Top Tips for IELTS

Writing balanced essays for IELTS

This lesson talks you through an approach to writing balanced essays in IELTS. This is one form of essay you should be prepared to write. It is certainly not the case that you have to express strong opinions in essays, you simply have to express clear opinions. One way of doing this is to look at both sides of the argument and consider their merits in turn – this is a balanced essay.

 

When to write a balanced essay

The best time to use this approach is when you yourself can see merit in both sides of the argument – it is not the case that this approach is restricted to “Discussion” essays: it is quite possible to use it in “Argument” essays.

Essay structure and coherence

One key to writing a balanced essay is to make sure that the structure is coherent. This means that all the parts of the essay should fit together as a whole. The idea is to make sure that anyone reading the essay understands that it is looking at both sides of the issue. This should be clear at all stages of the essay. A common problem is that one part of the essay does not fit into the main structure.To do this, you need to consider:

  • planning the whole essay before you start writing
  • linking the different parts of the essay together
  • writing the essay as part of a process – go back and read what have just written before you write the next bit
  • concentrating on the intro/topic sentences and the conclusion

The basic approach

The basic approach is quite simple: in each topic paragraph you consider a different/opposing point of view. You then summarise your view about which side you prefer in the conclusion. In an exam essay, it is almost certainly the best advice not to try and discuss the two points of view at the same time in one paragraph. If you do this it is quite likely that the “argument” becomes confused and your main goal is clarity.

In this form of essay, it is conventional to look at the side you disagree with first. This allows you to find a natural link between your final content paragraph and the conclusion – they should be saying almost the same thing.

Introduction

The goal here is to state clearly that the essay is going to take a balanced position and/or look at both sides of the issue. This means examiner/reader should understand from the introduction your position and how essay will be structured. In practice this means that in the intro you should try to:

  • identify both sides of the argument
  • show that there is merit on both sides
  • identify which side you favour, (the balanced approach) and/or
  • say you will look at both sides (the more neutral approach)

In the two example below, you should see the difference between these two approaches.

Neutral approach

In this approach, you merely state that both sides have merit and say you will look at both sides of the case.

While there are grounds to argue that it would benefit society and young people themselves if teenagers were made to do unpaid work in the community, it can equally be argued that this would be an infringement of their rights. In this essay, I shall examine the merits of both sides of the argument and state my own opinion.

Balanced approach

This is the approach I generally prefer as you clearly identify your position on one side of the argument or the other. I believe it is better because it is simply clearer.

There are grounds to argue that it would benefit society and young people themselves if teenagers were made to do unpaid work in the community. While this is an interesting proposal and has some merit, my own view is that it would infringe their rights.

Main body

In the main body, there are two ideas to focus on:

  1. the paragraphs should balance each other
  2. the paragraphs should link back to position in the introduction

Balancing your paragraphs

The key to making sure your paragraphs balance each other is to use your topic/first sentences reflect each other. The examiner/reader should immediately understand how the paragraph fits into the structure of the essay. A simple way of doing this is to use similar introductory language in each paragraph. In the example below, it should be easy to see (even without the highlighting) how the following paragraphs balance each other and reflect each others’ language.

One argument in favour of making teenagers do voluntary work in the community is that it would benefit society. It is certainly true that there is a shortage of labour in many parts of the public sector and if young people worked, then many public services would improve. For example, it would be quite possible for teenagers to do part-time jobs in the health such as working as hospital porters. This would have the effect of ensuring patients got better care and would allow trained professionals to concentrate on more skilled tasks – something that would benefit society as a whole.

Despite this argument, there is an equally strong case to be made that it would be morally wrong to force teenagers to go out to work, particularly if they did not earn a salary. This can be explained by the fact that in recent years, there has been a global movement to stop the practice of child labour. The main philosophy behind this movement is that childhood, including the teenage years, should be a time for education and growth, not work. It would not just send the wrong message out if teenagers were made to do voluntary work, there is also the real danger that young people would be exploited in the workplace.

Linking back to the introduction

A second skill is to make sure that your topic paragraphs refer back to the position in the introduction. This is because it is important to maintain a constant position throughout the essay -something that can often go wrong  with balanced essays. Again, a simple to achieve this is to make sure that the language and ideas of the first\topic  sentences is reflected in the introduction.

This means that you should really have a clear idea of your whole essay before you write the introduction. A second tip is that in the process of writing the content paragraphs of your essay you should refer back to the introduction to borrow language and ideas from there. If you look at the examples below, you should see how the first sentence of each paragraph links clearly back to the introduction.

While there are grounds to argue that it would benefit society and young people themselves if teenagers were made to do unpaid work in the community, it can equally be argued that this would be an infringement of their rights. In this essay, I shall examine the merits of both sides of the argument

One argument in favour of making teenagers to do voluntary work in the community is that it would benefit society.

Despite this arguments, there is an equally strong case to be made that it would be morally wrong to force teenagers to go out to work, particularly if they did not earn a salary

The conclusion

The same ideas apply to the conclusion: the language and ideas of the intro and the first/topic sentences should be reflected here too. You may also consider referring back to some of the details of your argument to emphasise that you are able to support your case with reasons and examples. Do that and the the essay should be coherent. Again, it greatly helps if you remember to go back and re-read the essay before you write the conclusion.

Some people think that teenagers should do unpaid work to help society because this will help them to be better individuals and also improve the society as a whole. To what extent do you agree or disagree with this proposal?

While there are grounds to argue that it would benefit society and young people themselves if teenagers were made to do unpaid work in the community, it can equally be argued that this would be an infringement of their rights. In this essay, I shall examine the merits of both sides of the argument.

One argument in favour of making teenagers to do voluntary work in the community is that it would benefit society. It is certainly true that there is a shortage of labour in many parts of the public sector and if young people worked, then many public services would improve. For example, it would be quite possible for teenagers to do part-time jobs in the health such as working as hospital porters. This would have the effect of ensuring patients got better care and would allow trained professionals to concentrate on more skilled tasks – something that would benefit society as a whole.

Despite these arguments, there is an equally strong case to be made that it would be morally wrong to force teenagers to go out to work, particularly if they did not earn a salary. This can be explained by the fact that in recent years, there has been a global movement to stop the practice of child labour. The main philosophy behind this movement is that childhood, including the teenage years, should be a time for education and growth, not work. It would not just send the wrong message out if teenagers were made to do voluntary work, there is also the real danger that young people would be exploited in the workplace.

In conclusion, I believe that while there are real merits on both sides of the argumentthe moral case againstforcing young people to work slightly outweighs any benefit to society. This is reinforced by belief in the principle that childhood is a time for education and fear of the danger of exploitation.

Footnote on essay writing and essay structures

The ideas in this lesson are all contained in my series of lessons on the process of essay writing. Much of the secret of writing a good essay in the exam is not to go in with a pre-prepared plan, but to make sure that as you write you concentrate on the question in front of you and organising your language and thoughts in answer to that question.

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17 Responses to Writing balanced essays for IELTS

  1. yunki December 28, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    amazing analysing. it is so helpful to improve my essay.

  2. Writing an Essay February 1, 2014 at 9:07 pm #

    Informative… Helpful article.. !

  3. Tuan March 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm #

    Although I long pass the time of taking IELTS test, I still learn so much reading your site. Thanks for the great content!

    • Dominic Cole March 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      Nice to have you stick round. That is a big a compliment as I can have.

  4. Dara July 21, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    I was utterly amazed by the coherence and the consistency of your essay! Your site is very helpful! I am taking the exam this 21st of August! Wish me luck! Godbless and more power !

  5. sahida September 21, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    Great website..i do look daily on whenever i m free and thank you so much for great help to study at home…..

  6. aml October 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    This is the best article i have ever seen

  7. Martin October 20, 2014 at 12:40 am #

    Although the ideas and tips are good, it is not helpful to show an example with 400 words. The best enemy on the ielts exam is time, nobody would be able to write such huge amount of words. In order to make it more real it would be very useful if the examples shown have a lenght according to what is expected on a exam.

    • Dominic Cole October 21, 2014 at 12:04 am #

      Fair comment. I agree that it best to restrict essays to around 300 words max. I also think that 4 paragraphs are typically better than 5 in the test. The essay here I was not presenting as one of my sample exam essays but using as an illustration of a structure and approach.

  8. bernaabad October 22, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    I like the sentence structure and choice of words. I will definitely use the information metioned above when I take my exam in December.

  9. Julia January 8, 2015 at 12:27 pm #

    Fantastic work!!! very impressive. Great thank you^^

  10. Kardelen October 21, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    I missed the class and tomorrow i have a exam. You saved my life .Thanks ^^

  11. shakeel December 28, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    can we use a template for your essays in the ielts exam. Particularly the first few lines of each paragraph.
    I mean, will it go against us,as I have heard certain tutors not to copy them?
    thanks

    • Dominic Cole October 21, 2016 at 5:49 pm #

      Copying whole lines is a complete no no. If you visit my sample essays page you’ll see an example there of how it can be done.

  12. Nazmul islqm February 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm #

    fabulous work sir, eternally grateful to you. thanks.

  13. Priya October 21, 2016 at 3:58 pm #

    This is a very well structured essay. I am just wondering how to write one in the given 40 mins.

    • Dominic Cole October 21, 2016 at 5:48 pm #

      My advice is to learn the skill of getting the essay right first and then aim for 40 minutes. This means that you may spend up to 60 minutes writing as you are in the learning process. The idea is that once you have the skills in place it becomes easier to write a good essay quickly. If you always insist on practising in 40 minutes – your skills may never improve.

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