Today’s post is in response to a student query from yesterday, about how to structure your IELTS essay, and in particular, the importance of having a strong introduction.
Now I know there is some seemingly contradictory advice from other teachers, online and off, about how exactly to structure your introduction, what to include and what to exclude. I have seen this myself on some other teachers websites, I will not comment on other professionals and their advice, only to say that, just as in all things, there are many ways to achieve a desired result. In your case, a good score for the IELTS. There is no ONE way to do this, no ONLY way, maybe some ways are better than others, but do not be fooled into thinking there is an absolutely cast iron guaranteed method, strategy or tactic to get a high scoring essay. True, according to the criteria, there are certain “ingredients” or “elements” that a high scoring essay should contain, but the actual “mixing” of these ingredients and the way they are presented can take several forms. The “recipe” I want to introduce you to today is one such way, if you use it, you will find that your planning and writing become faster and more efficient as you will know exactly what to do and in what order. I shall outline it here first for your information, then I will turn to the matter of the introduction.
So, to consider the essay in general terms, an essays purpose is to persuade the reader of a position on a topic in a logical manner. The easiest way to get a good score for your essay is to structure it in a clear, easy to follow format that will show the examiner what you think about the question at hand, why you think it, and to give examples and draw conclusions based on what you write. Good essays typically have a four paragraph structure, introduction, body paragraph 1 and 2, followed by a conclusion, while the paragraphs themselves are divided into three or four sentences which have a specific purpose. As an example, consider the structure below, which is for the Agree or Disagree question type.
Paragraph 1 – Introduction
- Sentence 1- Paraphrase of topic
- Sentence 2- Detailed background statement
- Sentence 3- Thesis (your opinion)
- Sentence 4- Outline sentence (what you will say in the body paragraphs)
(This introduction is what I will describe in detail later in this post, but for now, the rest of the structure is as follows).
Paragraph 2 – First supporting paragraph
- Sentence 1- Topic sentence (main idea, you only need two per essay)
- Sentence 2- Example (this need not be true, the examiner will not check)
- Sentence 3- Discussion (elaborate on main idea)
- Sentence 4- Conclusion (what this main idea means in regard to the topic)
And repeat for paragraph 3, or for an alternative
Alternative supporting paragraph 2 and 3
- Sentence 1- Topic sentence
- Sentence 2- Explanation (elaborate on main idea above)
- Sentence 3- Example (need not be true, as mentioned, the IELTS is not a truth test)
- Sentence 4- Concession sentence- (not entirely necessary, this is where you can acknowledge the opposite view, using words such as “However, Despite this, Nevertheless”, etc)
Paragraph 4- Conclusion
- Summary sentence/s (thesis + two main ideas)
- Recommendation or prediction (depending on question type)
This format, should you choose to use it, contains 12 to 15 sentences and should be between 250 to 300 words which is ideal. Other essay types may require a slightly different internal structure, and I shall write about those in due course, but this would do perfectly well for an Agree or Disagree essay question. This has has certain advantages, you will save time thinking and worrying as you already have a structure in mind before you walk into the examination. You will know exactly what to do and write at the level of every sentence, you know, “I need to restate the topic in my own words, I need to express my opinion clearly, and I need to outline what I will write about”, in the case of the introduction. Another thing is that, using such a structure will give you a better score for Cohesion and Coherence which will boost your Task Achievement mark. This is because the format forces you to write a more complete response, which is what the criteria tells you to do.
Consider this example from one of my students. The question was to do with whether eating meat is vital for our general health.
“It is argued that people do not need to eat meat to keep fit. It is agreed that people should not only eat vegetables and fruits, but should also eat meat in order to live a healthy lifestyle. This essay will discuss firstly, the nutritional benefits that meat can bring to people and then, the function it has for the body, such as protecting vital organs; followed by a reasoned conclusion.
Firstly, it could be argued that meat is the key to health when part of a balanced diet as it contains a large portion of minerals, vitamins and protein. For example, athletes eat meat such as beef, chicken and fish on a daily basis and reach the recommended amount set by nutritionists. The rich nutrition it has can speed up the growth of muscles, which helps them achieve good performance in competitions and in other sporting activities.
Moreover, meat also provides people with fat, which protects organs from attack and can save physical energy effectively. Some people may be prone to health problems such as heart disease, although they may not eat meat excessively, since there is no protection for their organs nor sufficient energy to refresh themselves. For example, a person is likely to get back to her or his feet quicker due to the fact that fat can give energy to the body more efficiently after doing physical activities. The person is also less likely to have a heart attack because the heart can be protected effectively during strenuous sports.
In conclusion, eating meat is an essential part of a balanced diet and a regular part of people’s lives. It is recommended that a balanced diet consists of meat,vegetables and fruits in order to meet today’s healthy lifestyle”.
Not too bad, one or two things I would change, but in terms of structure, cohesion and task achievement it is pretty good. You can clearly see the main ideas, the authors opinion, the outline of the essay, and the development of ideas by use of explanations and examples. I hope this will illustrate my point.
Now, to return to the introduction.
So first, why are introductions important, quite simply because it is the first part of your essay the examiner will read, and like going for a job interview for example, first impressions count. Of course, the body paragraphs of the essay are equally important, this is where the “meat” of your ideas are to be developed as fully as possible, as the criteria demand. But we shall look at the introduction and consider the supporting paragraphs at a later date.
The first sentence or two you need to write should be a restatement or paraphrase of the topic, don’t forget, if you use the same words as the question you will be penalised. you can use synonyms of the key words and/or change the the word order around.
Question. “There is a body of evidence which suggests that unrestricted car use is one of the main causes of global warming and has a negative effect on human life and health”
Paraphrase. “One of the most significant causes of ill health among people as well as contributing to rising global temperatures is considered to be an increase in the use of automobiles”
As you see, I have changed some key words and switched a few things around thus demonstrating to the examiner my wide range of vocabulary.
Next we need a thesis statement, your main idea in other words, what you think. You might say.
“In my opinion, the rapid and continued use of the private motor vehicle is a major factor in causing global warming and certain respiratory diseases among human beings”
You can say it in first person (I believe) or third person, (it is agreed), it doesn’t matter, but you must be clear about what your main idea is.
After this, you should write an outline statement. One sentence that tells the examiner what to expect from the rest of the essay, these should be the two main ideas you thought of in your planning of the essay (more on that in a later post).
“This essay will first discuss the greenhouse gases produced by the car, and secondly it will consider how these gases and other toxic emissions are poisoning the atmosphere to the detriment of human health”
Put it all together and you have this.
“One of the most significant causes of ill health among people as well as contributing to rising global temperatures is considered to be an increase in the use of automobiles. In my opinion, the rapid and continued use of the private motor vehicle is a major factor in causing global warming and certain respiratory diseases among human beings. This essay will first discuss the greenhouse gases produced by the car, and secondly it will consider how these gases and other toxic emissions are poisoning the atmosphere to the detriment of human health”
There you have it, a good clear introduction which will hopefully impress the examiner and go some way to getting you off to a good start for the rest of the essay. As I said, this is for the Agree or Disagree essay, there are slightly different structures for the other essays, discuss both views, etc, and I shall write about those on another occasion. As always, any comments or questions, drop me a line and I will do my best to reply.