Have you found in your studies that every IELTS instructor is pushing a different writing form on you for your Task 1 and 2 response?
Do you find that IELTS instructors occasionally give you advice that contradicts the advice of another IELTS instructor?
Do you find that IELTS textbooks often contradict each other when describing writing patterns?
Does this leave you feeling utterly confused regarding how to structure your writing on your examination?
You are not alone! I think one of the most common things an IELTS instructor hears from students is either:
(1) ‘Why is your Task 1/Task 2 structure so different from the structure in my textbook?’
(2) ‘My other IELTS instructor told me to do this, why are you telling me to do that?’
What’s important to remember is that the IELTS examination is a measure of a person’s ability to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the English language.
What students often mistakenly get into their heads is the idea that there is a ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to structure (in other words, a single, preset structure that their IELTS examiner is looking for). This is not the case. Examiners are looking for structure, but they know that writing structures vary (for example, many English universities around the world prescribe their own essay structure!). What is most important is how clearly your writing conveys meaning, regardless of what structure you choose to employ.
So does this mean that all structures are equal? No, of course not (I cannot fathom a high-scoring Task 2 essay that only employs 2 paragraphs, for example). But it does mean that structure is only one of many tools the IELTS student is expected to use to demonstrate their ability to express themselves in their writing.
Just as colloquialisms, accents and lexical resources may vary from one English-speaking person to another, so do writing styles. However, what does not vary from one English-speaking person to another is a number of culturally inherent traits that are always present in proper English writing. Today, I would like to focus on just one: coherence.
Coherence refers to the logical ordering of ideas to best express the writer’s meaning. Cultures around the world do this differently. When I lived in Dubai, for example, students told me to best express yourself in Arabic you should write lengthy, artistic sentences and employ plenty of adjectives. In China, Chinese writing instructors tell me formal writing should be organized into thick blocks, with few paragraphs (to avoid detracting from the meaning at hand). In English, however, coherence is best accomplished by writing short, concise sentences and linking them with cohesive phrases. Take the following as an example:
The majority of Canadian people trace their ancestry to various parts of Europe. Although Canadians would never define themselves or their culture as European, most would admit modern Canadian customs bear heavy European influence.
These sentences present ideas concisely and prove a great example of coherence. The meaning is stated simply, in language that is easy to understand. There are no run-on sentences that leave you breathless after reading them. All to often, I see students trying to cram 3 or 4 ideas into a single sentence. Don’t do this! Not only will this lower your essay’s ability to operate as a coherent unit, it heightens your chances of making grammatical errors and will therefore heighten the chance your IELTS examiner will have trouble understanding your meaning.
Keep your writing simple. One idea per sentence is fine. Link each idea with cohesive phrases. Doing these things will make your writing much more coherent and will increase your chances of scoring better on your examination.
So, to wrap up, listen to your IELTS instructor’s advice regarding structure (there is never any harm in knowing more than 1) and focus on writing with the same kind of ‘coherence‘ the English speaking world uses.