Top Tips for IELTS

Choosing the right details in a bar chart

This lesson is designed to help you think about how part 1 IELTS writing works. The idea is that many of the problems with task 1 writing are caused by the thinking part – analysing the data. That matters because the goal in task 1 is not just to describe the information in the chart, but to summarise it by selecting the key data. To do this, you need to spend time thinking – it is not simply a vocabulary exercise.

I’d add that time spent thinking is rarely wasted. If you spend 3/4 minutes thinking  of what details to include, the report actually becomes easier to write. All the “ideas” are there (good for your Task Response score) and it becomes much easier to organise the report (good for your Coherence and Cohesion score).

Test yourself first

This is a simple  bar chart similar to one you might find in task 1. Your task is to analyse and decide what information you would choose to include in your writing.

  1. Look at the chart and think for 3/4 minutes
  2. Make notes of what details you would include
  3. Try the test – how many of the details I suggest did you find?
Have problems? Disagree with me? Read on below.

Try the quiz


Click yes for every detail you made a note of.

Start with the obvious

Sometimes it is easy to forget to include a detail because it looks too simple. Don’t do that. Simple matters. If you don’t include these simple details, your writing will lack clarity. The tip here is to look at the simple (that word again) things like colours and line lengths – let the visual help you. Do that and you get something like this:

  1. there are 6 countries
  2. some bars are longer than others – there are significant differences in the proportion of proficient second language speakers among the different countries
  3. there are two colours of bars – males and females are included in the study
  4. the green lines are typically longer – generally more females than males are proficient in a second language

Look at the key – use it to organise your answer

The key can also help you. Its role is to show what the different lines mean. One thing that you can do is to use it to organise your answer: in this case, that means making sure you write about:

  • males
  • females
  • a comparison of males and females

I’ve helped you here by re-organising the data. This is what you should see and need to include:

  1. India is much the largest (around 55%)
  2. China is the smallest (about a third of India) (around 17%)
  3. Romania, Vietnam, Russia and Thailand are in that order and approximately similar (between 32 and 42%)

Likewise with females, it’s a good idea to look at the extremes and this is what you get:

  1. India and Romania are the largest (around 65% and 65% respectively)
  2. Thailand is the smallest (about 27%)
  3. There are fairly significant differences between Vietnam, Russia and China

Comparisons are almost always important. Here you should see:

  1. Typically, more females are proficient than males
  2. Thailand is the exception because there the pattern is reversed (the lines cross)
  3. Romanian females appear to be especially good at languages

Look at the axes

Another detail you need to include is that the percentage of second language learners varies considerably from country to country. You can see this by simply looking at the length of the lines on the “y” (vertical) axis. To help you see this, I have re-organised the data in a pie chart:

Key information to include from this is that overall:

  1. China has significantly the lowest proportion of second language speakers
  2. India is much the largest
  3. there are no major differences between Romania, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam

A sample report

Take a look at this sample report and see how I have included the relevant details.

This bar chart shows how second language proficiency varies between males and females in 6 different countries. It is immediately apparent that while there is significant regional variation in second language ability, typically a higher percentage of females than males speak a second language well.

If we look at males we can see that India has much the greatest proportion of proficient second language speakers at around 55% and China has the least at fewer than 18%. There is only  a 10% difference in competency ranging from around 40% to around 30% between Romania, Vietnam, Russia and Thailand in second to fourth places respectively. There are,however, notably more female than male second language speakers in every country with the exception of Thailand. So, India once again leads the way with around 65% , closely followed by Romania and then Vietnam and Russia at 56 and 42% in turn. The two countries with fewest proficient second language speakers are China and Thailand at around 30%. The final point to note is that of the countries in the report, India would appear to have the highest overall proportion of proficient second language speakers and China the least.


The “obvious” details form the summary statement/introduction.

The main content paragraph looks first at males and then makes a contrast with females. Doing it this way means you don’t need to repeat a lot of detail.

For both males and females, the first figure included is the highest figure and, typically, the numbers run logically from high to low.


Sample bar chart on foreign languages (5865)

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11 Responses to Choosing the right details in a bar chart

  1. lizzy January 21, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

    Thanks Dominic I was really looking for something like this.How to explain task we can really compare the graph in one paragraph.I always get 6.5 in the writing .That is my weak part.Thanks once again.

  2. NeKa March 28, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Hi Dominic!

    First of all congratulations for this fantastique blog!

    Would be possible to describe this bar chart in 4 paragraph?

    2)Describe and compare females english proficiency
    3) Idem with males
    4)Comparison of males and females

    Here is my sample (it took some expressions for your sample)

    The bar chart compares the ability to speak a foreign language between males and females in China, India, Romania, Thailand, Russia and Vietnam.

    It is immediately apparent that while there is significant regional variation in second language proficiency, typically a higher percentage of females than males speak a second language well. India shows the greatest proportion of foreign language speakers around 68%, closely follow by Romania and Vietnam at about 65% and 56% respectively. On the other hand, Russian and Chinese females have only 43% and 32% approximately. The major exception is Thailand where more men speak better than women.

    If we look at males India again leads the way with about 56%. Romania, Vietnam and Russia all have almost a similar proportion of second language speakers at nearly 40% while China has only around three time less proficient male speakers than India.

    We should also note that the greatest difference is between males are females are found in Romania and Vietnam and the lowest in Russia. However, India has the highest overall proportion of proficient second speakers and China the least.

  3. ccisa July 18, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    this bar chart is bit hard..

  4. Karmaa October 7, 2012 at 2:53 am #

    This is awesome!
    This chapter has immensely helped me to analyse bar charts from various angle! Thank-you very much!

  5. shobin November 16, 2012 at 2:09 am #

    Thanks Dominic for describing a complicated bar graph in a comprehensive manner. It has given me the idea to solve a variety of diagrams.

  6. anu November 25, 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Is it right to use ‘We’ in the report?

  7. safia December 20, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Thank u for your help,I started to understand something.

  8. Servere HP February 26, 2014 at 9:31 pm #

    Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide
    credit and sources back to your weblog? My blog is in the exact same
    niche as yours and my visitors would definitely benefit from
    some of the information you provide here. Please let me know if this alright with you.

  9. Roman March 4, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    Just wanted to say thank you, it is a very helpfull website.

  10. prabath July 23, 2016 at 5:43 am #

    Thank you very much Dominic, it was really helpful.

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