It’s extremely important to use examples in IELTS essays – not least because the question tells you to. Some people have difficulty with this and this lesson is designed to show that it needn’t be too hard. In particular, I look at:
using shorter examples to avoid generalisations
putting the examples in sentences with the main idea (embedding them)
not using “for example”
giving you different ways to introduce examples
Understand a key skill – examples aren’t separate – they link
I think where a lot of people go wrong is that they think of examples as separate things – something that belongs in a different sentence. This is why some people find them hard to think of.
While they can be used in separate sentences, they don’t need to be. If you’re having problems, I suggest you think of the following:
Shorter examples and how they can help you
This is a type of example that many people forget about. They may look too easy but they’ll still improve your writing even at an advanced level.
Use them to improve general statements
The first step is to see when you need to add examples. Put simply this is when you have made a very general statement.
Commuters spend a lot of time travelling
Congestion causes more pollution
The problem here is that what you say is too general and you want to make it more specific. The more specific you are, the better your explanation will be and the better your language will be. Being specific in what you write makes you use better words:
Find examples by asking yourself simple questions
A common complaint is that candidates can’t think of examples. This is perhaps because they think examples are complex. They don’t need to be. All you need to do is ask yourself one or two simple questions – normally the wh questions.
Commuters spend a lot of time travelling (e.g. which? = commuters who travel by car)
Commuters spend a lot of time travelling (e.g. when? = commuters who travel in the rush hour)
Commuters spend a lot of time travelling (e.g. how much/long? = up to four hours a day)
This means we get to:
Commuters who travel by train by car in the rush hour often spend up to four hours a day travelling.
I hope you see that this is far better than what we had before. Is it an example? Well yes, I think it is. You are explaining with detail a general statement – this is just what an example does.
A bonus is that you often get to use some “complex grammar” too – here the relative clause.
How to add shorter examples – 3 ideas
The next step is to see how you can add these examples. I’m going to offer you three key words/phrases. There are more but these are a good start nd used well can score very high.
relative clauses that add information or define (wh0/which)
This is used to give a specific example of a general item:
It can lead to different forms of pollution, such as air pollution from car emissions
Typically we use it in the middle of a sentence and not at the start of one and we place a comma before it. Tosee more examples, read this entry in the Cambridge dictionary
This is slightly different and can be used either to define what we have just written or give extra information about it.
Some people who travel to work by car can spend up to 4 hours a day commuting
The grammar here is more complex but you score better for it!! I have my own quick explanation/guide to using relatives here or you could visit the British Council’s explanation for more grammar.
What? I hear you say. Well, and is a very useful word in English and can be used in different ways. Look here:
There are two principal problems that the increased number of privately owned cars cause. The first of these is that more cars on the road mean greater congestion and longer travel times for commuters who sometimes need to spend around two hours twice a day on the road.
All the part marked in red is an example. I could easily have started a new sentence with “For example” or “An example of this is” and said the same thing. It is just easier to do it this way.
This is also the technique that is most likely to score you 9.0!! The very best form of coherence/cohesion is almost invisible.
See how examples can work
These examples are used in answer to this question submitted to me by a candidate:
More and more cars are being bought every year for private use and this causes a number of problems.
What are these problems?
What can be done to reduce the problems?
An answer without examples
This is a problem paragraph because it doesn’t have any examples. One result of this is that it is too short. The ideas are not extended.
There are two principal problems that the increased number of privately owned cars cause. The first of these is that more cars on the road mean greater congestion. Another connected issue is that this increase has led to greater levels of pollution
An answer with short examples
This is a much better paragraph as it does have examples. These examples are short and give more information.
There are two principal problems that the increased number of privately owned cars cause. The first of these is that more cars on the road mean greater congestion and longer travel times for commuters who travel by car. Another connected issue is that this increase has led to greater levels of pollution such as air pollution.
An answer with extended examples
This is the best paragraph. There is much more language and the examples are slightly extended/longer. With a little practice, you too can write examples like this.
There are two principal problems that the increased number of privately owned cars cause. The first of these is that more cars on the road mean greater congestion and longer travel times for commuters who sometimes need to spend around two hours twice a day on the road. Another connected issue is that this increase has led to greater levels of pollution such as air pollution through carbon dioxide emissions.
A practice activity
A simple one. Just look at some of your old writing and try and add some more examples to it by using the techniques in this lesson. See which version you prefer.
It’s best to start with your old writing as all the words are there anyway. You can concentrate on the specific skill of adding examples not thinking of new ideas.
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