IELTS Writing: Should I Write 4 or 5 Paragraphs?

If you’ve been studying IELTS for a long time, you’ll see certain teachers and textbooks recommending one structure or another. Generally, what they suggest is something like this:

  • Introduction
  • 2-3 body paragraphs
  • Conclusion

That’s it. Pretty simple, right?

Well, some students ask, “Should I write 4 or 5 paragraphs?” because they want to know which is best. When they look at model essays by IELTS examiners, they see both kinds of essay, but wonder why.

Why Do Paragraphs Matter?

Paragraphs are important in writing essays because they break down your ideas into convenient sections that a reader can easily understand. Imagine if a 250 word IELTS task 2 essay was just one whole block of text!

As such, there are certain basic writing conventions like introductions and conclusions, and the notion that one paragraph should contain one idea. All of this makes it easier for a writer to give clear information, and for a reader to understand it.

In IELTS, you should follow these ideas. Remember that the IELTS writing test is marked according to four sections:

  • Task Achievementrubric 300x213 - IELTS Writing: Should I Write 4 or 5 Paragraphs?
  • Coherence and Cohesion
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Paragraphing falls under “coherence and cohesion”, meaning that the IELTS examiner will be judging your overall English ability on this skill.

Being able to use paragraphs “sufficiently and appropriately” would get you a band 8.0 for this part of the exam, so it is super important!

Note:

Ok, here’s a little bit of advice. Learning grammar is super hard, but learning essay structure is easy! You could study grammar for five years and still struggle with it, but you could learn essay structure in just one day! Now consider that both of these are worth 25% and you can understand why it’s so important to get good at structuring.

4 v 5 Paragraphs: Which is Better?

Ok, let’s look at the merits and problems with each of these approaches to writing a task 2 IELTS essay.

The 4-Paragraph Structurestructure 1 300x210 - IELTS Writing: Should I Write 4 or 5 Paragraphs?

A four-paragraph essay is going to look like this:

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph 1
  • Body paragraph 2
  • Conclusion

Your body paragraphs will be chosen according to the question type. You may, for example, have one paragraph about advantages and another about disadvantages. You may have a paragraph about problems and another about solutions. However, there will always be two body paragraphs, and each should contain a different idea.

Here is an example of how it could be used:

The best way to travel is travel in a group led by a tour guide.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this statement?

You could structure a 4-paragraph essay like this:

  • Introduction – restate the question, outline essay
  • Para #1 – state counterpoint, explain why I disagree
  • Para #2 – reason why independent travel is good, explain
  • Conclusion

Here is my sample answer:

Nowadays, more people are travelling around the world and some of them choose to do it in tour groups. There are various reasons why they travel like this, but others strongly disagree with this method of tourism, and instead prefer to travel alone, or with a smaller group, such as friends or family. This essay will argue that independent travel is preferable to guided tours.

There are many reasons why people prefer to travel in groups. Some of the most common reasons are that it is cheaper, more convenient, and you are guided by an expert who will speak your language and be able to give you important information. This is mostly true, but it also creates an artificial environment by alienating the travellers from the place they visit. Tourists in large groups are surrounded primarily by other tourists, taken to pre-arranged locations, and given access only to what the tour suggests. They are therefore losing out on many experiences available to those who travel more freely.

People who travel by themselves are able to choose their own itinerary and, if they like, change that itinerary according to their preference. For example, say they decided to travel through the islands of Thailand. They may really enjoy one island and decide to stay there for longer, rather than stick to the original schedule. Moreover, their experience will be more authentic as they are able to converse with the locals and explore a place naturally.

Some people may argue that getting lost or having translation issues are problems that would ruin a holiday, but on the contrary, they provide adventure and experience. Guided travel certainly makes travel easier, but it doesn’t make it better.

Pros and Cons

In the above example, I was able to take the two ideas – being for or against tour groups – and devote a paragraph to each. This is a really simple way of structuring an essay, yet it is almost always effective. On the other hand, it could sometimes be limiting. Certain types of question, like problem/solution or the two-part question, may work out better with a 5-paragraph structure.

On the other hand, the four-paragraph structure may allow for more development within the paragraph, thereby showing a greater ability to expression your ideas. For example, you could:

  • State an advantage
  • Explain
  • Give an example

Whereas, with the time and space constraints, this may be harder to do with five paragraphs.

The 5-Paragraph Structure

The five-paragraph structure is more complex than the four-paragraph structure, but it needn’t be much more difficult to use. Here’s an example of how it may appear:

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph 1
  • Body paragraph 2
  • Body paragraph 3
  • Conclusionstructure 2 300x210 - IELTS Writing: Should I Write 4 or 5 Paragraphs?

As you see, this allows us to include more ideas in the body of the paragraph, which has both advantages and disadvantages, as we shall see.

I will write another plan and essay based upon the same question above:

  • Introduction – restate the question and outline essay
  • Para #1 – arguments for group travel
  • Para #2 – 1st argument against group travel, explain
  • Para #3 – 2nd argument against group travel, explain
  • Conclusion

As you can see, this allows me to more clearly divide my arguments, rather than condense two ideas into one paragraph.

Here’s my 5-paragraph essay:

Nowadays, more people are travelling around the world and some of them choose to do it in tour groups. There are various reasons why they travel like this, but others strongly disagree with this method of tourism, and instead prefer to travel alone, or with a smaller group, such as friends or family. This essay will argue that independent travel is preferable to guided tours.

The reasons why people prefer guided group tours are numerous. Many people prefer this means of travelling because it is often cheaper, more convenient, and allows them access to a knowledgeable guide who can help them understand the area better. However, although these reasons are mostly true, there is more to be gained by travelling alone or in a small, independent group.

For one thing, travelling alone allows a greater degree of freedom. If you arrange your own itinerary, you can go where you like and even choose to change this according to circumstances. For example, if you are travelling the islands around Thailand, you may find one that is better than the others and choose to spend more time there.

In addition, the experience of travelling without a tour guide is more authentic. Arranged tours usually take people to the most common destinations, where you only see the same things that other tourists see. You seldom get to see the authentic life of people in that place. Even if it is more difficult, it is better to explore independently than be guided.

In conclusion, although there are many apparent benefits to travelling in large guided groups, it is preferable to travel independently. Chief among the reasons in favour of this mode of travel are the freedom and authenticity they provide.

Pros and Cons

The five-paragraph structure may seem harder to construct, and perhaps it is, but it is not much more difficult than the four-paragraph structure. Perhaps paradoxically, it can make structuring easier because, instead of condensing various arguments into a single paragraph, you can instead add a second argument to an additional paragraph. Then again, it is easier to include too many ideas or even to stray off topic with more paragraphs. Make sure to plan carefully and choose your arguments before you begin writing.

3 300x210 - IELTS Writing: Should I Write 4 or 5 Paragraphs?

Conclusion

So which is the better structure to use for your essays?

The answer is… it’s a personal choice.

Remember, there is no one perfect way of writing an essay. Different people will have different methods.

To be honest, both 4- and 5-paragraph essays are completely fine to use in the IELTS writing task 2. As long as you use the structures correctly, either one could get you a band 7.0 or even higher. The important thing is that you plan your essay carefully and don’t go off-topic.

Don’t worry about word length, either. Look at my example essays above. The 5-paragraph essay is only a few words longer than the 4-paragraph essay!

However, I would say that since the 4-paragraph structure is slightly easier to use, it has my recommendation.

Video

I made this post into a video, which I just uploaded to YouTube. Maybe it makes things easier to understand. Please subscribe to my channel and LIKE the video – it would be really, really helpful to me! Thanks so much. I appreciate all my readers and viewers.

Some Final Words of Advice

In my IELTS classes, I almost always teach my students to use the four-paragraph structure. This is because it is easier and, to be honest, there is little more that you could do with a five-paragraph structure.

There are some occasions when a five-paragraph structure is better. I would suggest that you consider it for two-part questions or maybe even problem and solution questions; however, in most cases there is little difference between the two.

I could write a band 9.0 answer to any IELTS question using the four-paragraph structure. It would be a little more difficult to do it with the five-paragraph structure, but not impossible, and not much more difficult.

Therefore, choose whichever style you find best, and practice that often. Seek feedback from qualified IELTS trainers, then repeat your process in your IELTS exam.

One final word of warning: You really don’t ever need to write more than 5-paragraphs. I would be surprised to hear of anyone getting a high band score with six or seven or eight paragraphs. Likewise, just having three would also be a bad idea. Stick to 4 or 5 and you will be fine.

Author: David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult' and the founder/editor of Beatdom literary journal. He lives and works in rural China, and loves to travel. He has worked as an IELTS tutor since 2010, has completed both TEFL and CELTA courses, and has a certificate from Cambridge for Teaching Writing. In 2018, he wrote the popular IELTS handbook, Grammar for IELTS Writing. His other IELTS website is called IELTS Teaching.

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