A note on structuring IELTS Writing Task 2

Recently I have received a lot of questions on how to structure IELTS Writing Task 2 essays.  This is understandable, as getting the essay structure right is essential to scoring well on both the TA and CC components.  I have therefore set out below my thoughts on my preferred structure for short essays.

OK, now look again at my first paragraph above.  I have written a three-sentence paragraph, where each sentence makes a single statement.  The three statements are that I have received a lot of requests, that this is not surprising, and so here is my response.  This is how I suggest you approach your paragraph structure.  Each paragraph presents one main idea, and within the paragraph you say three things about that idea.

If you can’t think of three things to say about an idea, then you should probably try to think of another one.  Conversely, if you have more than three things to say there is no rule that says you can’t right more than three sentences.  Simply be aware that as paragraphs become longer the risk of losing clarity or mixing up tenses becomes greater.

(That was another three-sentence paragraph, by the way)!

Next, we turn to the structure of the overall essay.  As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I strongly recommend using the question itself to structure the essay.  If a question asks me to “discuss both sides and give your opinion” then I will write one paragraph on the first side of the argument, one on the second side of the argument, and one on my own opinion.  Add an introduction and a conclusion, and I have five paragraphs of at least three sentences that will likely add up to at least 250 words.

The only other element that I need to introduce here is a link between the introduction and the conclusion.  I try not to think of my essays as a story travelling in a straight line from beginning to end, but as a circle where the ending relates back to the beginning.  I therefore try to decide what I’m going to write in my introduction and conclusion at the same time.

(I’m sure everyone noticed how many sentences that paragraph had…)

So let’s put this into practice.  One of my subscribers recently sent me an essay for feedback based on the following question:

“Some people think that poverty is the reason behind most crimes.  Do you agree or disagree?”

To begin, I need to ask myself what I think?  My first reaction is that I probably agree with the statement.  I have no idea what the real answer is, and I have no need to look it up – the IELTS examiners do not score the accuracy of your view.  I suspect that the most common type of crime is probably theft, and it seems ok to argue that a lot of theft is motivated by poverty. 

I also think that other crimes may be indirectly related to poverty.  Poverty leads to lack of education and poor health, which in turn denies people the opportunity to enter society.  Such people are probably more likely to engage in violent behavior as a way of expressing their frustration.

So that will be my two paragraphs supporting my view.  I now need an introduction that paraphrases the question, and a conclusion that links back to the introduction.  My two keywords are crime and poverty.  So in the introduction I talk about crime as a social problem, and in the conclusion I talk about how reducing poverty would also help to reduce crime rates.

So now I am ready to write down an essay plan.  I need three points to represent three sentences under each of my four paragraphs.  I sketch them out like this:

Introduction

  • Crime impacts society

  • Paraphrase question

  • In this essay explain why I agree

Reason 1 – Direct

  • Low profile theft most common crime?

  • Such Crime is risky, and will not make you wealthy

  • Prompted by need – produced by poverty

Reason 2 – Indirect

  • Lack of education/healthcare

  • Poverty denies individuals a place in society

  • Contributes to antisocial behavior and violent crime

Conclusion

  • Poverty burden all round world

  • Many are trying to help

  • If they succeed, crime rates may also reduce

So there is the plan.  Now I need to build nice clear sentences with correct grammar.

 

The negative impacts of crime can be detected in every society around the world.  Some argue that the root cause of most crimes is not greed or a propensity for bad behavior, but poverty.  In this essay I will support this view, and show that poverty can in fact be both a direct and indirect cause of crime.  

While murders and bank robberies may dominate the newspaper headlines, the crime of small-scale theft is certainly a far more common occurrence.  Shoplifting and housebreaking are dangerous crimes to commit and are unlikely to bring large rewards to the perpetrators.  The most logical explanation for such behavior is that those involved are are living in deprived circumstances and are forced into criminal activity in order to survive.

Those living in poverty often lack access to formal education and basic healthcare.  People with low levels of education and a poor standard of health are severely disadvantaged, and struggle to find a place in society.  Poverty therefore becomes an indirect cause of violent attack and other crimes, as those deprived of opportunity express their anger and frustration.

Poverty is a burden that far too many people of our world are forced to bear.  It is comforting to know that there are many initiatives to combat poverty in place all over the world.  Those involved in this battle may take encouragement from the fact that if they are successful in reducing the numbers of those living in poverty, it is highly likely that they will also have helped to reduce the rate of crime.

The word count is 258.

In my view the greatest advantage of my approach is that it ensures you have answered the question and developed a structured argument.  This will help you score on TA and CC.  The simpler sentence structure that I use should also help with avoiding the grammatical errors that may impact GRA.

Let me stress again that this is only one of many valid approaches.  I do not claim that my approach is superior, but simply invite you to consider whether it might work for you.

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