I was looking through several IELTS Facebook groups recently and I noticed that some bad advice was being given by unqualified people. This is not unusual, as there is a lot of bad advice on Facebook. However, this time I was a little surprised.
Some people had posted their IELTS essays for others to give feedback, and one of them included a screenshot from a bad website that gives you an estimated band score for your IELTS writing. Here is what that website said:
There are many problems with this website and with the feedback that was given by others. One of them is the fact that it judges your writing partly by the number of linking words that you have used. Other commenters said much the same thing. Their general opinion was that the more linking words you use, the higher your score will be.
This is nonsense, of course, and in this article I will talk a little about why it is bad advice.
What are cohesive devices?
Above, I used the phrase linking words because that was what was mentioned in the picture. This is another way of saying “cohesive devices.” They are also known by the following terms:
- transitional phrases
- discourse markers
- linkers/linking words
- signposting language
and probably some other terms.
I am going to use the term cohesive devices because this is was it says in the IELTS marking rubric, and I think that it is important to think about IELTS in the same terms as the people who design the exam.
Essentially, cohesive devices show a relationship between different parts of a sentence, or between different sentences. They help a reader to gain a better understanding of the ideas that you are expressing in your writing, and therefore they are very important.
Here are a few very common cohesive devices that I’m sure you already know:
- in conclusion
- on the one hand
You can actually see quite a wide variety of cohesive devices there, and they all have a different function.
Why are they important for IELTS?
Cohesive devices are incredibly important and being able to use them with accuracy will greatly help improve your IELTS score. The IELTS marking rubric says that in order to get a band 7.0 for Coherence and Cohesion, a candidate must:
- use a range of cohesive devices appropriately although there may be some under-/over-use
For band 8.0 they must:
- manage all aspects of cohesion well
As for band 9.0, candidates should:
- use cohesion in such a way that it attracts no attention
It is important, then, that you learn a wide variety of cohesive devices prior to your IELTS test and incorporate them into your writing. However, pay attention to the quote from the IELTS marking rubric for band 7.0: “there may be some under-/over-use”. That means that you may be missing a few cohesive devices, or maybe you have used too many. These are both common problems. In order to get a band 7.0, you can make this mistake to some extent; however, for a band 8.0 you must be using them much better.
It is quite common, unfortunately, for weak IELTS teachers to tell students to use cohesive devices as much as possible. The result is a passage like this:
- On the one hand, students can visit the canteen during the afternoon in order to meet friends and study together. Consequently, they can become happier and learn more. As a result, they will perform better in their students. However, there are some drawbacks to this situation. For example, students could find themselves spending too much time there. Clearly, this is fraught with problems. For one thing, they might not visit the library as much as they should. Therefore, efforts should be made to ensure that students don’t over-use the facilities.
Putting aside the more common cohesive devices such as coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), we can see these conjunctive adverbs used at the beginning of each sentence. They are very useful for informing the reader of the meaning of the sentence or its relation to the previous sentence, but this is a clear case of over-use. It would be better to write a paragraph like this:
- Students can visit the canteen during the afternoon in order to meet friends and study together. Consequently, they can become happier and learn more, which will cause them to perform better in their students. However, there are some drawbacks to this situation, such as finding themselves spending too much time there. Clearly, this is fraught with problems like not visiting the library as much as they should. Therefore, efforts should be made to ensure that students don’t over-use the facilities.
With some of the cohesive devices removed, the paragraph sounds much more natural.
I would recommend that IELTS students pick up a serious work of non-fiction, such as an academic journal article or even a news report from a respectable publication, and look at how many cohesive devices there are. There won’t be many. Native speakers, and in particular professional writers, use cohesive devices only when necessary. They will use them when they are needed to show the relationship between different ideas or sentences.
To summarize, your IELTS essays should include cohesive devices because they can help the reader to better understand your precise meaning. However, you should avoid using them too much or too little.
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