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Improve coherence in essays: linking your paragraphs

This is one of a series of lessons that will look at practical ways to improve your essay writing. The idea is simple, I take a sample of work submitted by a student and look at ways of improving it. I show you the original, I explain the problem and then give you an exercise to practise your skills so that you can avoid the problem. This time I am going to look at the concept of coherence and one way of building paragraphs so that they make a complete essay.

Test yourself

Here is the challenge. There are two versions below, which do you prefer? They both contain the same language, both are pretty much grammatically correct. Do you think that one is better than the other though?

Read the paragraphs

version A

Firstly, there are the very poor nations which are suffering from dramatic conditions such as civil war, starvation, dictatorial political systems, no minimal sanitary facilities (contaminated water) and contagious diseases like AIDS. For example, the most unfortunate nations on Earth, such as Somalia or Ethiopia have very basic needs that have to be dealt with. The only way developed countries can help is through very long term and costly programmes, for example, by financing the establishment of NGOs in those countries on a permanent basis.

version B

Perhaps the most important of these measures is to plan for the long term. This is due to the fact many poor countries are suffering from problems that are so serious that there is no possible short-term solution. For example, problems in many countries in sub- Saharan Africa, such as civil war, starvation and the spread of AIDS, need to be tackled methodically over a period of time. One possibility here would be for wealthier governments to fund programmes financing NGOs to provide long-term assistance in the neediest areas.
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Thinking about essay structure and coherence

Start your paragraph with a link to the previous paragraph

They are both equally “possible” paragraphs. I would suggest though that one is much better than the other. Let me try and explain why.

To do this, you need to read the paragraph that came before and to think about essay structure. The main point are:

  1.  each paragraph should clearly link to the paragraph before
  2.  this link should be in the first sentence of the paragraph
  3. the aim is to be clear and to help the examiner read the essay.

Look at this chain. See how it all links together: separate bits but one thing. That is all coherence is. Separate paras linked into one essay.

Now read the previous paragraph

From my point of view, the more fortunate nations should engage themselves to combat poverty by taking into consideration two facts: the particular circumstances the target society is facing and its level of development. According to these facts, I would classify actions to be taken in three categories: long, medium and short term measures.

This is an excellent introduction. We now what the essay is about and how it is going to be structured. It is about how richer nations can/should help poorer nations. The main idea (thesis) of the essay is that there are 3 ways this should happen: through short, medium and long-term measures. The next paragraph must link to this or the chain is broken.

Seeing the problem

Now re-read version A again and my notes on it below to understand the problem. It is a problem of coherence and the problem lies in the first sentence:

Firstly, there are the very poor nations which are suffering from dramatic conditions such as civil war, starvation, dictatorial political systems, no minimal sanitary facilities (contaminated water) and contagious diseases like AIDS. For example, the most unfortunate nations on Earth, such as Somalia or Ethiopia have very basic needs that have to be dealt with. The only way developed countries can help is through very long term and costly programmes, for example, by financing the establishment of NGOs in those countries on a permanent basis.

Notes

  • “Firstly”: The problems of the poor countries is not the first point at all. It is confusing how this fits in with the previous paragraph
  • “The only way developed countries can help”: this is the main point of the paragraph. This is the first measure to take. Because it is the main point and it relates to the previous paragraph, it should start the paragraph

Finding a solution

The first sentence gives the main point of the paragraph

The solution is fairly easy. To see it, you only need to read the first sentence of version B again. The key being that this is the first sentence.

Perhaps the most important of these measures is to plan for the long term.

It is a short, simple sentence that does two jobs. It links clearly to the paragraph before (“these measures”) and tells the reader what this paragraph is about (“long-term plans”). All you need to do next is explain and exemplify. Learn how to PEE.

A simple exercise to improve your skills

The best things in lifeare often simple things. Here is what you do:

  • don’t practise writing a whole essay
  • find an essay question
  • decide on your structure (for/against etc)
  • write the first sentence of each paragraph
  • try not to write more than 15 words each time
  • each sentence you write should relate to the task
  • the language in each sentence should be similar (the interesting language comes in your reasons and examples)

Another simple exercise to test your own skills

The idea is simple. Take one of your essays you have written before to see how good your essay organisation really is:

  1. copy it if you can
  2. cut out one paragraph.
  3. try and write out the task in the question
If you have written the essay well and if you have organised your paragraph well, you should only have to read a sentence or two. The reason for this is that every paragraph you write immediately and obviously relates to the task.

 One more simple exercise to do yourself

This time you do the same thing – only you write out the first sentence from each paragraph. Ask yourself these questions:
  1. what order did these paragraphs come in?
  2. what was the main point of each paragraph
Again, if you have written well, each first sentence of the paragraph should tell you this information: how it fits into the essay as a whole and what that paragraph was about.
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And yes in case you’re wondering, this is of course about topic sentences. Boring but necessary.

   

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7 Responses to Improve coherence in essays: linking your paragraphs

  1. Ed July 30, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    This is a well explained posting about how coherence works between paragraphs. Excellent work.

  2. Anonymous August 7, 2012 at 5:03 am #

    thank you it is really useful . i just want to ask when you should express your opinion and you have a neutral view about the topic how to make it clear and not confusing , because whenever i have a put a neutral view in my writing my teacher tell me that it was confusing and my mark get down

    • Dominic Cole August 7, 2012 at 7:48 am #

      Good question.I need to do a separate post on this. The key in many ways is to indicate in the introduction that you are taking a balanced/neutral view – that way it should be clearer for the reader what you are doing when you get to the content paras.

      I shall try and do something on this later in the week.

      • aseel September 9, 2012 at 2:18 am #

        thank you >i want to ask if you made a post for it so i can read the explanation

  3. anonymus March 5, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    how do i link my paragraph back to my hypothesis?
    do the same rules apply?

    • Dominic Cole March 5, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

      One key here is to think very carefully about your first sentence in each paragraph. IELTS essays are short essays and you don’t have words/sentences to spare. For me, this means that you want to use the first sentence in each essay back to the introduction as clearly as you can. You want to do this so that the examiner can immediately see that you have a consistent position throughout the essay and also follow the structure of your argument.

      I do some lessons on this, but it is a really good question. I shall see if I can do something on this for you in my next essay lesson.

  4. cpanel vps August 5, 2013 at 2:52 am #

    I have fun with, cause I discovered just what I was looking for. You’ve ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day. Bye|

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