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Opinion and argument essays

Opinion and argument essays

There are of course more ways than one of writing an essay. In practical terms, however, in the IELTS exam there are two main types of essay structure available. These are the:

argument essay
opinion essay

You need to be familiar with and practise both types of essay for the exam so that you can answer any question.

How are they different?
The two essay types both use many of the same writing techniques such as coherence and cohesion. The differences are found in how they are structured, with differences in the introduction, main body and conclusion.

The argument essay:
The introduction restates the question as a problem to be discussed and solved in the course of the essay.

Typically, it will summarise both sides of the argument and then state that both these positions will be discussed in the essay with a view to drawing a conclusion.

There are typically two balanced paragraphs stating, explaining and exemplifying both sides of the argument.

The conclusion comments on both sides of the argument and gives the writer's personal opinion about the topic and reasons for that opinion.

The opinion essay in summary:
The introduction restates the question and then gives the writer's personal opinion and the main reason for holding this opinion.

There may be two or three content paragraphs, each stating, explaining and exemplifying a different reason for the writer's opinion.

The conclusion typically summarises the reasons for the writer's personal opinion.

Two sample essays
Read through the two sample essays and note how one main difference between them is that the opinion/answer comes in the introduction in the opinion essay, whereas in the argument essay it comes in the final paragraph as a conclusion.

Why choose an argument essay
Argument essays can often easier to write because
  1. you already have the two ideas you need to write your essay: "I agree" and "I disagree" - all you need to do is find some reasons for and against together with examples to illustrate.
  2. the second content paragraph can mirror the language of the first paragraph and so make the writing process more efficient
  3. the conclusion is easy to write: you give your personal opinion and comment on the arguments on both sides - it is the answer to the essay task
Choose this type of essay if the question tells you to discuss both sides of an issue.

Why choose an opinion essay
These tend to be more challenging to write because
  1. you may need more ideas and it is easy to start repeating ideas and language in your content paragraphs
  2. there is also a danger of repeating yourself in the conclusion if you use it to summarise your arguments
Sometimes, however, you cannot think of any reasons on the other side of the argument, but only for or against. In this case, it makes sense to choose an opinion based essay.

Choose this type of essay if the question does not contain a contentious issue.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009 | 0 comments |
IELTS writing - Task 1 report- describing numbers

IELTS writing - Task 1 report- describing numbers

Part of the skill in task 1 writing is dealing with numbers. With a pie chart, line graph or table you need be able to summarise the key details: to do this you need the language of numbers, as you should not simply write out all the numbers - it is a summarising task. This can be surprisingly complex to do as the figures in most task 1 exercises are not “simple figures” but rather more complex

How to describe differences accurately

40 is double is 20, but what about 42 and 20? Or 30 and 88?

These are the sort of “complex figures” you may need to describe in the exam and the examiner is looking for an accurate description of just this type of numbers. What you need to do is compare the numbers. Here is some helpful language for you: it is important that you have some variations here

Basic meaning








more or less

more than


just over

less than


just under





So 40 is exactly double 20

42 is approximately double 20

30 is just over a third of 88

More language of numbers

To do this well, you need some mathematical language too:

simple language

simple figures

complex language

complex figures



approximately double the amount




twice as many people


three times


over three times as many people


four times


nearly four times as many people




about half the amount of televisions


a third


precisely a third of the televisions


a quarter


almost a quarter of all televisions


a fifth


just over one fifth of all televisions


a fraction


a small fraction of students




a significant percentage of students



similar to %

a large proportion of students



A test

How well can you work with number language? Try this brief quiz to find out.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009 | 1 comments |
IELTS vocabulary - a brief introduction

IELTS vocabulary - a brief introduction

Vocabulary is crucial for IELTS. Yes, you do need grammar, but equally you need a good range of vocabulary. The difficulty is that learning vocabulary takes time and it is important to note that there are definite techniques to learning vocabulary.

How to learn vocabulary
Vocabulary does not learn itself. To learn efficiently you need to adopt certain strategies. These will depend on your general circumstances, current language level and learning style. However, many students are unaware of the best procedures, to find out more go to How to learn vocabulary recommended

The general advice is "little but often". Learning vocabulary is best seen as a long-term project.

Key vocabulary areas for IELTS
The Academic Word List
These are the 550 words that appear most frequently in academic texts. You will need to be able to use these words for the exam.
Academic Word List - contains an introduction to the AWL with a video tutorial.

Task 1 writing vocabulary
Language to describe graphs
Cause and effect language

Essay vocabulary
IELTS essay vocabulary

Topic vocabulary
To do IELTS well, you need to master a range of vocabulary in the key topic areas commonly questioned in the exam.

Sunday, May 24, 2009 | 0 comments |
IELTS writing - paragraph coherence

IELTS writing - paragraph coherence

One form of coherence is coherence within a paragraph. To achieve this you need to learn how to structure a paragraph with a topic sentence and to develop that sentence through the appropriate use of explanations and examples. In this post I am going to suggest a possible model to help you do this by teaching you to PEE - something everyone should be able to do quite naturally.

Understanding paragraph coherence - topic sentences - think reading

In the IELTS reading exam, one very familiar task is to identify the main topic of a paragraph by selecting the correct heading from a list. One way to complete that task is to identify one sentence that gives the main point of the paragraph - this is the topic sentence. Your goal in the writing paper is to ensure that each of your paragraphs contains a similar topic sentence. Learn how to write by thinking about reading.

Paragraph coherence - expanding the topic - think speaking

You can also learn to write by thinking about speaking. In the speaking exam, one of the goals is not to give very brief answers, but to give extended answers. In the writing the same applies: it is important to expand on the topic to show you have sufficient vocabulary and grammar to say what you want. The mistake is to write very short paragraphs or paragraphs which contain unrelated points. You should note that the question almost invariably contains these words:

"You should use your own ideas, knowledge and experience and support your arguments with examples and relevant evidence."

If you do support what you say with evidence and examples, your writing will become coherent.

A model - P-E-E (point, explain, example)

One way to expand your topic sentences is to

make the point (P)
explain it (E)
give an example (E)

This is not the only way to be coherent, but it is a good model to folllow in the context of an exam essay.

Some examples

Read through these three paragraphs taken from different IELTS essays and note how they all have a similar structure.




This is a pattern you can follow in most essays to give coherence to your writing by expanding on one point. I will add that this just a model guideline, it isn't a rule. There will be times when you do not use examples for instance.

There are those who argue that the internet has had an extremely positive influence on communication. They say this because in the past it was sometimes impossible to call people in other countries on the telephone, but now it is relatively simple to use a program such as Skype to talk to them for free or to send an email. A good example here are the students who go to study abroad and are able to send messages home with no difficulty, when in past they would have had to buy stamps and go to the post office which was much harder and more expensive.

A strong argument can of course be made from the opposite position. Part of this argument is that countries and nations need to preserve old buildings in order to preserve their heritage. In addition, however, to this cultural argument, there are positive economic benefits in preserving old buildings. An illustration here is Egypt once again, a country which depends on tourism for much of its national income simply because visitors pay to come from other countries to visit its ancient sites.

There are several reasons why it can be argued that television has a negative effect on cultural development. Perhaps the principle argument is the lowbrow nature of many programmes, particularly sitcoms and soap operas. People who watch these programmes do not learn anything, they are simply entertained. The other major argument is that because people watch so much television, they no longer take part in more traditional forms of cultural entertainment. An example here is how traditional dancing and music is becoming much less popular because people are staying at home to watch the television.

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | 0 comments |
IELTS writing - cohesion - a brief introduction

IELTS writing - cohesion - a brief introduction

Cohesion is how sentences and parts of sentences link together. It matters because if your sentences are cohesive, your writing becomes easier to read and you become able to write more sophisticated English by linking ideas together. More than that, it is an important factor in how your writing is graded.

How does it work?
There are a variety of ways to make your writing more cohesive, here are a few ideas:

conjunctions: these are the words like and and but
pronouns: pronouns (it, they, this and that etc) are generally linking words as they link back to nouns
vocabulary: another way to link is to use the same or similar word again.

How to do it?
There is no easy answer to this question. However, one very useful piece of advice is to make sure that each sentence starts with a reference back to the previous sentence. Look at this example:

There are many people who claim that global warming is the most significant threat facing us today. They argue this because it is a danger not just to the current generation, but also to the generations to come. Indeed, it is this threat to our future that is of most concern. For instance, some research shows that one effect of global warming might be there will not be enough food to feed the world in the near future. If that did happen...

If we look at how this links together, we see:

many peoplethey (pronoun)
that global warming is ...this (pronoun)
claimargue (synonym)
not justbut also (a matching pair)
current generationgenerations to come (repetition)
a dangerthis threat (pronoun + synonym)

Indeed (linking phrase for further explanation)
generations to comefuture
global warmingglobal warming (repetition of technical phrase)
there will be not enough foodthat (pronoun)

A common mistake
One very common mistake is to overuse certain linking phrases such as "furthermore" and "moreover". This can be a problem because they are frequently misused: and to link badly is no better than not linking at all. A secondary problem is that by only using such phrases, candidates forget to use pronouns (especially "this") for linking.

Open the document in the box below and read through the exercise. There are two texts there. Which one do you prefer? Be careful, the better (and more cohesive text) may not necessarily be the text with the most obvious linking words.

Cohesion exercise - Get more Business Documents

Now check your answers.

Cohesion - answer sheet - Get more Business Documents

Cohesion Vocabulary
Read through the sample language in the text below to see how you can make your writing more cohesive.

cohesion in IELTS essays - Get more Business Documents

Saturday, May 23, 2009 | 0 comments |