Top Tips for IELTS

Using conditionals to improve your coherence

In order to get to band 6 your writing  needs to contain a mix of both simple and more complex structures. In plain English this means using some more advanced grammatical structures. I suggest looking at conditionals – that’s if clauses. I have 2 reasons for this:

1. they are relatively straightforward and typically are familiar to most candidates – it’s an achievable goal
2. they have a real purpose in the IELTS essay – they’re not just going to help your grammar, they can actually make the writing process easier for you by improving your coherence and extending the range of your vocabulary.

This is the main point:

When you look at grammar – think about its meaning and not just its form

Examples – a key way to produce coherent paragraphs

What do I mean by this? Well, one of the keys to a good essay is to ensure that your paragraphs are coherent. A coherent paragraph takes one idea – in the topic sentence – then explains it a little and then gives an example. These examples are critical for coherence- especially in an exam context .

Once you have understood that, the next step is to understand how to introduce examples. One piece of language to do that is of course “for example”, then there is “for instance” or “an illustration of this is”. But my point here is that “if” is an excellent alternative for introducing examples, not least because it typically leads into a more extended example with a greater range of topic vocabulary.

Some examples

These are examples from mysample IELTS essays. See how the if clause is used to extend, explain and illustrate the main idea and also helps you use more topic language: this is a “good thing”.

As you look at the examples below see the different ways you can use if:

separate sentence to explain main point

The second point to make is that there are many much more urgent projects on Earth that require investment. If governments spent less money on space research, then they would be able to help solve some of these problems such as population control, elimination of diseases like cholera, global warming and food shortages. It seems to me that all of these issues are more important because they affect the lives of millions of ordinary people. An illustration of this is that the US government could provide food for all the starving people in the world if they did not spend so much on NASA.

separate sentence to introduce a specific example after  a general explanation 

There is, however, an important qualification to be made. The internet and IT in general are not always easy to access. There are two grounds for saying this. Firstly, there are countries where there is not universal internet access because of censorship or poor technological infrastructure. Secondly, the older generation can find it difficult to learn to use the technology or install a modem. If we use the same example, a grandmother would probably prefer to send a letter through the post or make a simple telephone call than try using the net.

two separate sentences to explain the main point by using two alternatives

Those who argue that museums should be free typically make one of two arguments. The first argument is that institutions like museums are a public service and therefore there should be free access to the man in the street. If for example there was a charge only the wealthy could afford to enjoy works of art. The second, and related, argument is that if they did levy a charge fewer people would go to museums. This would be serious as they are educational institutions and standards would fall.

There is of course another side to this argument and there are possible reasons why emigration from developing countries is not a complete solution. One such reason is that people who have suffered from natural disasters will want to return to their homes as quickly as possible and be with their families and relatives. This will be difficult if they have moved to another country. Another reason is that it is often more effective to help the victims in their own country as it can cause them more stress if they have to move to another country with a different language and strange customs. For example, it could be difficult for someone from Iraq to adapt to the English way of life and weather.


My suggested practice is to start by just writing a few paragraphs to learn the technique, then when you are confident, try writing the full essay. Here is a sample paragraph from an IELTS essay on free health service that needs improvement. How could you improve it by using an example with an if clause.

It is unfair for a health service to charge all patients the same amount of money. Some patients are wealthy and can afford any treatment, while other patients are poorer and cannot pay for their prescription.

If you like, you can post your solution as a comment to this post: I shall be posting my variation in a few days time.

Need some grammar practice?

Here is a fairly tricky quiz on conditionals using IELTS type examples. I suggest you give it a go and if you find it too hard, you then take a look at the link below it to revise your grammar.

More connected lessons

More grammar

Find all my grammar lessons

See conditionals in action

Read an essay lesson where I use a conditional

Learn more about coherence

An introduction to coherence


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15 Responses to Using conditionals to improve your coherence

  1. arman January 13, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    if a health service charged all patients the same amount of money, the poorer patients would treated unfairly than the wealthier ones.

    • Dominic Cole January 13, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

      Close. Here’s the grammar correction:

      If a health service charged all patients the same amount of money, the poorer patients would be treated more unfairly than the …

      or maybe it is neater to say “less fairly”.

      As for the meaning. How are the poorer patients going to be treated less fairly? Isn’t everyone paying the same? Seems fair to me, unless of course the charge was high and not nominal.

      Nominal is a nice word for you.

  2. Nour Moaty April 7, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    this is stunning website

  3. Name July 17, 2010 at 6:06 am #

    Health service was a really complex controversy to most regimes for last few decades, however, no one can offer an abousolutely effective solution to it. If the government relocates more finance on medical and clinical treatment for every individuals equally, the authority would be suffer from financial chaos in other scientific and educational field, such as space exploration and advanced technology.

  4. Name August 17, 2010 at 3:38 am #

    If a health service charge all patients the same amount of money, it could be unfair for poorer patients as they will not be able to afford for their prescription or treatment as wealthier one.

    Thanks for making this blog. It helps me a lot. 🙂

  5. Elena December 12, 2010 at 2:39 am #

    Hi, Dominic.
    Can you please explain in your future article the different sentence’s structures, such as simple, compound, complex and combination. how are they usually used.
    and is it really importand to include different structures in an essay for band 7?

    thank you

    • Dominic Cole December 12, 2010 at 10:08 am #

      Sure. As it happens I am about to do an article on punctuation. From my point of view, one of the most practical ways to approach this topic is through punctuation.

  6. wu February 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    It is unfair for a health service to charge all patients the same amount of money,this is especially true if the poorer family could not support their unffordable prescription

  7. Omid Ch July 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm #

    It would be unfair if all people are charged the same money by the health system. Some of these patients are wealthy and payments might be affordable for them, but if they are not, treatment expenses can cause problems for those poor clients.

  8. Otilia September 17, 2014 at 6:00 am #

    Wonderful post however I was wondering if you could write a ligte more on this subject?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit more.

  9. K. November 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    It is unfair for a health service to charge all patients the same amount of money.

    If such regulations came into effect, the less well-off patients probably could not afford some medications or needful treatment.

  10. Md. Rashidul Hassan October 1, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    If everybody paid attention to lessen the darkness of povery,the world would be a better place to live in.

  11. George January 26, 2016 at 6:20 pm #

    If the health service would’ve been priced according to the patient level of wealth, more patients that have low incomes would afford to pay for their prescription.

    Is that correct?

  12. Jessie October 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm #

    If a health service charge all patients the same amount of money, it is unfair for poor patients who cannot pay for their perscription as wealthy people are able to afford any treatment.

  13. Solomon November 3, 2016 at 2:41 pm #

    If some patients are wealthy and can afford any treatment,it is fair for a health service to charge them the higher amount of money while other patients are poorer and cannot pay for their prescription.

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