IELTS Writing Task-2: Anatomy of an Excellent Essay

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


ielts writing task-2

Do you know that many candidates follow a tradition to answer IELTS writing task-2 (academic)?

The Tradition: First, they think about too many points to answer the question...then write those ideas/points one after another....and make it a jungle of words that become difficult to read.

Incredible tradition. You should try it.

There is exactly 0% chance to archive a good enough band score if you try it.

= Mission Accomplished.

That`s why I like traditions…but not that brings me any good.

So, THINK TWICE if you like to keep that tradition alive!

At this point, you need some practical strategies that you can use to answer IELTS writing task-2.

That’s exactly what this article is.

It’s a simple checklist that will help you to nicely structure IELTS writing task 2 essays and brings you good enough band score.

What you will learn


  • How to develop paragraphs that make sense
  • How to skillfully use cohesive device
  • How can you provide sufficient points
  • How to present clear arguments
  • How to organize paragraphs efficiently
Fast forward!

Let`s get started.

Bonus: Download a free checklist that will show you how to quickly leverage these strategies. Includes bonus tips not found in this post.
Lesson 1: Develop Focused Paragraph with Coherence

Alright, before we get into all the details, let’s get a glimpse of a very common question I usually get from my subscribers:



So here is the fact….

It takes too long to finish.

Do you know why?

It happens when you try to present too many ideas in your writing.

But, you don`t have time for this (40 minutes allowed for Task-2)

That make sense, why should not gather too many points.

It`s simply = waste of energy + waste of time.

You can write 3 or more body paragraphs after the introduction.

But, limit the focus to one distinct idea.

You should:

  • Put only one main idea per paragraph
  • Add 3/5 more sentences per paragraph.
Start each body paragraphs with one focus or major point of discussion and then put other sentences to create a logical bridge.

In this way, the entire paragraph will concern itself with a single focus.

If you write like this- it will be easily understandable to the examiner.

You are not getting it clear?

If I`m right………..

Let me give you a simple formula: Pie Method.

PIE method:

P - Point
I - Illustrate
E – Explain

Point: Make a strong point as expressed in the topic sentence or claim statement;

Illustrate: Give some practical evidences;

Explain: Show how the/these evidence supports the point.


How to write Point/Topic Sentence?

Your topic sentence is the most important sentence of the paragraph.

It should contain: a single idea or topic + your opinion (about that idea).

For example:
Online education has become more popular form of distance education in recent years.
In this case, the topic is: online education & your opinion is: it has become more popular in recent years.

Remember that, a good topic sentence should not be too general or too specific.

Too general: Online education has become very popular.

Too specific:  Online education has become very popular form of distance education in Japan, China, USA and Canada where almost 25 % of the enrolled students in any institution prefer online.

Now, you have to illustrate the idea expressed in the topic sentence.

How to Illustrate the Topic?

For illustration, you need to provide some examples that support the topic sentence. These examples will help you to elaborate topic sentence.

For instance, look at previous point:

“Online education has become more popular form of distance education in recent years.”

You need to come up with some reasons why online education becomes popular.

Like:
Students have freedom to take lessons from home, they don`t have to be present themselves physically in the lecture room. The experience of virtual learning environment via the internet whenever needed makes it time independent. For many learners, it provides the ability to   maintain personal busy schedules and take classes at the same day.

How to Explain?

Now, you have illustrated the topic with reasons.

It`s the time to elaborate how the examples connect to your point.

Otherwise, the examiner may become overwhelmed with too many examples you have provides

…may think your examples does match the point you`ve mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph.

That`s why you need to make it clear in one sentence, like below:
These flexibility of online learning make it a very powerful and popular medium of education.
It is interesting to notice how the entire paragraph is focused on a single topic- the popularity of online learning.

That`s the key point- write each paragraph on just one single topic.

Don’t include a new topic/idea in this paragraph.

Write a separate paragraph for a new topic.

Remember, each new point should have its own paragraph.

Let` take an example of IELTS (Academic) writing question taken from official IELTS page.


Let`s agree with the point that “the benefit of nuclear technology far outweighs the disadvantage”…and write a paragraph about it...as below:

1st body paragraph:

Nuclear power is very environment friendly source of energy with almost no carbon footprint. (Point).For example, Air pollution from coal, oil and gas power plants is very high and contributes to significant environmental and health hazard. But, nuclear plants have zero emission and do not cause air pollution. Although, it produces some radioactive waste but it can be manageable by isolation without any environmental damage. (Illustration)This flexibility of nuclear power make it a very potential source of clean energy. (Explanation)

Now you want to write about another advantage of nuclear energy; like: low fuel cost.

"Nuclear power is very environment-friendly and cheap source of energy with almost no carbon footprint.”

You should not write about low fuel cost in the 1st paragraph:

Rather, you should add this point (low fuel cost/cheap) in a separate paragraph:

2nd body paragraph:

Nuclear technology is also very cheap source of energy that brings the cost down (Point). The cost of uranium which is used as a fuel in generating electricity is quite low. A little amount of uranium can produce much energy compare to thousands of tons of coal or petroleum needed to produce the same energy. (Illustration)These technological advantages make it more economic option than others. (Explanation)

Lesson 2: Strategically Use Cohesive Devices in the Literature

Good English users do two things very well when writing IELTS essay:

First, they identify what is being asked in the question.

Second, they put 100% effort to answer this in the best possible way.

But, they`re probably wondering:

"Why I do not get a well enough band score though I write it very well"

You might be wondering:

"What is missing when they write is so well?"

Well, today I’m going to make it easy for you.

All you need to do is a little twist by adding some elements of transition and signpost in your task-2 essay.

What is Signposting?

You may see traffic signs around the streets of a city.

These signs help you to find your way.

The IELTS examiner is also kind of walking through your essay and looking for such signs.

You need to use phrases and words as a sign to guide the examiner to remind where you plan to go next…

You can use single words such as ‘However’, ‘Furthermore’ and ‘Finally’, and phrases such as ‘By contrast’ and ‘In conclusion’

That’s easy.

And what happened?

People KNOW about the intention of your next sentence…present your essay as clearly as possible.

Your IELTS examiner will get impressed.

The reality is this: you will get a hike in writing band score for satisfying the cohesion marker.

What is Transition?

Transitions are usually longer phrases or whole sentences to indicate "the shift" of focus from one idea to the next.

Most often you will write about “cause and effect”, “problem and solution” or “comparison and contrast” in IELTS writing task-2.

Now if you really want to satisfy the examiner… and ensure that he/she SCORE you better… you should deliver transitional phrases.

Here’s how:

#Cause & Effect

Due to /Because of/As a consequence of burning more and more fossil fuels, the concentration of greenhouse gas is increasing in the atmosphere.

#Problem-solution

One suggestion to help solve the problem is…………….An alternative solution could be……

#Comparison and contrast

In spite of apparent global warming, few strategies have been taken to minimize the adverse effect.

On the other hand/on the contrary, people are opting for more usage of fossil fuels in the long run.

And that’s it.

You see. It GETS BETTER…

Lesson 3: Provide Sufficient Points

As I said: You don’t need to think about TOO MUCH points to write in your IELTS writing task-2 essay.

It`s necessary because-often you can come out with a list of points concerning the essay.

…Instead of put down these long list of points in your essay-make it short.

Otherwise, you`ll never find time to write them all.

Often it`s a good practice to write down 3 or 4 good ideas down the essay.

Then just start to flow around these ideas in 3 to 4 body paragraphs following PIE Method.

But wait.

Here’s where things get sticky…

Sometimes our mind is blank…you can't think of anything... you are looking at task-2 question again and again but can`t come up with any idea to start.

Cynical, yes, but still true.

It`s called writer block. It happens in IELTS writing test…

What is the solution?

The solution is: Mind Mapping.

The Power of Mind Mapping in IELTS

When you try to answer to the question, you need to generate spontaneous ideas.

Mind mapping helps you to generate those ideas.

When you write down one idea, it opens the door of your mind by exposing what lies beneath.

I`ll explain.

Let`s take a typical example of our previous question:




They can use the blank paper and divide it into three horizontal areas.

Write each of the key words in the essay: ‘nuclear weapon’, ‘world peace’ and ‘threat` one after another.

Why 3 WORDS?

Our brain is hardwired to catch three items at a time, which is why this technique works so well.



After lay out these keywords visually, find the main ideas presented in the question, which is:

  • The threat of Nuclear weapon maintains the world peace.
  • Nuclear energy provides cheap and clean energy.
Let your mind start to flow around and over these main ideas.

Create some supporting (or contrasting) ideas yourself.

Ask WH Questions like below:

  • How/why nuclear weapon maintains the world peace…since when…
  • How/where nuclear energy provides cheap and clean energy
You eventually come up with points like:

Nuclear weapon maintains peace (when)
  • Since the Hiroshima Bombing of 2nd World War..
Nuclear weapon maintains peace (why)
  • People/Country fear of complete annihilation
  • Avoid war among countries having nuclear weapon
  • Maintain global peace…by the balance of power.
You see.

The RULE OF THREE is working…….You`ll be flooding with points and ideas…

You may be wondering that you may come up with a short list.

But, it is not true.

In fact, when you write down just one idea, the list will follow automatically by opening layer after layer like an onion.

You can then convert those small hints of an idea into a fully grown sentence.

So this process will help you to access things you already know; and it will help you to think about where to get evidence to back up what you know.

It’s a bit like a cooking recipe.

You look at the recipe to see what ingredients are needed to write your IELTS essay.

What to do with your mind-map afterward...

And that leads me to my next point…

Lesson 4: Present Clear Arguments

“I speak English. Therefore, I am English.”

(Heck, even if you SPEAK English, you are not English because maybe you are not born in England)

Generally, when we talk, it`s not based on logic or evidence.

But, in the academic context, you need argument.

Argument means to persuade someone of something with reasoning.

Original argument:

I was born in England
I speak English.
Therefore, I am English.

(Heck, even if you`ve BORN in England & SPEAK in English, you are not English because maybe your parents and grandparents are not born in England or you may be brought up in the USA)

Here, I need to back up the claim…I am English with more evidence & logic.

That`s exactly what you need to do in your IELTS Writing Task-2.

Present strong and clear argument.

The examiner will look forward how well your answer is argued.



How to write strong and clear Argument?

More than 2,000 years ago the Greek philosopher Aristotle explained 3 basic ways to make an argument: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Greek farmers used this strategy for appealing their cases to Greek courts.

This classical argument model has stood as a model for writers over thousands of years.

You can visit this link if you are curious about it.

But first, let me tell you how you can initially break through and succeeded with this method.

This is the holy grail of making an effective argument-

“For each point you raise in your essay, you must either refute or concede.”

The rules are simple:

You need to acknowledge and disprove that are counter to the thesis of your essay.

What is Concession?

This means you need to acknowledge the other side/differing points of view on the IELTS essay topic. Making concessions proves that you understand both sides of the issue.

What is Refutation?

A refutation is where you prove the counter-arguments wrong and explain why you do not agree with it with supportive evidence.

Here is what you’ll need to do to imply these:

  1. Write the opposing viewpoint (counterargument) at the beginning of the body paragraph.
  2. Refute it with your own argument. Use transitional phrases so that the examiner can identify when you are changing from your opponents’ argument to your own.
  3. Explain your point of view with reasoning.

Let me help you more to break the ice in this process.

You can use these sentence structures to present the opposing viewpoint:

  • There are people who believe____ and they may think that _____,
  • Some people may feel that ___
  • Supporters of [this issue] claim that ____
  • Opponents of [this issue] insist that ____

And to state your own viewpoint:

  • However, I think that it is more important to consider ____ because ____
  • In spite of/Despite these arguments, I still think ____ because ____
  • It is true that____; however, ____
  • Some people may feel that ____ , but I disagree because _____
Here I give you an example where you can see concession and refutation in action.

Some people believe that smoking should not be banned in public places while other thinks that it is not the right thing to do.
To what extend you agree or disagree with this point of view.

Lesson 5:  Persuade Examiner with Efficient Organization of Paragraphs

Right now. You have finish mind-mapping and come up with list of ideas or point.

Don’t wait for a “complete list.” Don’t wait for things to look perfect. 

Start writing your essay right away when you can list three or four broad ideas.

If you fail to write your ideas in clear, organized massages, you are at risk for:

…not achieving task response

…and not getting a high band score.

Off course, you can`t write your ideas randomly…you need to organize them in paragraphs.

Writing and organizing good paragraphs is one of the most important aspects of creating a well-organized and developed essay.

A classic format for writing is the five-paragraph essay.





As a matter of fact, it is not the only format that exists; there are others like four or six paragraph essay model.

But, I think five-paragraph is more useful in writing IELTS writing task-2 essay. You ask?

Let`s see why.

Take a look at this image closely, and then I’ll walk you through it.



In this agree or disagree essay, let`s agree with the point of view presented in the question.

You can organize your paragraphs as below:

  • Paragraph 1 > Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 > Describe how nuclear weapon maintains word peace
  • Paragraph 3 > Describe how nuclear power provides cheap and clean energy
  • Paragraph 4 > Show how these benefits far outweigh the odds.
  • Paragraph 5 > Conclusion
That makes it clear why 5 paragraph structures are useful in IELTS.

Question is…

How Can You Actually Write all these 5 Paragraphs?

For that, let’s dive deeper…

How do I write an effective introduction?

An excellent IELTS essay has a solid introduction.

In introduction you clarify the question and state how you are going to explore it.

In a way, it serves as a 'road map' of the essay.

You can follow this basic pattern (recipe) for writing introduction paragraphs:

(a) An introductory statement (What the question is about)

This sentence should broadly state the topic of the question.

You can simply do it by just zooming in to a specific idea from the broad concept presented in the question.

However, you should not include:-
……too many details
……copy the same words of the question

Have a look at this example:

Question:

“If countries are serious about solving traffic problems, they should tax private cars very heavily and use the money to provide free or very cheap rail travel.

To what extend do you agree or disagree with the above?”

Introductory statement:

Many nations are facing massive (specific-how serious) traffic congestion in their cities (specific).

(b) Identify your main idea

Here you write how you feel about the whole issue of the question.

Picture this:

The congestion makes travel difficult and causes environmental damage. In order to solve this problem, it is necessary to establish alternative solutions.

(c) Outline statement (How you are going to answer it)

Until now, you write about the general topic and the facts surrounding the topic.

Now, you need to state what you will be arguing…what you are going to cover in your essay.

How about this:

"In my opinion, the best way to finance the development of public transport is to tax car drivers."

That`s it.

Thing #1: You have cleared the topic of the essay
Thing #2: You have said specific concern relates to the topic
Thing #3: You have clearly state what you are going to explore in this essay.

How to write body paragraphs?

You have stated what you are going to discuss generally in the last sentence of your introduction.

Now, you should explain, discuss or prove this.

You should move from general to specific information.

You can do this in several body paragraphs.

The body paragraphs are the heart of your essay. It is essential for writing an excellent essay.  


How to write it?

I`ve already discussed it earlier in PIE Method.

But the question remains: should you just write 3 paragraphs using Pie formula.

No.

There is more you should concern.

That is….

You may include 3 body paragraphs in your IELTS essay…but all these 3 must have some coherence and unity.

That said..

You should maintain a flow of transition.

Get it?

I`m taking about using transition signals between paragraphs.

I`ve already discussed it in Lesson 2: Strategically Use Cohesive Devices.

But, that was about using transitional words within the individual sentences of a paragraph.

Here, I will discuss how to use it from one paragraph to the next.

If you write 3 or 4 body paragraphs, you need to show the relationship between your first, second paragraphs, between second and third paragraphs, and so on.

Two paragraphs are linked by adding a transition signal to the topic sentence of the second paragraph. 

This transition signal may be a word, a phrase, or a dependent clause that repeats or summarizes the main idea of the first paragraph.

This acts as a hand-off from one idea to the next.

So, Instead of treating paragraphs as separate ideas, transitions can help readers understand how paragraphs work together, reference one another, and build to a larger point.

Many times, it only takes a few words to draw these connections.

Let`s apply this in the example I`ve mentioned while describing PIE method.

>> Last line of first body paragraph:

"These flexibility of nuclear power make it a very potential source of clean energy."

>> First line of second body paragraph:

"Another important thing to note about the flexibility of nuclear technology is it`s cheapness."

(Instead of.......Nuclear technology is also very cheap source of energy that brings the cost down)

How to write Conclusion?

A lot of IELTS candidate write the essay so well but finish it with a half-baked conclusion.

An excellent IELTS essay has strong finishes, where the conclusion is one of the most powerful components of the essay.

If your conclusions aren’t powerful, then they'll weaken your whole essay.

Luckily, it's not too complicated – Jut write what you`ve already write.

You can even follow a sort of formula.

You can write your IELTS essay conclusion by following 3 parts:

(a) Restate the General Idea

You can start by restating the general idea made in the introduction. It reminds the examiner the very basic idea behind writing your essay.

(b) Summary of discussed points

Provide 1 or 2 strong sentences that draw together all the point. It will build a relationship between the general idea and the evidence provided in the essay.

It also reminds the examiner the ideas that have been argued in all previous body paragraphs.

(c) Provide some insights

Here is the golden rule.

Don't try to bring in new points at the end of your conclusion or try to solve any problem.

Just put some suggestion for future research in a clear, convincing message.

Here you provide some insights or overview future possible research that a reader can be aware of after reading your whole essay.  

One last thing …

If you are reading this and come to this end, please don`t get confused.

Don`t be baffled with long list of to do things I present here for your IELTS task -2 wrting.

I made a free, easy to follow and eye catching checklist for you that will help you put these strategies into action for your IELTS essay.

It outlines — step-by-step — exactly how to use the techniques that I talked about in this post…including a bonus tip that I didn’t include here.

Here’s where you can download the checklist:

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