Part of your job in answering IELTS essay questions is to give a clear answer that the examiner can follow. One way you can do that is by following this simple tip
keep the first sentence in each topic paragraph simple – don’t try and say too much too soon
Why is this a good idea?
Typically, it is a good idea to go from the general to the particular – first of all make it clear what you want to say generally, then add details/explanations later. It can also actually be easier to write this way in the exam when you are under pressure. It really can help to follow this sort of routine:
- What do I want to say? – general idea
- How can I explain it? – reasons
- Can I think of any examples? – examples
Problems often happen when reasons and examples get put in the first sentence when you try to explain your idea without saying what it is first.
See two examples
To see what I mean, take a look at these two paragraphs below. They are both about complex topics and express quite complex ideas. They do, however, start simply. Note how:
- the shortest sentence in each paragraph is the first one (that’s not a rule!)
- I don’t give reasons (use “because”) or examples in the first sentence
- I do use more complex structures (relatives and if clauses), but I keep them for my reasons and examples – once the examiner is clear about my point of view
Do you believe that credit cards will replace cash payments?
It is highly likely that credit cards will replace cash in the foreseeable future. [Yes I do think they will – simple] The main reason why this will probably occur is that it is cashless transactions are more convenient for both consumers and businesses. [Why?]Just one example of this is that individuals will not need to worry about exchanging currency when they travel abroad or purchase goods and services from another country. [I explain more with an example] Likewise, companies are bound to prefer a cashless system in which they are able to reach an international market without the restrictions that cash payments can bring. [Here’s another example and a complex idea explained even though I started simply]
Who should look after the elderly? The government by providing care homes or families?
There is a strong argument for saying that families should take the major responsibility for caring for their elderly relatives. [I think families should do it – simple] This is largely based on the fact that children owe a debt to the parents who brought them up when they young and it would therefore be morally wrong if they abandoned them when they most needed care. [Now the reason why – it’s about duty]So, the children of the elderly should be prepared to make sacrifices in their careers and home life to provide for their parents and this is especially true when they are sick and incapable of looking after themselves. [A more complex sentence explaining the idea]
How can you learn this skill?
Practice helps of course. But it may help you to ask yourself this question before you write that key first sentence:
What do I think?
Only then do you ask yourself the question
Why do I think that?
A simple practice idea
- Go back over your old essays and copy out the first sentence of each paragraph.
- Can you see what that paragraph was about just by reading that sentence? That’s good.
- Does it have reasons and examples in it? That can be dangerous.