Top Tips for IELTS

IELTS essay introductions – the basics

This is the first of a series of lessons on how to write introductions for IELTS essays. The main messages are that a good introduction is key to writing a good essay, a good introduction can (and perhaps should) be simple and there is more than one way to write an introduction.

Why introductions matter

Introductions matter for a variety of reasons. Two of the most important are that it is the first way you can impress the examiner and it helps you write well-structured essays:

  1. The introduction is the first thing the examiner reads. Get it right and you are off to a good start – they like you. Get it wrong and you have immediately made a bad impression. It’s like forgetting to say hello when you meet someone.
  2. The introduction helps you structure your essay. Get it right and the essay becomes easier to write. It may be only 2/3/4 sentences long, but those 2/3/4 sentences can often mean whether you write a good or a bad essay. It is worth spending time on. Arguably, those sentences are the most important sentences in the essay.

What the introduction must do

There are different ways to write an introduction as I will explain below. However, there are certain “golden rules” that you need to remember.

1. The introduction must address the task in the question, not just a general topic

IELTS essay questions are always specific – they ask you to answer something in particular – that’s the task. They are never just about a general topic. A fairly common problem is for candidates to write about the topic and not the task in the introduction. Problem. If you do this the chances are you will not address the task properly in the essay itself.

See an example - learn the skill

In the future more adults will work from home and children will study from home, as computer technology becomes cheaper and more accessible. Do you think this is a postive or negative development?

The skill

The skill is to read the question and identify what the task is. It’s the bit with the question mark. Though you may need to read back a little as well.  You should note that the task is often complex – meaning it involves more than one idea. In this case, the intro needs to address:

whether if in the future it is positive or negative whether children and adults will work form home

Problem example

This introduction is full of goof language but does not work at all because it fails to address

  • the idea of computer technology being used from home
  • children and adults
  • whether the trend is  positive or negative

Computer technology has undoubtedly changed our lives in many ways and it is perhaps the single most influential invention in the history of mankind. There are few other inventions that have had a similar impact on the way we lead our lives and this trend is almost certainly going to continue as it becomes more freely available. Indeed, it is very likely that future generations are going to become more and more dependent on computer technology.

Good example

In contrast, this example works well and addresses all the parts of the task

There is no doubt that computer technology has changed the way we lead our lives and that this trend will continue into the future. One aspect of this revolution is the growing tendency for people of all ages to work from home.In my view, this is largely a beneficial change, although there are certain negative aspects to it.

2. It must connect with the rest of the essay – topic paragraphs and the conclusion

Is this too obvious to point out? One possible problem is that you learn to write introductions as a separate skill. The key, however, is to see the essay as a whole with each part of the essay doing a particular job. The role of the introduction is to connect to the question and the different parts of the essay itself. A good intro makes for a coherent essay.

Linking the introduction to the main topic paragraphs

The introduction should also give the reader a general idea of what is to come in the main topic paragraphs. There are different ways to achieve this, but in general you want to make certain that the first sentence in each para relates to something you have written in the introduction. Typically, this means that the final sentence in your intro looks forward to the rest of the essay.

3.Identify your position in the introduction

In some ways, this is the same point as point 2 above. It is though one of those things IELTS examiners are trained to look for so it is worth emphasising. The idea is that the essay must have a consistent position – this means the intro, the topic paras and the conclusion need to say the same thing. If they don’t, your essay won’t be coherent. 

There are different ways in which you can identify your position in the introduction and how you do it may depend on the type of essay you write. The two most obvious variations are:

  1. to state your opinion – this is most appropriate in argument type essays where you give your view about a topic
  2. to say what the issue is and how you are going to discuss it – this is most appropriate in discussion type essays where you simply discuss an issue
I should add here that when I studied philosophy at university, I learnt that there are nearly always 3 answers to any question. What this means is most questions can be answered “yes”, “no” and “maybe”. So in the introduction it is quite acceptable to identify your position as being “maybe” or “I don’t know” or “It just depends” – all you need to do is make sure that the rest of the essay is consistent with that position.

4. Don’t simply repeat the question/task – summarise it

The introduction needs to refer to the question, but it must not repeat it word for word. If you do that, the examiner will “put a line through it” and not count any words you use in the introduction in the word count. This means you need to learn the skill of summarising:

  1. You can use some of the same language. It is often a mistake to try and change all the words from the question – the right word is the right word
  2. You can change the form of the words in the question (verbs become nouns etc)

3 different types of introduction

Is there one way to write an introduction? Not in my view. For me, there are different approaches that can all work depending on you, the question and what you are trying to achieve. Here are 3 different approaches which I believe all work. My best advice is to try them all out for yourself. Here are 3 places you can check them out.

1. The quick and dirty approach – IELTS Simon

Simon, who is an ex-IELTS examiner, generally favours quick introductions that are “low maintenance”.  There is a lot to be said for this point of view

  • it allows you to spend more time and words on the main body of the essay
  • it works best if you are aiming for a 5 para structure
The downsides are
  • it can be surprisingly hard to do, sometimes a slightly longer introduction is easier to write
  • there is a danger that you miss out on identifying part of the task and your introduction is incomplete
  • it’s good for IELTS, but poor practice for more academic writing
Be very, very careful of his advice to introduce the topic and then give a general answer. That way you are in danger of making the worst error possible. The essay is never about a topic, it is always about a task. Make sure you answer the task, not the topic.

2. The heavy introduction – IELTSIELTS

Ryan, who has an excellent series of IELTS writing materials, quite often uses “heavier” introductions (4 0r even 5 sentences long). For example:
Many languages around the world die every year, often replaced with more widely spoken dialects. Opinions as to whether this is a positive or negative trend are mixed. On one hand, people feel sharing a common language may help to encourage economical development in the world. However on the other hand, many feel the losing of languages is a negative trend that makes it increasingly difficult to trace humanity’s heritage. Both of these accounts will be examined before a conclusion is reached.
This can work too. The benefits are:
  •  It is technically more correct as an essay introduction – a good thing
  • You are much more likely to address the task properly and identify your position
The downsides are
  • It’s quite long – perhaps a quarter of the whole essay. This means you have fewer words to use in your main body
  • How long does it take to write? Is there a big enough reward for writing an intro that complex?

3. The introduction formula – Writefix

Enda Tuomey who writes the excellent Writefix site (which I firmly suggest you visit) favours a fairly fixed formula for writing introductions (and essays in general). His formula varies slightly according to the situation but broadly focusses on a 3 sentence introduction.

The strong points of this system are

  • The introductions are technically correct (Ryan pretty much follows this system too)
  • If you can write one good introduction, it helps you to write another. It helps to learn a pattern.
The downsides are
  • As he has updated the site, the formulas have become more complex and therefore less easy to learn
  • There is a danger that if you follow too many “rules”, you ignore the question in front of you. IELTS questions vary quite a lot and I am not sure that his formulas fit all the questions.

A fourth way?

Is there a 4th way? Of course there is. It is simply to visit the sites link above and experiment for yourself – they all contain good advice. My introductions vary quite a lot – I choose the introduction according to the essay. I borrow from them all. That’s my best suggestion – learn to write different types of introductions.

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26 Responses to IELTS essay introductions – the basics

  1. Abdurauf January 7, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    Hello Mr.Dominic,
    I`m fan of your site, i found a lot of useful materials.thanks a lot!
    I have a problem with my writing. The problem is sometimes i read such topics and don`t know what to write even in my native language. What do you think i should do in such situations?

    • Dominic Cole January 7, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      I know what you mean – it is a common problem. Step number 1 is not to panic and to remember that this is a language test only. The ideas you need for an IELTS essay are often surprisingly simple. I think sometimes get into problems because they think they need lots of ideas.

      I will be dealing with this issue in more detail later this month.

  2. Dominic's Fans January 7, 2012 at 11:12 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    Well, Even though you’ve published the “Linking the introduction to the main topic paragraphs”, May I ask you one more question?

    How to link the two main topic paragraphs all together, which means how to connect the third paragraph with the last sentence of the second paragraph.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Cheers

    • Dominic Cole January 7, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Hi good question. Really it depends on the essay structure you choose. I should be doing a few lessons on that in the next couple of weeks. There are a few options available but in IELTS it’s normally best to go for more straightforward choices. That means using parallel structures in the opening/topic sentences of your content paras. Personally, inIELTS I wouldn’t worry overmuch about linking from the final sentence of one para into the opening of the next. If you manage to do it – great, but it’s not vital.

      • Dominic's Fans January 7, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

        I see, Thanks, Dominic….

        Hopefully, I could see your updated lesson about this very soon…

        Cheers

  3. Valentas January 7, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Hey I took up a topic from a book:

    ” In many countries children are engaged in some kind of paid work. Some people regard this as completely wrong, while others consider it as valuable work experience, important for learning and taking responsibility”

    One of the reasons why some minors work is income which allow them to become more independent. However, such approach is highly controversial among adults because some state that letting children to work is inappropriate while others believe that getting hands-on practice may be rewarding in the future.

    What do you think?

    • Dominic Cole January 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

      You didn’t include the task in the question – all you give me is the topic, so I can’t really comment.

  4. Alan January 7, 2012 at 5:39 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    Thank you for this lesson.

    I have a question: Do you think it is ok to use the idiom “without any shadow of doubt” in the first paragraph?

    • Dominic Cole January 7, 2012 at 11:03 pm #

      For sure. This is IELTS, not pure academic English. Though it is a good question. I’d add that “Without a shadow of a doubt” is a fairly weak idiom of the sort that is acceptable in essay writing generally.

      • Alan January 8, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

        Do you mean weak in the sense that you are positioning yourself too strongly on one side of a question?

        I like this idiom; we have a similiar expression in Portuguese, which we tend to use quite often in the spoken language, though it is not common using it in essays.

        I am starting to feel, by reading your posts, that it is preferable to use more “neutral” expressions such as you used above: “There is little doubt that” or “There is no doubt that”. They are simple, direct, and they convey the idea without being too radical.

        • Dominic Cole January 9, 2012 at 2:38 am #

          Spot on regarding the neutral point. It’s extremely misleading to talk about academic and non-academic language (or formal/non-formal). That’s to disregard the idea of neutrality. In class, I normally talk about a spectrum of formality with some language being more towards one end or the other. Typically, in contemporary written English the trend is towards a more neutral register- even within academic contexts. I probably need to explain this in more detail in the blog itself.

          When I describe the idiom as “weak”, I mean that it is relatively transparent/easily intelligible.

          • Alan January 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

            It would be nice to hear your thoughts about this topic since formality, or the lack of, doesn’t mean only using right words, as we, foreign learners, tend to think this way at the first moment.

            Thank you again for all the lessons. I’m going to take academic IELTS next saturday and all of your writings has proven to be very useful to me.

          • Dominic Cole January 10, 2012 at 2:33 am #

            Best of luck Saturday – do let me know how it goes. Best advice for exam day is to forget all the advice you have been given. Just reward the question and answer it. IELTS is/ can be fairly simple – it’s just the language that is the hard bit.

  5. ziaul huda January 8, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    Hello Mr. Dominic.
    I wrote an introduction to the following topic. Could you comment on my introduction.
    Public transport could be made free of charge? Are there more advantages or disadvantages to this change.

    Now a days, many cities facilitates a large number of transport means available to inhabitants. Whether these options should be made available to general public without fare is a hugely controvesial topic?. In my view, making available transportation services to residents is a positive thing. This essay will look at both sides of the statement.

    • Dominic Cole January 8, 2012 at 6:09 am #

      Sorry I really don’t have time to comment on specific bits of writing. But you do one or two things that others can learn from. Be careful with “hugely” and “thing” – neither of which are really essay language. Likewise, “facilitates” is a poor word choice – I’m guessing you chose the long word. Better would be the simpler word “provide”

      In terms of the introduction, I am unsure. I will write this essay for you tomorrow with my own intro. Part of my concern is the final sentence. For me, it doesn’t work and is perhaps an example of a learnt intro. The task doesn’t ask you to look at both sides of the issue, it asks you to choose.

  6. jiss January 8, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    THANKS DOMINIC…..THANKS A LOT

  7. radha January 8, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    in this essay i wrote two para abt this topic i only want to know that information and are cohesive with each other
    Newspapers and books are outdated. Why do some people believe this? What is your opinion?
    In this modernaized era,some people argue that newspapers and books have been loosing their value compare to past.Computer advancement is mainly responsible for this change.
    On one hand,some causes indicate why books and newspapers are outdated.Due to hectic schedule,people are paying less attention to read newspapers and books.For example,some people are interested to know about latest news so for that reason they switch over to Tv and radio where they are eating and driving.Second point,online news are comparitavely easy and fast to read as per once time conviency.Some people feel bored to read such novels and story books so they perefer to watch the same reading materials in form of Cd and programmes which can make them relaxed.
    Moreover,computer and the Internet inventions are playing a vital role to deacrease popularity and an importance of two firms of reading.Nowadays,in schools,colleges and universities teachers and recommand and an encourage students to gain knowledge from E-books with specific changes and improvments in comparison of old edition text books.Newspaper has full bunch of informations,ads and news.As a result,some people are struggling to read their choice of news which they can easily get by searching on google within few seconds.For instance ,one day a week some newspapers have job vaccancies so especially, yongsters buy newspaper to get only two pages of job ads and throw it which is waste of paper.Lastly.use of paper for newpaper and book affect adversly on enviornment.

  8. Dinaz January 9, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    Do you think it is a good idea to take essay topics and practice how to write introductions only. Naturally, keeping in mind what I would further discuss in the paragraphs of the essay- but i feel if i can master writing introductions – taking the points that you have given in your lesson , that would be a great first step for me. Do you think this is a wise decision !

    • Dominic Cole January 10, 2012 at 2:35 am #

      Very much so. In fact I was planning to post on this very soon. My belief is that one of the best ways to leaner to write an essay is to practise your writing skills rather than just doing practice tests. It can help to focus on intros by themselves.

  9. Dinaz January 9, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    What factors are related to academic success in high school students?

    High school is a crucial period in a student’s life. The choices that are made during this period would have a direct impact on the professional life of the student. There are several factors that have an influence on academic success during this phase of life, these are related mainly to the peer pressure that is experienced and to the crucial academic guidance that is received.

    if you have the time —let me know -what you think of that introduction ?

  10. Dinaz January 9, 2012 at 6:57 pm #

    What factors are related to academic success in high school students?

    High school is a crucial period in a student’s life. The choices that are made during this period would have a direct impact on the professional life of the student. This essay will discuss the two principal factors that influence academic success in high school. Firstly the peer pressure that the student will experience and equally essential, the academic guidance provided by the teachers.

    do you find this to be more precise and an improvement on the intro above ?

    • Dominic Cole January 10, 2012 at 2:40 am #

      Yes. I do prefer this one – more precise and almost certainly would help you write a better essay. I don’t need to read the rest of the essay to know what it is going to be about. Good job.

    • Sarwan February 22, 2012 at 2:53 am #

      High school is a crucial period in student’s life. The choices made during this period will have a direct impact on their professional life later. This essay will discuss principle factors,peer pressure and academic guidance provided by teachers, that influence academic success in high school.

      Is this any better?

  11. Dinaz January 10, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks so much 🙂 – really appreciate the time and effort you put into this !

  12. Dinaz January 10, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Some people believe that competitive sports have a positive effect on children’s education; while others believe there is no place for such sports in schools. Discuss both points of view and give your own opinion.

    In most modern schools globally, competitive sports form a vital part of the school curriculum. There is a view point that supports this and believes that it is extremely beneficial for a child’s overall development. It prepares him for his entry into the competitive and professional world, later in life. However, there is an opposing view point that believes competitive sports cause stress and anxiety and distract students from reaching their academic goals. Although, I am all in favor of competitive sports, this essay will examine both the above views in further details.

    My question to you (and probably others can gain from your reply) – is it correct to say him – when you are mentioning a child —-and does your opinion have to be expressed in the intro – or can you do it in the conclusion.

  13. Sarwan February 22, 2012 at 4:54 am #

    High school is a crucial period in student’s life. The choices made during this period will have a direct impact on their professional life later. This essay will discuss dominant factors,peer pressure and academic guidance provided by teachers, that influence academic success in high school.

    Is this any better?

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