Top Tips for IELTS

Read think write your way to better essays

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.

More writing skills lessons

 

   

Get more help with IELTS preparation on the main pages of my site

Home page

Speaking Guide

Writing Guide

Essay writing guide

Academic task 1 guide

Letter writing guide

Reading guide

Listening guide

IELTS vocabulary

IELTS grammar

Keep up with me on Facebook - all the updates and even more advice there

   

Or just get all my free lessons by email

Subscribe to DC IELTS by Email

12 Responses to Read think write your way to better essays

  1. Mary September 13, 2015 at 10:13 pm #

    Does matching paragraphs only work in a for and against type essay? What about other types of essay

    • Dominic Cole September 13, 2015 at 10:20 pm #

      That, as they say, is a really good question.

      The general technique works in pretty much any IELTS essay. The idea is that you want the content paragraphs to work together/link into each other. How they do that will depend though on the type of question you get and how you decide to answer the question.

      That may sound a little vague but I am not really a fan of set formats for certain types of essay. I think that that can be dangerous. Rather I prefer you sit down and look at each separate question and decide how to answer that question based on what you know. There’s always more than one approach possible.

      What I do think though is that you should be clear on how to use your 2/3 content paragraphs before you write and make sure that they link in to each other as you write.

      I do have lessons on this but I need to review them. It’s a big question.

  2. Anda September 14, 2015 at 9:14 am #

    Hello teacher. Can you please tell us more on repeated vocabulary. I thought it was not good. But I think you are saying it is good here.

    • Dominic Cole September 14, 2015 at 9:27 am #

      Aha

      Another good question. I do have another lesson lined up on this but here’s a brief explanation for you.

      You are right that it is not advisable to repeat vocabulary unnecessarily and you do want to show the examiner that you have a good range of words. In this case you want to be able to use synonyms and/or paraphrase. Take a look at this paragraph from my recent lesson on task 1 to see what I mean:

      The figures for agriculture varied significantly. In Romania and Ukraine around 30% and 10% of the respective workforces worked in agriculture, while in all the other countries except this figure was 3.5% or lower. There was less marked variation in the manufacturing sector with the percentages ranging from a high of 37.4% in the Czech Republic down to around 15% in the UK and Greece. There was approximately the same degree of variation in the service sector. The UK, Greece, France and Germany all had around three quarters of the workforce employed in the service industry. By contrast, only 60% of Czech workers and fewer than 45% of Romanian workers were employed in services.

      You should see that I have varied my vocabulary slightly here – a really important skill in task 1.

      But here’s the catch there are times when it is good to keep your vocabulary consistent. If you do this it is good for the cohesion of your writing (a cousin of coherence). It makes your writing easier to follow if the words don’t change too much. This does not mean that you have to keep the words exactly the same, you can change them slightly and an alert examiner will see what you are doing.

      Let’s go back to the previous paragraph to see what I mean:

      The figures for agriculture varied significantly. In Romania and Ukraine around 30% and 10% of the respective workforces worked in agriculture, while in all the other countries except this figure was 3.5% or lower. There was less marked variation in the manufacturing sector with the percentages ranging from a high of 37.4% in the Czech Republic down to around 15% in the UK and Greece. There was approximately the same degree of variation in the service sector. The UK, Greece, France and Germany all had around three quarters of the workforce employed in the service industry. By contrast, only 60% of Czech workers and fewer than 45% of Romanian workers were employed in services.

      Do you see what I have done? The main idea of the paragraph is the variation and how it compares in the three sectors. It’s important that I keep this vocabulary consistent as it helps the reader follow my argument and the structure of the paragraph. What I do do though is to alter the words slightly “marked” “significantly” “varied” and “variation” – that shows my range of vocab.

    • Anonymous December 27, 2015 at 9:15 am #

      Hlo plz give me some important vocabulary

  3. keziah September 16, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    Thank you Mr Cole for all your preparation tips and good advice! I genuinely appreciate you taking the time off your schedule to help people around the globe! I discovered your blog last week and since then have been meticulously reading all your posts! Prior to this, I was aiming for a 7 in all four bands, however, I now believe that I am capable of an 8.5. I do not have any questions, I simply wanted to thank you for all your help! 🙂

    • Dominic Cole September 16, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

      Thank you for writing in. I always enjoy it when people do. I just hope you realise how good 8.5 is – that’s close to native speaker level.

      Best of luck and let me know how it goes.

  4. Cheng March 22, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

    Thank you for your good advice on how to write IELTS essays! I believe your methods are wonderful and feasible,so I want to try my best to follow your ideas.

  5. coursework assistance May 19, 2016 at 8:10 am #

    I really have a major problem in the critical reading aspect.

  6. Mandar Thosar September 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm #

    Hello,
    My question is little different and not sure whether it should appear here for you to answer. But I didn’t find any other suitable section so writing it here in an anticipation of response.
    I have a different way of writing the letter ‘r’. I write it like cursive r. Same goes for letter z. Rest all letters are like plain English font. Will that make a difference in IELTS exam? Will I attract any penalty for it?

    • Dominic Cole September 18, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

      Shouldn’t make any difference at all. Your handwriting should be legible and that’s it.

  7. PrakashB November 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm #

    I have gone through your writing methodology and found it will be applicable for various level of people. Really very useful. Thanks a lot. u rocking..

Leave a Reply