Top Tips for IELTS

Study tips for IELTS essays – read then write – main ideas, explanations and examples

This is another post to help you with your essay writing. This time the focus is getting you to think about organisation and making the difference between main ideas, explanations and examples when you read. As with my post on collocations and synonyms, the main idea is to write a brief summary immediately after you read. The difference is that this time your focus when you write is to separate out the main ideas, explanations and examples.

You will find below:

  • a quick outline of the importance of using main ideas, explanations and examples in your writing
  • an online exercise to help you identify in them in a reading passage
  • a suggested exercise routine for you to practise

life

Better organisation – main ideas and details

The place to start is to note is that reading can improve the way you organise your writing. How does this work?

Very often writing becomes disorganised because ideas get confused and are not well developed. You can help yourself solve this problem if you read in the right way. A lot of professional writing you read can be a good model for your own writing, even if it is not in IELTS format – especially if you are reading more academic texts.

Writing often becomes disorganised because there are too many ideas
Writing also becomes disorganised because ideas are not developed with explanations and examples

The particular idea I want to sell you here is that when you read you should try and identify and note:

  • main points
  • reasons/explanations
  • examples

The key is to see that each of these has a separate function in writing. If you can identify these in your reading, then you have made a giant step towards using them yourself in your writing – especially if you write immediately after you read. In IELTS terms, this means improving your coherence.

An example and an exercise

To see how this can work, read this text on art and see if you can identify what the main point was and how it was supported with explanations and examples.

Read the text

Who does not love pictures? And what a pleasure it is to open a magazine or book filled with fine illustrations. St. Augustine, who wrote in the fourth century after Christ, said that “pictures are the books of the simple or unlearned;” this is just as true now as then, and we should regard pictures as one of the most agreeable means of education. Thus one of the uses of pictures is that they give us a clear idea of what we have not seen; a second use is that they excite our imaginations, and often help us to forget disagreeable circumstances and unpleasant surroundings. The cultivation of the imagination is very important, because in this way we can add much to our individual happiness. Through this power, if we are in a dark, narrow street, in a house which is not to our liking, or in the midst of any unpleasant happenings, we are able to fix our thoughts upon a photograph or picture that may be there, and by studying it we are able to imagine ourselves far, far away, in some spot where nature makes everything pleasant and soothes us into forgetfulness of all that can disturb our happiness. Many an invalid—many an unfortunate one is thus made content by pictures during hours that would otherwise be wretched. This is the result of cultivating the perceptive and imaginative faculties, and when once this is done, we have a source of pleasure within ourselves and not dependent on others which can never be taken from us.

Art - main ideas

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See the organisation

The main point was that art can make us happy.

There were two explanations for this one to do with education and the other our imagination.

These explanations were supported by various examples such as the sick person who feels better when admiring pictures.

Colour version of complete text

Who does not love pictures? And what a pleasure it is to open a magazine or book filled with fine illustrations. St. Augustine, who wrote in the fourth century after Christ, said that “pictures are the books of the simple or unlearned;” this is just as true now as then, and we should regard pictures as one of the most agreeable means of education. Thus one of the uses of pictures is that they give us a clear idea of what we have not seen; a second use is that they excite our imaginations, and often help us to forget disagreeable circumstances and unpleasant surroundings. The cultivation of the imagination is very important, because in this way we can add much to our individual happiness. Through this power, if we are in a dark, narrow street, in a house which is not to our liking, or in the midst of any unpleasant happenings, we are able to fix our thoughts upon a photograph or picture that may be there, and by studying it we are able to imagine ourselves far, far away, in some spot where nature makes everything pleasant and soothes us into forgetfulness of all that can disturb our happiness. Many an invalid—many an unfortunate one is thus made content by pictures during hours that would otherwise be wretched. This is the result of cultivating the perceptive and imaginative faculties, and when once this is done, we have a source of pleasure within ourselves and not dependent on others which can never be taken from us.

Outline version showing the argument

Sometimes it helps just to focus on a few words/phrases and you may find this version clearer.

Who does not love pictures? = MAIN IDEA

and we should regard pictures as one of the most agreeable means of education. = EXPLANATION ONE

a second use is that they excite our imaginations, and often help us to forget disagreeable circumstances and unpleasant surroundings The cultivation of the imagination is very important, because in this way we can add much to our individual happiness. = EXPLANATION TWO

if we are in a dark, narrow street……  = EXAMPLE

Many an invalid……. = EXAMPLE

Suggestions on identifying and using main ideas in reading and writing

None of these ideas are “rules”, but they are generally true and if you practise using them when you read, then your writing should improve too.

Reading is like writing: always focus first on the main point of the paragraph
Normally each paragraph will be based around one main idea only
Very often the main ideas are quite simple – it’s the explanations that are complex
To see the main idea it often helps to read a paragraph quickly – it’s the obvious bit you can remember after one reading

A quick and easy read then write exercise to improve organisation in your writing

The idea here is to practise writing a summary of what you have read. The goal is to be 100% clear about what the main points are and how they were supported. The first few times you try this, I suggest you don’t worry too much about vocab issues and/or writing the perfect summary: aim for clarity of organisation. I suggest:

  • you try and summarise paragraphs – these will be organised around one main idea usually – it is harder to summarise longer texts that will have more ideas
  • on your first reading separate out main point – make a note of it
  • read it through again and look for explanations of that idea
  • read it again and look for examples
  • it’s a good discipline to make sure that your main ideas, reasons and examples are in separate sentences
  • don’t worry too much about “style”when you write your summary: you can follow a basic model using some of these “set phrases” to help you be clear about the structure of what you have read.

Main ideas

The main point the writer was making is

Generally it is true that

Explanations

The reason for this is

This can be explained by

Examples

An example of this is

This is illustrated by

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2 Responses to Study tips for IELTS essays – read then write – main ideas, explanations and examples

  1. salam February 17, 2013 at 8:51 am #

    This is a great resource for those who are trying to improve their English language ability I am really appreciate you very much for such wonderful job, I think million of people around the world they are struggling to study English for academic purposes admired and appreciated your effort . please update me with your new sources especially reading material for academic study.

    regards
    salam

    • Dominic Cole February 17, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      I plan to add new reading resources quite soon.

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