Top Tips for IELTS

The content paragraphs – some checklists for before you write

The main body of your essay is the most important part and requires the most thought. In this lesson I give you some checklists of things to think about as you write, or before you write, the main paras. It is good to focus on what you are trying to do before you write,but there is a danger that you will “confuse yourself” if you try and think of too many things. If so, remember just this: your writing score is

  • 25% Task response
  • 25% Coherence and Cohesion
  • 25% Vocabulary
  • 25% Grammar

If you are well prepared, then that may be enough information. I would emphasise, however,  that it still pays to stop before you write each paragraph and ask yourself how you will answer the task, be coherent and cohesive, use a range of vocab and write accurately. You might even do this before each sentence!

Coherence – linking your thoughts

Coherence is how well your ideas link together and is the skill of making sense – it is something you should focus on as you write. In essays, it works at two levels and as you write you need to think about both of these:

  1. Do the paragraphs link together so that my essay makes sense.? This is a question of essay structure.
  2. Do the sentences in the paragraphs link together so that the paragraphs make sense? This is a question of paragraph structure.

Essay structure is coherence – decide on the role of paragraphs

Nearly all IELTS essays follow a simple structure. There are either going to be 4 or 5 paragraphs in all with 2 or 3 body paragraphs. These paragraphs will generally do one of 3 things: support each other by making the same point in a different way, say something that takes the opposite point of view or make a separate point altogether. This means that in the exam you have to answer 2 questions:

  1. How many paragraphs am I going to write?
  2. Will those paragraphs support each other, take opposite views or make separate points

My best suggestion when you think about the essay structure  is that you don’t worry about the type of essay you are writing: Opinion/Argument etc. You just answer those 2 questions.  This is a simpler approach and there is always more than one way to answer a question. All you need to worry about is whether your approach is logical and answers the question in front of you.

Essay structure is topic sentences too –  identify the main points in your first/topic sentences

If you have planned well, you should already know your essay structure – particularly if you have drawn an essay map. All the same I do think it is wise to refocus on this as you begin each content paragraph. The goal is to make sure that what you are about to write does link back to the introduction. In practical terms, this means that you make sure that the first sentence in each paragraph clearly states what that paragraph is about and that idea is found in the introduction – these are the famous “topic sentences”.

Top tip: Keep your topic sentences simple and to the point.Their function is not to say anything clever,just to say where you are in your argument.



Sometimes it is easier to see the problem when something goes wrong. Try this.

See the example

This is a slightly amended version of an essay sent to me that was marked down for Task Response/Essay coherence. If you look at just the topic sentences of the two content paras and the conclusion, you should see the problem. The language is okay, the ideas are okay- the ideas don’t fit together.


Every school around the world has a number of problems, one of which is these children causing noise and disorder in classrooms. Consequently, schools see that putting them together in private class rooms will be far much better for both students and staff

Content 1

There is a little evidence that putting all noisy students in special classrooms is the answer_________

Content 2

On the other hand, we must acknowledge that some students are intolerable and are mainly responsible for the noise for the duration of classes._________________


To conclude, I am convinced that students who step out of line have to be taught together, because many problem children go to school to kill time not to study; therefore, grouping them together is simply the solution.


This essay was marked down on Task Response/Coherence. The problem is highlighted in red. The first/topic sentence in the first content para does not fit the argument of the essay summarised in the conclusion. It is incoherent to argue that problem students should be taught together and say there is no proof that this will work.

Paragraph structure is coherence

You also need to focus on making sure your paragraphs make sense. Again,this is where a good plan really can help. In practical terms, my suggestion here is that before you write each paragraph you should know how that paragraph finishes. If you write “dynamically” and simply keep on adding ideas, then there is every chance the ideas may not work together – no matter how good they are. Here is a quick checklist for you to look at before you write:

  1. Do I know the one main idea of the paragraph?
  2. Do I know the structure of the paragraph?Am I going to list or explain one point more fully?
  3. Am I clear about what is the main idea,what is a supporting reason and what is an example?
  4. Do the reasons and examples support the main idea?

Cohesion – linking your words

This is the twin of coherence – it is linking as well, but this time linking words rather than ideas. You will probably learn most about the skills of cohesion before the exam. That does not mean that you should forget it in the exam itself. Here are 2 practical things to think about that may help you write better:

  1. consider beginning each sentence with a linking idea – this need not be a word like “Furthermore”,often a pronoun like “This”works just as well
  2. consider using synonyms and words of the same family to link your writing – this is a very practical idea because it will also help your vocabulary

Grammar and Vocabulary

Oh yes, these matter too! You should of course make sure that you make as few mistakes as possible. It can though sometimes be a problem if you focus too hard on these as you write -particularly at lower levels if you worry about these too much either the essay doesn’t get finished or it isn’t coherent . Here are a few thoughts for you that may be practical in the exam:

  • know how you will finish a sentence before you start it – a lot of mistakes are caused by starting- stopping – starting again. The first bit is ok. So is the second bit. They just don’t work together.
  • good vocab tends to be precise vocab – precise vocab tends to come from examples
  • some of the best grammar you can use comes from qualifying your ideas (modals, relatives and if clauses)- so if you want to use better grammar think about not having too many general statements, but using one statement that you explain in different ways

You might note that there is a strong connection between these ideas and coherence, which is part of the reason why I started this lesson talking about it. If you want to focus on just one thing as you write your content paras, for many people coherence may be the best answer

Try the next lesson in this series

The conclusion – a summary of the essay and an answer to the question



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2 Responses to The content paragraphs – some checklists for before you write

  1. BR December 30, 2012 at 5:58 am #

    Very helpful

  2. Hema November 5, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    Thank you..Indeed very helpful.

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