This is a lesson for anyone who has problems with coherence in IELTS essays. In it, I try and sell you a simple idea – that if you spend more time reading what you’ve written, you will write better and much more coherently.
A lot of problems happen in IELTS essays because the ideas and language don’t link together or the essay doesn’t link to the question. Why does this happen? The writer keeps moving forwards and forgets to read what has come before. In a timed exam essay that can be fatal – to stay on track you need to keep checking backwards and not just move forwards.
In short the read think write idea is
the parts of an essay should link together
to link you need to know what comes before – that means reading what you’ve written
when you read you should look for specific things – that means directed reading
when you write you can borrow words and ideas from yourself
Let’s have a look at just a few examples to see how this can help you in practice.
Essay structure – the conclusion and the introduction
How do you write a conclusion? By reading what has come before. The examiner doesn’t really want to see any new ideas – more a summary of what has come before. The part of the essay you want to go back and read again is most of all
- the introduction
You should find the words and ideas there to make your conclusion. See how this can work in practice in this essay about technology and relationships
Advances in technology have without doubt influenced the way we communicate with each other in a number of different ways. While some of this change can have a negative influence on the we way interact, my view is that overall modern technology typically improves communication in personal relationships.
My conclusion is therefore that new forms technological communication have in fact largely improved human interaction because emails, texting and social networks enable us to maintain friendships which might otherwise be lost.
You should see that by going back to read the introduction I can borrow language and ideas for my conclusion – that’s great for coherence.
Essay structure – matching body paragraphs – think topic sentences
A similar idea is that the body paragraphs of your essay should “match” each other. You want to make it 100% clear to the examiner how your essay is structured. When the examiner reads a body paragraph they should not just see what the “main point” is, but also see how that point is connected to the other points in the other paragraphs. This connection is almost always made in the first/topic sentence.
See how these topic sentences/paragraphs from my essay on the school curriculum match each other.
There is one major argument in favour of replacing art, music and sport on the curriculum with subjects like IT.
There are also, however, strong arguments for retaining the more traditional subjects as part of the curriculum.
Just as before, you should see how I have also borrowed words to make the linking of the ideas clear. Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself a little – that is not a problem provided you also use some variation as I have done with “major” and “strong”.
How did I do this? I went back to read the first paragraph before I wrote the second.
Paragraph structure – read one sentence and then write the next!
This technique doesn’t just work when you are thinking about your essay structure, it also works when you are “organising” your paragraphs. Paragraphs need to be organised and coherent too. It’s not enough just to get all the words and ideas down – they need to link together logically.
How can you do this? Well, there are in fact lots of ways to organise a paragraph. A good place to start though is to see that a paragraph is a series of connected thoughts that make up one complete idea. I suggest a very basic pattern in my peeing lesson you make a point, you explain it, then you give an example. Here is a simple variation of that.
Better health education, however, is not a complete answer as it often ignores the wider social factors that cause people to eat unhealthily. For instance, many people eat fast food because they have a lifestyle that means they do not have time to sit down to a proper meal. Again, other people might eat burgers and pizzas because they are seen to be cool and they want to impress their peers. Health education is highly unlikely to affect either of these factors except over the long term.
In this paragraph, the supporting sentences contain a combination of reasons and examples before i come back to the main point again. It is all very coherent. How do I do it? Simple. I read each sentence before I write the next one and I also ask myself simple questions.
Better health education, however, is not a complete answer as it often ignores the wider social factors that cause people to eat unhealthily. [WHAT FACTOR?]For instance, many people eat fast food [WHY DOES IT CAUSE UNHEALTHY EATING?] because they have a lifestyle that means they do not have time to sit down to a proper meal. [CAN I THINK OF ANOTHER FACTOR?]Again, other people might eat burgers and pizzas [ANOTHER REASON?]because they are seen to be cool and they want to impress their peers. [HOW DID THIS PARAGRAPH START?]Health education is highly unlikely to affect either of these factors except over the long term.
To repeat myself a little, if you think you have coherence problems, do try this. It’s one of those techniques that can transform your life overnight!
A note about reading for vocabulary
This lesson is really about coherence and that means ideas. You also need to think about words too of course, but that’s a whole different lesson. I’ll just make these points here, you should
not repeat words too much
make sure your vocabulary is consistent – you do want to repeat words a little and sometimes use synonyms and sometimes paraphrase
The only real way to do that is to go back and read what you have written as you are writing.