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IELTS writing task 1 – process diagrams – an introduction

The process diagram is in many ways the odd one out in academic task 1 and it requires some different language from the other task types. This lesson shows you some of the skills you need to tackle a process diagram. In it, I talk you through some of the difficulties in describing a process and suggest some basic techniques to help you understand the diagram and write the description. You will also find a sample task and description.



Reading a process diagram – find the beginnings and ends

The first step in learning to write about a process diagram is to see where the process starts and ends. Sometimes it is evident, frequently it is less so. This is important information as it will help structure your writing. The obvious thing to do is to start at the beginning and carry on until you get to the end.

An example

Where is  the beginning here? The customer pays by credit card (item 1). Where is the end? The merchant receives his money (item 7). We now know part of the structure of our report.

Understand the different stages of the process

The next point is to try and understand how the process works. Typically, there will be some problem in understanding the diagram: it is not always the case that everything is in a natural order. The key is to stop and think and look. This is a visual task and you need to look at all the visual clues. What you are looking for are normally simple things. It is often a good idea to ask yourself the WH questions.

In the diagram above, we see the following details:

  • there are 5 parties involved (the pictures) (WHO)
  • there are 7 stages in the process (the numbers) (HOW MANY)
  • some of the arrows point in two different directions – this needs to be explained
  • item 4 seems to be out of order as it is next to 1

Find a way of organising your description

This is another thinking task. Before you start writing, you want to see if there is some way to organise your report into paragraphs. This is not absolutely essential but it can help the organisation of your writing. In the diagram above, there does seem to be a logical solution, as the process falls in to two parts:

  1. the customer receives his goods
  2. the merchant gets his money
As this is the case, I am going to do the logical thing and divide my description into two main paragraphs. One to describe the authorisation process until the customer gets his/her money and one for the payment process until the merchant is paid.

The introduction and conclusion

This is a key part of your description. What you need to do here is to give the examiner an overall view of the process. Again, you want to ask yourself questions, such as:

  • what happens as a result of this process?
  • is there any change involved?
  • how many stages are there in this process?
  • is there one simple process or are there variations within the process?
Typically, you will either write a longer introduction or add a conclusion. You will not normally need both an extended introduction and conclusion.

The language of the description

Topic language

The process will normally be an everyday event that everyone is familiar with, you should not need any specialised language. Sometimes, as in this example, you will be given some topic vocabulary. If you are, be careful of two points:

  1. try to vary the language if you can, but don’t worry too much if you can’t. It may be that the language you are given is the correct topic language and there are no, or few, variations
  2. don’t copy language incorrectly. If you are given a verb, you may need to change it into a noun

Sequencing language

Some of the most important language you need is vocabulary to say in what order things happen. It is important to have some variation here. Some very basic options are:

  • next
  • then
  • after
  • before
  • once
See this download for an explanation of this language: Sequencing language for process diagrams (46522)


A key grammatical area is very often the passive. We use this when it is not important who “does” the action. So, if you have a process diagram showing the making of wine, you may choose to write:

the grapes are crushed and their stems are removed

Put simply, we make the passive by taking part of the verb “to be” and adding the 3rd form of the verb.

Sample description with detailed notes

See my sample answer and notes

This diagram shows the different stages in the process of making a purchase with a credit card. We can see that it is a complex transaction with no fewer than five different parties involved and there are seven different steps until the merchant receives payment.

The first step is that the customer offers to pay for the goods by credit card. At that point, the merchant has to request for the payment to be authorised by the credit card organisation, which must also request authorisation in turn from the consumer’s bank. Once that authorisation has been received, the merchant can then release the goods to the customer.

The merchant, however, does not receive the money for the transaction until it has paid a fee to the credit card organisation. After that has been paid, the consumer’s issuing bank will transfer the money for the transaction to the merchant’s own bank, which will then credit the merchant’s bank account with the amount of the purchase less the credit card fee.



This diagram shows the different stages in the process of making a purchase with a credit card

Simple sentence to start explaining what the diagram shows

We can see that it is a complex transaction with no fewer than five different parties involved and there are seven different steps until the merchant receives payment.

Complete the introduction by giving an overview of the process (how many steps and how many parties)

paragraphs 1 and 2 sequencing language

The first step…At that point….Once that authorisation has been received…in turn…until… After that has been paid

paragraph 1 organisation and vocabulary. 

This follows the authorisation procedure step by step until step 4.

I have not changed the vocabulary much but I have used

  •  “authorised” and not “authorisation”
  • “customer” for “consumer”
  • “goods” for “product”

Paragraph 2 organisation and vocabulary

The key to this paragraph is the first sentence. The merchant receiving his money is step 7. However, because it helps me organise the paragraph, I have used it out of order in the first sentence as the main point.

I have used some “new” vocabulary here:

  • purchase
  • credit

How to like it, share it and save it


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34 Responses to IELTS writing task 1 – process diagrams – an introduction

  1. christie September 3, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    this is very helpful dominic. thank you.

  2. NEGAR October 19, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    Thank you si very much 🙂 extremely helpful.

  3. Reader November 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm #


    Thank you

  4. Erkem November 19, 2011 at 6:48 am #

    In my opinion,this type of writing task 1 is the most difficult

  5. raja November 28, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    Hi Dominic, first of all plz accept my cordial thanks and appreciation for wonderful work that you are doing. I can not tell you how much benefit I have gained from your website, again thanks. I have a question, in reference with tenses for graph, is there any universal method that we can adopt to describe graph in an appropriate tense. For instance, for above process diagram(Credit card transaction), can we use present tense throughout? Like, diagram shows …. customer places an order … merchant requests company for authorization ….
    Please advise.

    BTW: I am appearing in my IELTS on 10th December, so good luck to me 😉

    • Dominic Cole December 4, 2011 at 7:48 am #

      Good luck this week. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. i took a holiday from the site. Your default tense should be the present. You should always, always read the question v carefully though. If there is any time reference in the question or on the axes of the graph, you will need to use a tense correct for that time.

      • Molly King December 5, 2011 at 5:02 am #

        Hi, Dominic, I am Molly from Shanghai.
        I am also preparing for the 10th Dec IELTS, and I haven’t browsed your transcendently helpful blog untill yesterday.
        Still appreciate your effort and I believe what I can do now in such a limited time is to boost my confidence and keep cool-headed enough to give a performance as relaxedly as possible.

        Thank you O(∩_∩)O How I wish to have known you and your website earlier, but I still hope it is my second and last time in taking IELTS.(I have to get a minimum 7 in all)

        I will try hard and hope to keep in touch. Thank you all the same.

        • Dominic Cole December 5, 2011 at 8:58 am #

          Best of luck this week. Try and take the day before off – that’ll be too late to do anything serious. Let me know how it goes.

          • Molly December 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

            Hi, Dominic, I’ve finished my test today. I was still too nervous in the writing part: I made some mistakes because I failed to plan the writing of Task one, and the correction took me too much time so I hurried the Task two, but had no time to check for mistakes.
            Here is my recalling of my task two writing, the details may not be all the same, but generally close, I wonder if you could give me a mark.
            Overall, I am relieved after the exam, just let it be. O(∩_∩)O

            While much energy has been devoted to how to build a better human society, less has been taken to the well-being of our animal and plant friends. To implement human protection or not – that is the problem. In this article, I intend to explore pros and cons concerning this issue.

            Admittedly, some damages human activities have done are incomparable, or the least of which is the invasion of habitats. One salient example would be the saving of river dolphin in the Yangtze river. It was not until 1990 that the government built a conservation park for river dolphins – the construction of factories along the river made them hard to survive, especially to mate. Unfortunately, this artificial zone failed to work and these lovely creatures disappeared at last. It is, therefore, rarely possible for animals or plants to fit into the man-made habitats, however elaborate they might be.

            However, some people still come up with solutions to save these species. It is efficient to limit some human activities. A particularly good case is to institute a non-fishing season for fishmen. In this way, not only would the customers of seafood still have access to feasts- with higher prices and limited amount, but also the fish would have sufficient time to grow and mate. This practice can be popularised in many other food markets, trading both animals and plants.

            In a nutshell, it is my belief that the destiny of both animals and plants does not lie in what we can do, but what we do NOT do. The planet earth would become a more harmonious place if humans could live in harmony with our friends and make compromises.

          • Dominic Cole December 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

            Too late now but the standard advice is to write part 2 first as that carries twice the points. Though a well-written task one is no bad thing.

            High quality writing that’s for sure. I hate putting band scores on things. I know how the system works, I did the training but I’m not an examiner. That said, for me, this should get at least a 7 and hopefully more. There is plenty of good vocab well used and apart from the first sentence of the second para the grammar is good with plenty of error free sentences and good range of structures with only fairly minor mistakes. The coherence and cohesion work too – good use of examples to illustrate the main points and the essay structure looks fine. Task response: I don’t know. what was the question.

            Fingers crossed. Relax now. Only 13 days to wait.

    • shadi January 19, 2014 at 5:36 am #

      good luck
      wish the best for u

  6. Dominic Cole December 11, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Thanks for the question. Wait and see and all that, but I would have liked you to have addressed the question a little more directly. It’s a tough question because it asks you to do quite a lot in 250 words.

    • Molly December 23, 2011 at 5:57 am #

      Hi, Cole, finally comes the result.
      overall 8: writing 9 listening 9 speaking7.5 writing ………6.5

      I am satisfied with myself yet still regretful about writing: I knew it …So, I still have to try for a 7 but this time I am more relexed.

      I don’t want it to be a long haul so maybe I’ll pick the exam on 20TH, Feb. But I don’t know if I can try the score review, will it work?

      Hope to keep in touch with you O(∩_∩)O

    • subash karki February 21, 2012 at 8:01 am #

      i am having my ielts exam on this saturday so plzz help me to go through writing and speaking test..i have little confuse on this asap

  7. sara May 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

    thanks a lot

  8. Leif October 16, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    What’s up to every single one, it’s really a fastidious for me to
    pay a quick visit this site, it consists of important Information.

  9. fay December 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    thanks million i appreciate your work , pleas would you try to show us more practise for the digram i find it very diffiuclt ;(

  10. varinder singh December 14, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    this ir really very good example. i note down all the important words

  11. monika thakur March 9, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    hi, cole,

    I am Monika .i have finished my exam of Ielts yesterday.I am getting very nervous. what will happen, i do not know.I do piles mistakes in written. I will feel very happy.whether you check my written test.plzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Much as ,people choose life with work or without work.maximum will choose without work.nobody wants do deed.people wants to roam here and there.which is good for wanderer.they can get freak of roaming.those women do not like hustle-bustle in life.they can retain at home and keep safe to herself to the heat rays.and female can embellish to herself.

    on other hand,exclusively lazy person would love to choose the without work life.without work yours bones get weak.overmuch decease can yield in your body.people will yell on your lazyness.although,someone is doing deed ,we should appreciate or work that is essential for need to tangle in overmuch deed.overload work can create the fatique.and unbearable work in limit.without swop or sweep your abode place will be nasty.everyone like to live in spick and span house.anyone do not want splotch on we can get blemishless clothes without do any work .keep doing deed precise for everyone.that is all exhibit how much you are flexible and nimble?and we can get the topping sleep in night.working person can vivify in everything .when boss do praise of your work ,you feel high in sky and get the pep and you work with full enthusiasum.

    to sum up all the conclusion,I do not deny without work life is not good merely for those who are lazy.without work life is hell. we can accomplish our and our family craves .for me doing work is panacea or remedy of all decease .

    i need 7 bands.please tell me how much bands i can get.i will await of your reply.

    • Dominic Cole March 10, 2013 at 8:32 am #

      Sorry I really can’t help you. You will need to wait for the real examiners.

    • Dr Shakeel July 13, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

      I am not a teacher of english Language,but honestly I feel you need lots of luck to reach band 7 in that writing.Best of luck anyway.

    • shadi January 19, 2014 at 5:42 am #

      disappointing honey
      i am so sorry

    • raman January 23, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      hi monika! u make many mistakes and u r not specific. well, you possess excellent knowledge of vacabulary but you’re not aware of its usage in accurate manner. add me on fb i’ll help ya be better at english.

  12. zahra April 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm #

    hi,I’m Iranian and I’m an IELTS candidate,but unfortunately I cant’n write a writing about humans diagram.please help me.

  13. sabina April 29, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    may i have other example of flowchart to get more knowledge and question for practic

  14. Lotus July 15, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Hi Dominic, your blog is excellent. Thanks a lot for helping IELTS students like me to ace the IELTS.

  15. Lotus July 16, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Hi Dominic, your blog is excellent. It is helping a lots of IELTS students like me to ace the IELTS.

  16. Lotus July 16, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Keep it up!

  17. Anonymous July 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    hlo dominic is it necessary to give the second opening sentence to introduction this affect the ielts band

  18. anjic October 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

    hi dominic,

    I am an avid reader of your blogs and Ive learn a lot from it. Ive took my ieltsexam recently and I really have a big question because I’ve finished my task 2 with more than 250 words, but im not really sure in task 1, i guess ive just written 145 words.. is it still possible to get 7 band score in writing? i hope you’ll respond.I really feel terrible :-(.

  19. Zahid Rehman February 25, 2015 at 2:38 pm #

    Hello Dominic,

    It feels so wonderful to be a part of something much lucrative. since I have been preparing myself for the IELTS test for 28th February 2015, your blog has provided me with countless useful material. I am obliged to have come across such an authentic site with you as a mentor.

    I am also looking forward to considering you as problem solver for the rest of the contents of English language. hoping that I would a positive response.


  20. Prudence Ngo August 29, 2016 at 7:57 am #

    Thank you so much


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