Band score 8.0 – writing better paragraphs

This is the next lesson in my series on how to achieve high band scores in IELTS writing. The focus this time is on writing better paragraphs and improving the coherence of your writing. This is a problem that is common at high levels where candidates have plenty of good language but sometimes don’t use it very effectively.

Sometimes it is easier to understand a problem by looking at something that is not quite right. So this time I look at ways of improving a sample of writing from a candidate who has consistently scored 6.5 in writing (4 times in a row I believe!), but who is certainly capable of scoring more highly. He has in fact already completed a masters – such is the absurdity of the IELTS system.

As a bonus, I also include a download of a sample essay on the theme of employment and promotion.

Coherence and cohesion distinguished

To understand the problem it is first necessary to understand a little of the difference between coherence and cohesion. Put simply, cohesion is the linking of your writing by using connecting words, while coherence is making sure your writing makes sense. The important point to note is that it is quite possible for a piece of writing to be cohesive but not very coherent.

The sample paragraph – cohesion

In some ways, this is a very good paragraph. There is a good range of vocabulary, the grammar is fine and it has lots of good cohesion structures which I have highlighted in red. There is much to learn here:

  • this/that/these/those are excellent cohesion structures as they link back to something that was already mentioned
  • repeating certain words (“performance” “companies”) also helps cohesion as it helps the reader make connections between sentences

The principal reason why some people take this view is that most multi-national companies certainly implement some specific policies to select employees for promotion. This point, of course, could be demonstrated by individuals who worked in those companies. For example, when I was working in an American company in Shanghai, before each fiscal year, I usually discussed with my supervisor in order to draw up a formal agreement, which was called ‘Performance and Development Review’. By doing this, the job performance I did for several months could be judged by my employer , which meant if it was a good outcome, I would be promoted immediately even though I was only a junior employee at that time.

Another version – more coherent

So where’s the problem then? For me, the problem is that when I get to the end of the paragraph, I am not immediately clear what the main point being made was. This can perhaps be best shown by looking at my improved version of the same paragraph.

Despite these reasons, there is a strong argument in favour of also promoting staff because of their performance. This can be seen by how some multi-nationals use annual performance and development reviews when deciding on promotion. Under this system, a supervisor can set targets for an employee and if those targets are met, then the employee can be promoted, even if they are relatively junior. The benefit of this approach to promotion is that it encourages staff to work harder and rewards merit and not just long service.

Notes

1. Less can be more

My version is considerably shorter than the original even though it makes all the same points. Sometimes, it can help your writing become more coherent if you concentrate on using fewer words. Likewise, I am not afraid to keep my sentences relatively short. Again, it can be easier to transmit your ideas if your sentences do not become too complicated.

2. Identify the main idea of the paragraph – put it in the first sentence

The first step is to identify what one point you want to make in the paragraph and to state it clearly in the first sentence. In this example, the main point is promoting staff because of their performance. Part of the problem with the original version is that most multi-national companies certainly implement some specific policies to select employees for promotion is not particularly clear. The idea of performance only occurs in the 4th/5th line.

3. Keep the first sentence short – don’t be afraid of keeping it simple

My version uses more simple vocabulary. I avoid words like “specific”. My goal is absolute clarity. All I want to do is show the reader what the idea of the paragraph is.

4.  Think about how you use examples and reasons – omit unnecessary details

Part of the problem with the original version is that the example is rather long and there is a danger that the main point is lost. Examples tend to be “a good thing”, but you need to think carefully how you use them. Do they illustrate the point you want to make. In the sample paragraph, there is so much detail (Shanghai) that the point of the example is rather lost.

5. Consider how you end your paragraph

One way that my paragraph is extremely coherent is that in my final sentence I come back to the main idea of the paragraph in a circular approach:

promoting staff because of their performance (first sentence)

this approach to promotion is that it encourages staff to work harder and rewards merit (last sentence)

Practice suggestion

Write paragraphs, not essays

One very simple suggestion is that you practise writing paragraphs and not just essays. It can be a problem if you only write essays, as it is harder to focus on one particular skill. As you write the paragraph, it helps to focus on:

  • simple first sentences that identify the main point of the paragraph and relate to the question
  • consider using a circular approach where you restate the main point in the final sentence
  • leaving out details that are irrelevant
  • remember cohesion too (that part of the sample was excellent)

Test your own writing: what was the  essay question?

Another idea is to look at some of your old essays and read the first sentences of the main topic paragraphs. If you have written well, you should be able to predict the question of the essay from the first sentences of those paragraphs.

Download the sample essay

Employment and promotion - sample essay (20327)

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29 Responses to Band score 8.0 – writing better paragraphs

  1. Tamm January 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    Thank you for your excellent lesson again, Dominic. How would you describe the difference(s) between essays scoring 8.0, 8.5 and 9.0? Besides fully-developed ideas, well-organized paragraphs and an excellent control of language (grammar), is there anything discriminating a band-8 essay from a band-9 essay? My friend, who is not a native speaker, scored a band 9.0 in IELTS writing. When asked how she did that, however, she could not specifically tell the “secret”. She just said “try to use different words”. Could you please share some tips with me (us)?

    I check your site out every day. In this great series of posts (scoring 8.0 in writing), could you share tips for the task 1 as well? I would appreciate it if you could write more on this topic. It’s bravo indeed.

    Thank you, Dominic.

    • Dominic Cole January 2, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      9.0 in writing is exceptionally unusual. Truth to tell, I have known non-native speaker examiners of IELTS who didn’t get 9.0 – perhaps the regulations have changed now!! More than that, I’m not aware of any institution that requires a 9.0. (Do you need one?).

      Everything needs to be spot on. Your friend is right you do need a range of vocab. You also need excellent grammar and writing style (coherence and cohesion). For what it’s worth, my general tip would be not to over-complicate – nowadays good English written style is generally taken to be “plain English” – something that is sometimes surprising to non-native speakers who prefer a more ornate style. I’d add that my suspicion is that most examiners are typically reluctant to give 9.0 in writing and that it is easier to get the maximum in the objectively marked listening and reading.

      I intend to add more on task 1 soon enough (once I can sort out the bugs on the site), though the intention is to “complete” essays first. That much said, many of the same principles apply in task 1 and task 2.

  2. Alan De Maria January 2, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    Dominic,

    Reading those advices makes us remember to focus on staying on the tracks during the writing section and keeping it simple. Since we often tend to loose sight of the main ideas throughout the writing test, it is always good to be remembered that way. So, thank you for this lesson!

    Do you have any tips about how to write the first paragraph? Do you recommend us to paraphrase the main question of the essay, state our thesis and then give our positon right away? I am asking this because that is the way I am doing it and I want be sure it is ok to have it like this.

    For this question:
    Some people think that parents should teach children how to be good members of society. Others, however, believe that school is the place to learn this. Discuss both views and give your own opinion.

    My first paragraph came out like this:
    “It is well known that in order to be a good citizen and succeed in life nowadays, one must have not only a good academic background, but should also behave adequately in the society. These two qualities can be learned and acquired either in school or with parents, but I believe that letting such important tasks in responsibility of only one may present serious consequences in the future of a child.”

    What do you think about it? Does it make a good start for the upcoming paragraphs?

    As I don’t have a live teacher to help me figure out questions like that, your blog helps me a lot! Thank you in advance.

    • Dominic Cole January 2, 2012 at 3:08 am #

      Plan to do a lesson on introductory paras later this week. There are a variety of different approaches possible. Typically though, the keys are to identify the task in the essay and to make your position clear. Both of these help the coherence of your writing.

      • marveltracker January 2, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

        I’m waiting for that , bravo….

  3. Dominic's Fans January 2, 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Excellent, Dominic…. Well done and I did appreciate that….

    Cheers

  4. Bhavna January 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I totally relate to this,I scored a 6.5 in writing where as my listening and speaking were an 8. I did not doubt my writing though,This was in Aug 2011.

    Thanks for this post. I shall work on the writing bit in the way you said Dominic.
    Bhavna

  5. setareh January 3, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    you always write which i need to know.

  6. Dinaz January 10, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    you have mentioned above how difficult it is to get a 9.0 score in writing !!

    To be honest, I am having a difficult time getting an 8.0. I am grateful to you for all the very useful tips you keep providing us and I feel more confident about achieving 0.8 -this time around. However, In my opinion, writing is very subjective – what you may consider to be an essay deserving an 0.8 score – may to another examiner be worth only a 0.7 score. How can one overcome that hurdle -or is it merely the chance you have to take ?

    • Dominic Cole January 11, 2012 at 7:15 am #

      Yes writing (and speaking for that matter) are both subjective and different examiners may well see the same piece of work in 2 different ways – hence scores do get changed on re-marks. That said the IELTS bands do represent significantly different levels of ability (in theory) and band 8.0 writing is a fairly large step up from band 7.0.

      I shall be posting some more on band 8.0 this week/next week – the next posts will relate to how you plan your writing and a bit more about grammar.

  7. Dinaz January 11, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Thank You – I look forward to that !

  8. Ali June 26, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi There

    I really like your essay and the way they are explained.I really need your help in helping me out. Please I beg you for this. I cant really find any of contact number . To be true, I have given exam 20 times and still not able to get my bands. After reading your suggestion , I think if i go by yours , I can do it.For this , I might need your help.

    Please you have my email id . Please contact me on this ASAP.

  9. Troy August 9, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Dear Dominic,

    I am trying to improve coherent. Could you have a look my paragraphs? Really need your valuable comments.Thank you very much

    Positives of advertising
    Advertising has several benefits (1). Firstly, advertising is a key part of modern business, meaning that it can be used to introduce customers about products of manufactures (2). A practical example of this is advertisements posted on daily newspapers often provide detailed information such as name of producers, origin, specifications or functions of their products (3). Secondly, advertising is a creative industry that employs many people, thus contributing to reduce unemployment rate (4). Finally, it is also considered as a form of modern art, which may bring numerously peculiar short movies with intentional messages to consumers (5). As a result of such advantages, people enjoy adverts (6).

    Negatives

    On the other hand, opponents of advertising worry about its detrimental effects (1). They argue that advertisers often manipulate people (2). Proving consumers financial incentives such as cheap price or increasing quantity rather than quality is a typical example of this (3). Apart from the meretricious benefits, advertisement creators mostly aim their marketing at children who are easy to be heavily influenced by their adverts (4). The group put pressure on their parents to purchase requested items. (5)

  10. Jalil Salih Ali October 10, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    Hi dear Dominic,

    thank you for your hard efforts in order to make this invaluable way for helping non-native English speaker people around world, really I got lots of benefit from your posts and I am tracking your lessons step-by- step and trying to learn from your crucial points, I have not taken IELTS yet but I have plan to take it in soon time, I am asking for more tips in all 4 bands of IELTS until till we boost our English to the extend that we could get high score.

    Sincerely,
    Jalil

  11. BR March 11, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

    Excellent piece of writing dominic , really helpful.

  12. lahari July 29, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    hello sir,
    my writing score is 6.5.please help me to increase my band.tell me some phrases which can be commonly used in all sort of essays

  13. Abdulatif March 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    You should spend about 40 minutes on this task.
    Present a written argument to an educated reader with no specialist knowledge of the following topic:

    “World history suggests that violence and and conflict were more evident under male leadership that under female leadership.
    So. for peace to prevail, female leadership can be considered as a better option that male leadership.”

    What are your opinions on the above topic?

    You should write at least 250 words.

    Model Answer:

    The history of humans has been violence and conflict stricken since the beginning of time. As far as we can look back in time we see wars, power struggles and revolutions. We also see that society has always been predominantly male dominated, with leaders and rulers mainly being men. It is, hence, easy to blame the ruler and put the responsibility of atrocities on the shoulders of men. But a deeper perspective always reveals to historians that conflict is a generic tendency of humans. So peace being disturbed is not the liability of men only, but humans in general, and a power shift, from men to women, is destined to be futile in prevailing peace.

    Most of the women who are known to be great till date, e.g. Queen Isabella of Spain, Queens Marry, a.k.a. Bloody Marry, Victoria, and Elizabeth of Britain, all have ruled over vast spectrums of power. And they often have done so ruthlessly, achieving goals with an iron hand. They have waged wars that are barely comparable to only few of those devised by men. These women are not anomalies of history, but examples from numerous others, who went beyond the boundaries of gender in the path of prevailing in power while expending peace whenever they deemed it to be expendable.

    The two greatest wars of modern history, World Wars I & II, have taught us that wars are impersonal. Race, religion, nationality, sex are only pretense to the universally human lust for power. It is true that during both the global conflicts men were in the rulers’ thrones. But it will be foolish to say that Margaret Thatcher, the famed Iron Lady who spared no rod against a minnow enemy in the war of Falkland, would be more peacefully diplomatic than how the greats Winston Churchill and Franklyn D. Roosevelt had been tackling the Axis of Hitler.

    The gender issue is only a determinant in the battle of the sexes, not the battles among nations and peoples. It is therefore impertinent, if not irrational, to conclude that world conflicts result from the rule of a particular gender and the finer sex would do a better job at prevailing peace if selectively put at the helm of human nations

    Please Dominic help me to mark this paragraphs, i’ll appreciate your work, thank you! what band is worth it?

  14. Vick March 9, 2014 at 8:44 pm #

    Hey,

    I just want to thank you for the excellent tips. I couldn’t get higher than 7.5 in writing when I needed an 8. After just reading this the night before the exam, I managed to score 8.5. Thank you so much!

    Thank you,
    Dominic.

    • Dominic Cole March 9, 2014 at 10:00 pm #

      Brilliant work well done. 8.5 is something special.

  15. mohammed May 24, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Hi,mr,dominc ihave real probleme with writting iwonder if you could check my writting and give me feedbak about it .

  16. Santa June 1, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Dominic,

    Just wanted to say a huge thanks for the fab tips on your blog. Got my academic IELTS results this weekend – 9 overall! I got 8.5 two years ago (messed up my writing – R9, L9, S9, W7.5), so I was really nervous this time, but reading your blog helped me calm down and keep it simple. Seems to have worked! 🙂 Thank you!

  17. Dash June 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm #

    Dominic, Dominic, Dominic
    I cannot thank you enough!!
    I was stuck at having 6.5 in writing section the last 2 IELTS tests I sat! But because of your brilliant advices I took another chance and got 7.5!

    Well it worth coming to Cambridge, finding you, to give you a big hug and many kisses!!!!
    Love you man

  18. FATEMEH AGHAEI July 14, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    HI
    I AM GOING TO TAKE IELTS TEST I GOT6.5IN IELTS BUT I WANT TO RETAKE IT IS NOT GOOD FOR ME
    IT IS A BIG PROBLEM FOR ME
    WHAT TO SAY AND HOW TO SAY WHAT I MEAN?
    PLEASE HELP ME AND GIVE ME A SOLUTION
    THE MOST PROBLEM THAT I HAVE IS IN CHARTS

  19. fatemeh aghaei July 14, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

    hi again
    in addition to to my previous message i am15 years old and i do not have enough knowledge and background
    i am going to go canada within 5 years
    now i live in Iran
    thank you for your solutions
    bye

  20. Jinson August 12, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

    Hai sir, My teacher has said me to write more ideas iin a body paragragh, bt i think u have the opinion to stay on a main idea after stating it in the topic sentence.. Am confused.. Plz give me a reply.. And thank.you so much for ur excellent work

    • Dominic Cole September 9, 2015 at 7:34 pm #

      Hi

      Sorry for the late reply. I don’t believe that you need many “ideas” to write a good paragraph. Indeed, it is possible to have just the one idea developed with reasons and examples.

      This does of course depend on what you mean by “ideas”. If you include reasons and examples as ideas, then I would very much agree that you need more ideas.

  21. Amr July 4, 2016 at 4:05 am #

    Would you tell us what the main difference between band 7 and band 7.5 in writing please ?

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