grow upwards, using large apartment buildings and skyscrapers to house their vast populations, they tend to make more efficient use of space. One tall building could perhaps house a few thousand people, whereas a smaller building of the same ground dimensions would only house a few dozen, at most. This is undeniably more efficient than spreading a city out over a vast area. Moreover, as technology improves, the height of buildings can continue to grow, housing more and more people. Through this sort of design, cities can stay within their geographical confines, but still allow for a growing population.

On the other hand, some cities grow outwards. The people planning these urban areas tend to think of tall buildings as unsightly and crude, and prefer a more aesthetically pleasing design. People have more space to themselves, and the city less crowded. However, this sort of city grows further outwards, consuming more of the surrounding countryside, which would otherwise have been preserved with more tall buildings to house the people.

In conclusion, there is no correct way to design a city, but both “vertical” and “horizontal” urban planning have their benefits. Whichever is the superior approach is simply a matter of perspective. 


In terms of language, I have used the following synonyms:

  • Vertical city = grow upwards
  • Horizontal city = grow outwards

Other important vocabulary includes:

  • urban planning
  • apartment buildings
  • skyscrapers
  • house (as a verb, not a noun)
  • dimensions
  • geographical confines
  • unsightly
  • aesthetically pleasing design

You can learn some more building vocabulary here.