IELTS TASK 2 WRITNIG: STRUCTURING PARAGRAPHS

Today we will continue with a description of how to structure a TASK 2 paragraph. The first thing to understand is that there is no rule about this. A good paragraph will have a TOPIC SENTENCE that describes what the paragraph is about and it will be highly focused but there are actually many different ways that paragraphs can be written.

Here is one possible outline for a paragraph:

Topic sentence (a short sentence which says specifically what the paragraph is about)
main point 1 (first point supporting the topic sentence)
– support sentence 1 (explain what is meant by main point 1)
– support sentence 2 (explain what the consequences are of support sentence 1)

main point 2 (second point supporting the topic sentence)
– support sentence 1 (explain what is meant by main point 2)
– support sentence 2 (explain what the consequences are of support sentence 2)

There are many other structures that could be used. The point is that the paragraph expands and develops the arguments related to whatever the topic is that you are responding to.

Here is how such a paragraph might look for the previous post related to the use of mobile phones:

To begin with, it is argued by some that cell phones cause some problems. (The topic sentence-it tells you what this paragraph is about) Face-to-face communication is a case in point. (This is the first main point: it just means face-to-face communication is an example.) When people go to dinner, for instance, everyone sits around the table using their mobile phone, ignoring their friends sitting right in front of them. (That is support sentence 1 that explains main point 1). This can lead to a breakdown in the relationships between people if they feel offended and hurt when their friends show no interest in talking to them. (This extends the argument by showing a consequence of the previous sentence – it is support sentence 2 for main point 1. Now we add main point 2.) In addition, mobile phones can be very expensive. (second main point.) The problem  is that the cost of a smart phone is often very high and models come out frequently. (first support sentence explaining the problem) When young people are lured into constantly updating their phone, the financial burden can be enormous leading to significant stress and pressure on the individual, which may have a detrimental effect on their daily life. (Second support sentence that shows the consequence of expensive phones.)

This is only one possible way to structure the paragraph. There really is an unlimited number of ways this can be achieved. The KEY POINT is that the paragraph is targeted on the topic that has been asked, it extends and develops the argument and DOES NOT simply list some main points without support sentences.

EXTENDING AND SUPPORTING the main points is critical. Essays which simply list a number of main points without developing these arguments cannot achieve a high score. Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say about this:

Band 7 (Task Response): presents, extends and supports main ideas

Clearly, if this is not done, it is impossible for the candidate to be awarded Band 7.

TASK 2 WRITING: INTRODUCTIONS and STRUCTURE

Here is an IELTS Task 2 task:

“Some people say that computer technology has been an extremely valuable development. Others disagree.
Discuss both sides of this issue and give your own opinion.”

The very first thing to understand here is that the wording: “Discuss both sides of this issue and give your own opinion.” DOES NOT tell you the order in which the essay should be written. That is, I DO NOT have to discuss the issue FIRST and then give my opinion.

First, the candidate must decide where they stand on the issue. MAKE YOUR LIFE SIMPLE! Write the essay in the simplest way that will get you a high score and this DOES NOT mean saying ‘I partly agree and partly disagree’. To write an essay like that well, is quite difficult.

I will take the side that computer technology is a good thing.

Now the question tells  me I MUST do THREE very important things to answer the question fully:

1 write about WHY some people think computer technology is bad
2 write about WHY I think it is good
3 show my opinion throughout the essay i.e. IN EVERY PARAGRAPH 

This is easier than it sounds. Here is one structure that could be used:

Introduction (all sides addressed, clear opinion given)
Body paragraph 1 (other side)
Body paragraph 2 (my side)
Conclusion (restate my opinion)

There is, of course, no rule about the number of paragraphs in the essay. Candidates could write 4 body paragraphs if they wanted … BUT … you have 40 minutes and only 250 words, so this is not really a great idea.

The word length for this essay would be:

Introduction (40 words – 2 sentences)
Body paragraph 1 (90 words)
Body paragraph 2 (90 words)
Conclusion (40 words – 2 sentences)

We have already discussed introductions. I will put my opinion right there IN THE INTRODUCTION so the reader is VERY CLEAR about what I think. I WILL NOT SAY “I think” or “in my opinion” because this is not allowed in academic writing BUT, if you look carefully at the IELTS Public Band Descriptors, they DO NOT say you cannot do this in an IELTS exam. Nevertheless, I want to write a good essay by ANY STANDARD so I won’t do it because it is not acceptable in high level writing.

INTRODUCTION
To introduce the topic I need a general sentence that raises the issue of computer technology. There are tens of thousand of ways to write such a sentence. Here is one way:

“Over the past 50 years computer technology has exploded into every part of modern life.”

This sentence stands alone. It does not carry on into another sentence. Its only purpose is to raise the issue of computer technology so the reader has an idea about what this essay is about.

The second sentence of the introduction will give my opinion on this issue but it will also raise the other side of this issue because I was asked in the task to address both sides of the issue AND give a clear opinion. I will do all of this in the next sentence:

“While some people may argue that computer technology has a number of drawbacks, it is very clear that it has far more advantages than disadvantages.”

Can you tell which side I am on? I have not said “I think” or “I believe” but it is very clear that the writer is in favour of computer technology. It is also clear that the writer might recognise some of the disadvantages (“far more advantages the disadvantages”) but that for the writer these disadvantages are not nearly as important as the advantages. This is a very clear opinion and it is right here in the introduction.

PLEASE NOTE that NOTHING in the way the question is asked REQUIRES that I discuss this topic and THEN give my opinion. It is absolutely fine to give my opinion and justify it later – this approach also makes for a very clear essay.

The entire introduction is therefore:

“Over the past 50 years computer technology has exploded into every part of modern life. While some people may argue that computer technology has a number of drawbacks, it is very clear that it has far more advantages than disadvantages.”

I can write this in a better way but this is quite simple and yet still does what is required at Band 7 in the IELTS Task 2 Writing Band Descriptors for Task Response;

“gives a clear position”

Note that one important way I have achieved this is because I used the expression: “While some people may argue …” because this shows the reader clearly that this IS NOT the writer’s opinion – this is what OTHER people say. In an indirect way, this phrasing gives the writer’s opinion.

FIRST BODY PARAGRAPH
In this paragraph I will present the other side of the argument, the side I DO NOT agree with. So I begin with a paraphrase of the first clause above: “While some people may argue that computer technology has a number of drawbacks, …”

One way to begin might be:

“To begin with, IT IS ARGUED BY SOME that computer technology causes several problems.”

(I will discuss the structure of good paragraphs next time.)

SECOND BODY PARAGRAPH
The second body paragraph presents THE WRITER’S SIDE and it is achieved very simply.

“Nevertheless, despite these arguments, computer technology has so many more advantages than disadvantages that its use is imperative.”

Note that this word “Nevertheless” carries a lot of meaning – while it is similar to “although” or “however” it carries more meaning than either of these words. It essentially means that what I have said is true but what I am about to say is still true regardless of what I said before.

(I will discuss the structure of good paragraphs next time.)

CONCLUSION
We really need to develop the second body paragraph to know exactly how to write the conclusion but we can give a general idea here and then we will come back and revise it in a couple of days time:

“In short, although computer technology may have some disadvantages, it has far more advantages especially for xxxx and xxxxx.”

Notice that I have had to leave the two aspects of computer technology that I should have discussed in the second body paragraph blank because we have not written the paragraph yet. BUT … we will – tomorrow.

We will also add an extra sentence to the conclusion then as well.

Nevertheless, you can see that even this one sentence conclusion gives a very clear opinion. So we have achieved something very important here: in every paragraph of this essay we have been able to express a very clear opinion and it really wasn’t that hard to achieve.

IELTS TASK 2 WRITING: TIPS & INTRODUCTION

This advice may well sound too simple to be serious. It is indeed simple advice, but it is critical to IELTS Writing success.

When you write an essay, how many times do you look back at the question to check that what you are writing is answering the question you think you have been asked?

Many candidates get a very low IELTS score in Task 2 writing because they have not answered the question they were asked. Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say about this:

Band 5: addresses the task only partially;
Band 4: responds to the task only in a minimal way or the answer is tangential (not directly related to what was asked)
Band 1: answer is completely unrelated to the task

If you think Band 1 would not be given to a good writer, think again.

How do you make sure you are writing on the topic you have been asked?

STEP 1:
Re-read the question every time you start a new paragraph and identify which part of the question the paragraph you are writing answers.

STEP 2:
Every time you write a sentence identify how that sentence answers the question you have been asked. Don’t do this from memory – take your pencil and POINT to it on the question paper.

Even though you are under severe time pressure, do not just write the essay without constantly referring back to the question you have been asked.

The penalty for missing the topic and writing an irrelevant answer is huge – do not become a victim to this frequent mistake by IELTS candidates.

THE MYTH OF ESSAY TYPES
Too many teachers place far too much emphasis on essay types in the IELTS Writing Test. They will tell you about problem and solution type essays, advantages and disadvantages essays, agree and disagree type essays and so on. This is a real TRAP.

READ THE QUESTION. ANSWER THE QUESTION.

I cannot say this enough. Too many students write essays that are unrelated to at least one part of an essay question because they talk about advantages and disadvantages when that was not the question that was asked.

Here is a very simple example of this. Suppose you were asked this question:

“Some people think that children learn history best from historical television programs. Others believe they can learn best from history websites.
Discuss the advantages of both of these methods and give your own opinion.”

This essay IS NOT asking for advantages and disadvantages. In this question candidates must do three things very, very clearly:

1. Explain some of the benefits of learning history from TV programs
2. Explain some of the benefits of learning history from history websites.
3. Explain clearly which they think is best.

On point 3, candidates MUST give a clear opinion. That opinion might be that it is possible to learn effectively both ways or that one way is better than the other. BUT … it must be a very clear opinion and NOT something like:

“… the issue is so complicated that individuals must make up their own minds about this matter.”

Many students fail to put clear opinions on these types of essays, either not giving an opinion at all, giving a very confusing opinion or stating an opinion unsupported by the essay they have written.

If you read the question carefully, it is very clear what you have to do. DON’T TRY TO REMEMBER PATTERNS for essays. READ THE QUESTION and ANSWER THE QUESTION ASKED.

I promised to show how to write the full introduction today but I have made this slight detour to explain the importance of giving a direct response to the question asked because the way we must write the full introduction is determined by the need to give a direct answer to the question and we will continue this tomorrow.

TASK 2 WRITING – THE INTRODUCTION

We have talked a lot about Task 1 essays over the past 5 weeks or so and I want to take a break for a day or two to mention some very important aspects of Task 2 Writing.

Here is a Task 2 question:

“Some people argue that early marriage is part of traditional lifestyle in some countries and should be respected. Others say it is damaging to young girls and their future.
Discuss both sides of this issue and give your own opinion.”

While there are many ways this question can be answered, the simplest way to achieve a high score is to make sure you give avery clear position right in the introduction.

Look at what the Public Band Descriptors say at Band 7 under Task Response:

“presents a clear position throughout the response”

Given this information, it may not be a good idea to write an introduction like:

“This essay looks at ideas in favour of and against early marriage.”

or

“This essay will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of early marriage and give my opinion.”

or even this, which someone is teaching candidates in Bangkok:

“This essay will look at the pros and cons of early marriage and after our consideration I will give my opinion.”

While these introductions do give a clear position about what the candidate is going to write, none of them make cleat what the candidate believes and this makes the whole essay a little less clear than it could be.

These introduction fail to give a clear opinion in the introduction and the next two paragraphs, if they just list the advantages and disadvantages, may also fail to make it clear where the writer stands.

If the writer then leaves their opinion to the conclusion, it may not be clear at all and this could mean the candidate has not addressed one part of the task and would lead to a Band 5 for Task Response according to the Public Band Descriptors:

“addresses the task only partially”

So what could the writer have done to solve this problem?

One approach might be something like this (second sentence of the introduction):

“While some people may suggest that early marriage is simply a reflection of culture and tradition, this argument fails to take into account the damage and devastation it can cause in the lives of many young girls.”

The very strong language “damage and devastation”, makes it very clear where the writer stands even though they have not written “I think” anywhere.

This also sounds like it is going to be a much more interesting essay to read.

Try it out. Take a position and make it clear. It is not too hard once you get the idea.

NOTE:
This example is really written at a quite high level. Here is a simpler version that also gives a clear opinion:

“While some people may suggest that early marriage is simply a tradition, it is clear that it is unfair to the girl.”

Of course, it does’t matter which side of the argument you take:

“While some people think that early marriage is bad for girls, it is an important part of several traditional cultures and should be respected.”

Both these are simpler than the example above and both give a very clear opinion of where the writer stands.

We will talk more about introductions tomorrow as I would normally advise students to write a 2 sentence introduction where the sentences shown here would actually be the SECOND SENTENCE of the introduction.