Part 3: The Details

In Task 1 the candidate must describe the main features of the data.

We will look at the theory first and then see how it applies to the graph we looked at in the previous two posts.

If you understand the principle of how these questions must be done, you will be able to do anything you are given.

Look at the Public Band Descriptors at Band 7:

  • clearly presents and highlights key features
  • logically organises information and ideas

Look at the Public Band Descriptors at Band 6:

  • presents and adequately highlights key features

and finally at Band 5:

  • recounts detail mechanically
  • there may be no data to support the description
  • presents, but inadequately covers, key features
  • there may be a tendency to focus on details
  • presents information with some organisation but there may be a lack of overall progression

What does all this mean?

Band 7 and 5 tell us the most:

Candidates MUST:

  1. organize the data into some logical grouping so it can show a clear progression
  2. use the data to illustrate what they say about the key points
  3. report the MAIN features and NOT every little detail

This means that the first thing to do is look for the trends and see if the data can be grouped some way. There is no single right way to group data. There are two possible approaches that will work most of the time:


Look for

  1. what is increasing
  2. what is decreasing
  3. what stays (approximately) the same or has some eratic behaviour like increaing and then decreasing or decreasing and then increasing


Look for:

  1. what has a high value
  2. what has a low value
  3. what has some medium value or erratic value

This will allow you to group data together in some logical manner. If you do that, you are already way above Band 5 and possibly Band 6 if you get this right.

Let us apply this to the graphs below:

Actually, we have already done most of the work because we realized there were 3 important features when we looked at the overview.

We will use the METHOD 1: increasing, decreasing, stays the same.

  1. What is increasing? unemployment in Japan
    Please note: Japan is NOT increasing, it is not expanding, it is not getting bigger, Japan does not change; it is the UNEMPLOYMENT RATE  in Japan that is increasing. (Writing "Japan is increasing ..." is like waving a red flag at the examiner saying give me Band 5).
  2. What is decreasing? unemployment in the US
  3. What stays the same? well, nothing all the time, BUT at the end of the period they BOTH stay the same

Now put these three parts together into three body paragraphs.

"In detail, the percentage of the people who were unemployed in the US began at 7% in March 1993, when it was actually at its peak, and then it fell fairly steadily until around March 1997, when it reached about 5.4%. After this, the rate fluctuated around 5%.

The situation in Japan was almost the reverse of this. In March 1993, the unemployment rate shot up sharply from 2.5% to 3%, which amounts to a rise of 20% over a very short period of time. Although unemployment did not continue to increase at this pace, the number of people who were out of work continued to increase steadily until it hit its peak value during 1998, when it was 5% of the total workforce.

In the final 12 months from from 1998 to March 1999, even though the US and Japan had started the study period with very different unemployment rates, both countries experienced an unemployment rate which was almost the same at approximately 5%."

There is a lot more to say about the way we have structured these paragraphs but this is already long so we will leave until next time.

Notice that I have left out all the minor detail EXCEPT the sharp rise in the unemployment rate in Japan at the very start. I did this because this change actually represented a 20% rise in a very short period of time, which makes it an interesting, though perhaps, minor feature of the data.

So, I have written about 200 words (a little long) and I have FIVE paragraphs!

Does this matter?

In my opinion, coming from writing for newpapers and magazines, it does not. Each paragraph has a different point to make and that is the reason they were invented. They help to make your writing clear.

If you don't like short paragraphs you can combine the introduction and overview into a single paragraph and then combine all the detail into another paragraph, so you would finish with a 2 paragraph essay. That would be fine.

Some teachers will tell you to put the overview at the end so it serves as a conclusion. That is also fine. This is a short esssay and examiners are not looking for a conclusion so you don't have to write one, but the overview sentence could be used to round off the essay.

There is no rule about where the overview goes, but if you leave it out, you will be scored maximum Band 5 for Task Achievement - the Public Band Descriptors are very clear about this.