This is in response to a highly intelligent thread started in the forum by one of the readers of this site. Are there particular skills you need for writing introductions to discussion essays? Here is my response!
The basics of an IELTS essay introduction
The place to start is to remember what the basics of an IELTS essay introduction are. These, I will stress, are guidelines not rules – there is always more than one way to do it:
keep if brief: it is just the introduction, you want to spend most of your time on the main body paragraphs. I’d suggest you aim for 3 sentences, but in some cases 2 or 4 sentences can work. I personally HATE one sentence introductions.
keep it clear: it is really important that the examiner knows what your essay will be about after she/he has read your introduction. Don’t try and be clever. Think clearly and aim to let the examiner know what you want say. Think is the important word in that sentence.
identify the task: all IELTS essay questions ask you to write in a particular way: this is the task. Examples of this are “Say whether you agree or disagree about x”, or “Say what the causes of y are”. For me, it is really important to put this in the intro because if you don’t your essay may not answer the question. A huge mistake.
identify your point of view: this is what some teachers call “thesis statement”. I don’t. The idea is that what you think should be clear throughout the essay. That means you want to give your answer in the introduction and not just the conclusion.
Is writing introductions to discussion essays special?
I don’t think so. I know lots of candidates and teachers like to categorise essays. Personally, I’m not sure that this is necessary. Better I think to have one set of guidelines and answer the question in front of you. Much simpler that way. It is also much more likely to get you a good score. There are no marks for writing a “discussion essay”, there are only marks for answering the question. So focus on that.
Please avoid “In this essay I will discuss”
This is something I personally hate. Much more importantly, it is an example of tired language that almost all IELTS examiners hate too – they want to see you use your own words and not “learned language” . I will show you some examples of how to do this below.
Top tip – learn to write different introductions
A lot of IELTS essays go wrong because students try to write a particular type of essay that they have practised before. Then they get a question in the test that doesn’t quite fit the model. They try to repeat a form of essay they have learned and fail to answer the question. To avoid this it really helps to learn different ways of doing the same thing. Learn how to write introductions that are two and three sentences long.
Two examples of introductions to discussion essays
This is the original task posted by Rohit, read my intro:
Some people think that the teenage years are the happiest times of most people’s lives. Others think that adult life brings more happiness, in spite of greater responsibilities.
Discuss both these views and give your own opinion.
There are different views about whether people are happier as teenagers or in adulthood. While there is something to be said for the idea that the teenage years can be extremely happy, my view is that most people achieve greater satisfaction later in life when they have a career and a family of their own.
- This is only two sentences long. that can be fine. There are very few rules remember.
- I clearly identify the task.
- My point of view is clear too – I also show that I will be talking about the family and careers too. Neat.
- Note how I use while to connect the two different views I need to discuss. Excellent for your grammar and helpful for this task.
- The logical structure of the essay will be one para about how childhood can be best and another about the joys of being 40! Then when I write my conclusion I simply come back to my intro.
This is a slightly more complex question, but asked in the same way:
There is an increasing shortage of housing in many countries. Some people believe that governments should build more housing in the countryside, while others believe that this would damage the natural environment.
Discuss both these views and give your opinion
Most people would accept that some action needs to be taken about the chronic housing shortage that is threatening so many countries around the world. One logical solution to this problem would be to create more housing in the countryside which is relatively underpopulated. My view, however, is that this would lead to serious damage to the environment and alternative options need to be found.
- See how this introduction is three sentences long. It is still clear and simple though. This is the situation. Here is a solution. This is what I think about the solution. I am still discussing both view and giving my opinion. Just in a different way.
- See how I link the different part of my introduction together with this and however. You want to make sure that your introduction is well-written. Don’t write too quickly.
- Just like the previous introduction, I Identify the task and I clearly state my view.
- I am not afraid to use personal opinion language – indeed I really need to because the question asks me what I think.
Now test yourself
If you like you can leave me an introduction as a comment to this lesson. The alternative is to pop into the forum and post there. Actually, I’d prefer that as that would allow you to share your language and ideas better. If you follow my advice, you will:
- write 2/3 introductions – don’t bother with the whole essay – focussing on a skill is better for learning
- write different types of introduction – this will help in the test – you can’t predict the question you will have