If you look at IELTS websites and YouTube videos, you might learn that cohesive devices are very important and that you should use as many of them as possible. However, this is incorrect. You should use them when necessary, but you should not overuse them.
Cohesive devices certainly are important for IELTS writing but you should aim to use them sparingly and accurately.
What are Cohesive Devices?
A cohesive device is a word that helps join parts of your essay together. They are also known as linkers, linking devices, transitions, transitional phrases, or signposting language. However, as the IELTS marking rubric refers to them as “cohesive devices,” then I shall also use that term today.
There are different types of cohesive devices because technically any word that joins ideas or clauses is cohesive by nature. However, in most cases we mean conjunctive adverbs. These are words that link two independent clauses in a compound sentence or else introduce an independent clause at the start of a new sentence.
Conjunctive adverbs include:
- As a result
- In conclusion
- On the one hand
Problems with Cohesive Devices in IELTS Essays
Overusing Cohesive Devices
There are various problems that IELTS candidates face when using cohesive devices. The most common problem is overusing them. This is due to a misunderstanding of how English works and the fact that most IELTS tutors say, “Use as many cohesive devices as possible!”
In fact, you should use device devices sometimes in order to logically link parts of your writing, but you should definitely avoid using them too much or your work will sound mechanical and dull. Look at an essay by a native speaker of English. How many cohesive devices do they use? Not many.
The IELTS marking rubric specifically states that you will not score more than band 7 for Coherence and Cohesion if you overuse cohesive devices:
uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately although there may be some under-/over-useBritish Council
You can see how strange it sounds to overuse them in this example:
I have a full lesson on the overuse of cohesive devices here.
Picking the Wrong Cohesive Device
Another problem is that people often pick the wrong cohesive device. This is a bit less common than overusing them, but I still see it pretty frequently when marking essays for my IELTS writing correction service.
Here is an example:
Many people believe that governments should increase taxes on electrical devices in order to fund disposal programmes to ensure that they are recycled. For example, many devices are just thrown away with other trash, contributing to the destruction of the environment.
The problem here is that the cohesive device “for example” is not really appropriate. The second sentence is not actually an example of the first. It is related to the first but it further explains the ideas of the first sentence rather than providing any sort of example. To fix this, we might say:
Many people believe that governments should increase taxes on electrical devices in order to fund disposal programmes to ensure that they are recycled. For example, a small tax levied on all electrical goods could be used to establish drop-off points in easily accessible locations, where electrical goods are collected and sent to specialist sites to be re-used or broken into component parts that can be safely disposed.
Now, the second sentence gives a full example of the idea expressed in the first sentence.
Another commonly misused cohesive device is “meanwhile.” People seem to confuse this with “however” or “therefore.” It really means “at the same time as.” You can see that here:
To solve the trash crisis, we need to take various approaches. Perhaps the most important one is educating people of the damage that they are doing to our planet. Meanwhile, we also need to punish people who drop litter or dump chemicals because we cannot just wait for education to have an impact. That could take years.
In this case, “meanwhile” shows that punishment needs to happen at the same time as education.
Altering the Form of Cohesive Devices
One really common problem is people changing cohesive devices. Perhaps they just misremember them, but sometimes people try to be creative. Unfortunately, these parts of speech should be changed or else they become incorrect.
As you can see from the above picture, it is quite common for people to make an error with “On the one hand… On the other hand…” When you change either of these, the result is an incorrect phrase. There is no way to change them correctly, so don’t bother.
I also see people trying to be creative with other cohesive devices, like “in conclusion” or “for example.” They say things like “to be conclusion” or “for examples.” However, both of these are totally incorrect. Another strange one that I have seen is “first and most of all.”
Informal or Outdates Devices
It is also common to see people misusing cohesive devices by picking really informal ones or really old and unusual ones.
One of the most common mistakes is saying “to recapitulate.” This is a term that almost no native speaker would use nowadays. You can see here on Google that it is no longer a commonly used term:
Unfortunately, many IELTS candidates use this because lots of uninformed teachers tell them that it is a special word to dazzle the examiner.
Similarly, people use phrases like “last but not least.” This is a way of introducing people in spoken English. We might use it to introduce a speaker who has come last in a list of people. It is a comical and friendly way of saying “He’s last but that is just a random order.” It is totally inappropriate for an IELTS essay.
Confusing Types of Cohesive Devices
Another quite common problem is mixing up the different types of cohesive device. I stated earlier that we would focus on conjunctive adverbs in this lesson, but cohesive devices can technically include subordinative conjunctions or coordinating conjunctions. These are different parts of speech with different grammatical rules to govern them.
We use conjunctive adverbs after a period or semi-colon and follow them with a comma, but subordinating conjunctives do not have a comma after them. Conjunctive adverbs link two independent clauses but subordinating ones begin a dependent clause:
INCORRECT: Although, the Earth is warming at an alarming temperature, some people refuse to admit that climate change is real.
CORRECT: Although the Earth is warming at an alarming temperature, some people refuse to admit that climate change is real.
CORRECT: Some people refuse to admit that climate change is real although the Earth is warming at an alarming temperature.
ALSO CORRECT: Some people refuse to admit that climate change is real; however, the Earth is warming at an alarming temperature.
Most Common Cohesive Devices
It is honestly better to stick with standard language. The people who regularly are disappointed by their IELTS results are the ones who try to use fancy language as a means of taking a shortcut. Instead, stick with the most frequently used cohesive devices and make sure that you use them correctly:
- For example
- In conclusion
- As a result
These words and phrases are really useful and can help you to link your ideas logically. Don’t worry about them being “basic” or “boring.” They are important words and as long as you don’t overuse them in your essay then there is no problem.