Top Tips for IELTS

Impersonal vocabulary for academic essays

This lesson shows you some useful impersonal vocabulary – this can be useful in discussion type essays when you are talking about other people’s opinions.

The general idea – avoid the personal pronoun

The idea is that you don’t use “I” unless you are emphasising the fact that this is your personal opinion.

These impersonal phrases can often be replaced by short one or two word alternatives: such as “possibly”. I suggest that you try and use some of these impersonal phrases and some of the plainer alternatives – that way you should get some good variety in your writing.

The impersonal IT

One strategy you can think about is using IT phrases to start your sentences when you are about to give an opinion. This has two effects:

  • it makes what you say sound more intelligent/plausible
  • it gives you some ready-made English to use that is grammatically complex
  • you don’t always need to say “Some people say”
Here are a few alternatives for you:

The impersonal THERE

Another alternative is to use a THERE phrase to be more impersonal. This works for the same reasons as IT does and nearly all these phrases are also for giving opinions:



ONE and WE

This one is slightly trickier. Personally, I rarely use either of these structures but some people do. So here are a few:


How to practise

Learning phrases is a very efficient way to learn a language. Indeed, we tend not to use words by themselves but groups of words when we speak or write.  What you need to do is to experiment and try using these phrases for yourself in your writing. This is what I would suggest:

  1. look at some of your old discussion essays and find the opinions in them – rewrite those opinions with some of these phrases
  2. look at some sample IELTS essay questions and practise writing YOUR opinions about them using some of these phrases in one or two sentences

Be a proper academic

If you are taking IELTS in order to study at university, you should not just be studying exam English. Why not take a look at some university sites? Many of these have lots of help for academic writing. I suggest you start with


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14 Responses to Impersonal vocabulary for academic essays

  1. Nguyen August 15, 2011 at 6:31 am #

    Thank you. I find this very useful for my IELTS learning.

  2. shahba August 28, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Thanks alot for your great and free help which is not available nowadays.

  3. NITHIN October 18, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    you deserve a random applause……..great, well done

  4. Artur May 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Dear Dominic Cole,

    I don’t know where on this webpage I suppose to leave a feedback but I want to sincerely thank you for all your work. It was really helpful and without any courses I passed my IELTS exam with the score I need. I recommend it for all the students!

    Thank you!


  5. Elisha September 21, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    Thx! It really helped me in my end of year exams! 😉

  6. sarx February 8, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    well done

  7. Dinara February 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    dear, Mr Dominic
    thank you very much for a great job you are doing! I find your website incredibly useful for IELTS takers!
    could you explain what does IT stand for?

    • Dominic Cole February 24, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

      Sure. This one is useful – it’s Information Tethnology. You may also come across ICT, which is Information and Computer Technology.

  8. Ahmed mohammed March 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    I want to greet you with the Islam greeting ,peace of Allah be upon you all, and i want to thank my teacher very much on this great work.

  9. mike March 13, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    Great job Dominic! Keep it up.

  10. Michael March 22, 2014 at 3:08 am #

    Hi Dominic,

    thank you for the effort you put into this site; it is a wonderful resource, and one which I unhesitatingly recommend, trust, and use when teaching.

    I’d like to add a few caveats with regard to academic tone.

    I am aware that discourse markers are an important way to “bring the audience along for the ride”, and that they are a necessary part of IELTS essay writing, but it is equally important to learn when not to use them, as there is a distinct danger of overusing such discourse markers as “it is clear”, especially in short, IELTS-type essays.

    During the writing process, discourse markers can act as a useful crutch, helping to ease the writer into his or her argument. I know that I commonly use “it is clear” when hammering out an argument. If too many are left in the final product, however, they risk annoying the reader. Who wants to see “It is clear” in front of every statement? Luckily, word processing programs allow quick editing out of these favourite little catch phrases, but in a handwritten test such as IELTS it’s probably more efficient to enter the writing task fully aware of the dangers of overuse, and to have a concrete idea of when and where you are going to use them.

    Concious use of discourse markers is particularly important for IELTS candidates because of the tendency of many EFL learners to overuse them. Here in China, this tendency is so obvious that it is the subject of serious academic research. It’s therefor vitally important for students to be aware that it’s sometimes stronger to simply give their opinions without an additional discourse marker, whether an informal “I believe”, or a formal “it is clear”. One piece of nonsense I wrote to demonstrate this point is as follows:

    “I believe that today is so hot. It is clear that the school should provide more drinking fountains.”

    This never fails to raise a laugh from students, as the statement is clearly stronger and more coherent without the “I believe that”, and “it is clear”.

    My second concern regards the phrase, “It goes without saying that…”. This runs dangerously close to problematic “of course”, and the egregious “as we all know”. I was warned off from using all of these banalities by a public speaking coach, though I confess to still sometimes using “of course”. The risk is that you are inviting your audience to mentally ask why, if it goes without saying, you are wasting time by saying it. Petty? Maybe. But on analysis, no one is ever going to miss these risky phrases if you don’t use them.

    My final point regards the conventional use of phrases such as “it is sometimes suggested that”, or less formally, “people say”. Again, this is a cultural problem. I’ve noticed that many students use these as a way to add authority to their argument. They are thus used the same way as “as we all know”. A native speaker however, is likely to use these phrases as part of an “although…however” argument.

    I’ll give an example here to clarify a slightly complicated point. When marking essays for a Western Culture course, I consistently found students writing such sentences as, “Many people know that America is the greatest democracy in the world.” I was left waiting for a counter-argument which never came. The students were simply showing me that they knew what many people know. This is a valid approach in Chinese academic culture, but is less welcomed in the Western Tradition, of which IELTS is a small part. Here is an example of how a native speaker might use the above phrase in a topic sentence:

    “It is commonly suggested that America is the world’s greatest democracy, yet security measures enacted post-911 have, for many Americans, seriously damaged this once-unassailable claim.”

    “It is suggested” is thus used to introduce a claim which will be countered in the ensuing paragraph.

    Sorry for such a long comment. I hope that the information is of some benefit to IELTS candidates and especially to those wishing to study abroad.


    • Dominic Cole March 22, 2014 at 5:12 am #

      Thank you very much. This is a completely brilliant comment – everything you say here I go along with.

      I am in the process of going through some of my older lessons and reviewing (and discarding) anything I don’t quite like. I’m in two minds about how to deal with material like this. I think it is valid and helpful to introduce learners to “chunks” of language, but I’m sceptical over the presentation.There is the very clear danger that too much of it will simply get learnt and repeated ad nauseam. In the standard classroom, it is tolerably easy to control this, but it is much harder to do that working online. I need to sit down and think.

      Thank you once again for the comment.


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