IELTS Writing Task 1 – Describing trends

by Ryan

I am often surprised at how IELTS students lack the basic ability to describe trends. A trend is simply the direction of data, usually occurring over a period of time. In the event we are given a data source on our IELTS examination that presents trends (as in, for example, graphs, charts or tables), we must be able to describe what is going on accurately.

Thus, in this post I’d like to review a few phrases we can use to describe trends. To get us started, let’s look at this graph:

Sleeping patterns among British males (2009)

Here, we can see a graph outlining the number of hours of sleep the average British male (of varying ages) received in 2009.

For those of you who have read my Task 1 ebook, you know that our first step is to identify the broad, minor and minute details depicted in this data source. Broadly speaking, the above graph appears to show a slight decline in daily sleeping hours between British youth and the elderly. The minor trends appear to be threefold: (1) a decline between a British male’s teenage years and twenties, (2) a leveling between their twenties and forties and (3) a gradual rise between their forties and old age. We should also note that the last figures in the graph (denoting sleeping patterns in old age) are lower than those present at the beginning of the graph (denoting adolescent sleeping patterns). Minute details would include all of the precise figures that make up the data presented. For example, the adolescent sleeping figure of ’9.2 hours per night’ would be considered a minute detail. In this graph, we are given 6 minute details. Minute details should only be included in our IELTS Task 1 response to help emphasize a key point in the trend presented (this is usually a change in the direction of the trend, the beginning of the trend or the end of the trend).

OK, in our analysis above, we used the following words to describe the overall trend of this graph: decline, leveling and gradual rise. How else could we say these trends?

decline: slight drop, modest reduction, light fall, slide, depresses to
leveling: reaches a plateau, hits its lowest point, remains steady at, remains stable, unwavers, without variation
gradual rise: slight recovery, modest gain, lightly inflates to, increases modestly

To show some of this in action, we could summarize the entire trend depicted in this source as:

The adolescent figure of 9.2 daily hours of sleep experiences a modest reduction as a British male moves into his twenties. This new sleeping pattern is slightly less than 8 daily hours of sleep and remains stable until a man reaches his mid-forties, when his daily sleeping duration increases modestly by perhaps 30 minutes or so.

Here, we can see some of these new trend-describing phrases in action (I’ve bolded them). This piece is further helped by certain keywords that make the various ideas presented work together cohesively (notably: ‘This new sleeping pattern’).

Hope that helps some of you better outline the data you are presented in the Task 1 section of your examination! For those of you interested in my Task 1 ebook, you can pick it up from my website here.

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