Today, I want to share with you an essay I wrote recently that I think is useful to demonstrate some good language and also a strong approach to structure for task 2. This essay deals with the tricky topic of crime and in particular it asks whether criminals are driven by circumstances or whether the criminal mentality is innate.
Analysing the Question
First of all, let’s look at the question. It is important to study it properly in order to give a good answer.
Some think most crime is the result of circumstances e.g. poverty and other social problems. Others believe that most crime is caused by people who are bad by nature.
Discuss both views and give your own opinion.
This is a “discuss both views” question, which means that it is pretty straightforward to understand. There are two views and we need to discuss them both and also give our own opinion:
- Criminals are driven by their circumstances
- Criminals are innately bad people
These two ideas are the ones you should discuss in the body of your essay and you should choose one of the following positions:
- Agree with the first position
- Agree with the second position
- Partially agree with both (ie a balanced view)
Do you need to talk about the example given in the question?
Often, when I mark essays for my IELTS writing correction service, I notice that students devote a lot of their essay to the examples given in the question. However, these are just examples and they are not the whole question. You should not become too fixated upon them.
In this case, the examples are “poverty and other social problems.” You can choose to talk about these or ignore them, but you definitely should not act like these are the main point of the question. They are simply there to illustrate what “circumstances” means.
When it comes to “discuss both views” questions, your structure is pretty easy. I would recommend writing an essay like this:
|Introduce the topic
Give my opinion
|Body paragraph 1
|Discuss one side of the topic
|Body paragraph 2
|Discuss the other side of the topic
|Summarise and reaffirm your position
This is very simple, but of course it is more of a challenge to actually write the essay.
My position in this essay is that crime is generally a result of a person’s circumstances, but that there are some traits that may be innate. I will deal with the innate aspect first, then slightly refute it, before concentrating on the circumstances viewpoint.
My structure will look like this:
|Give a general statement that covers the background of the issue
Outline my essay and give my opinion
|Body paragraph 1
|Topic sentence – some crimes are the result of innate characteristics
Explain this Give an example – violent crimes
Show that this is hard to prove and may overlap with circumstances
|Body paragraph 2
|Topic sentence – link back to previous paragraph but introduce new idea of circumstances as most important
Explain why circumstances are influential
Present compelling detail (poverty)
Example – gangs
Summarise the paragraph for effect
|Briefly review the argument
Re-state my opinion
This essay would fulfil all the necessary criteria for a high band score if written with good vocabulary and grammar.
Picking the Right Vocabulary
I wrote an article recently about the crime and punishment topic in the IELTS exam. I also made this video about the topic to help you learn vocabulary:
In this particular essay, I don’t really need to talk about aspects of punishment, so it is not important to focus on that. Rather, I would look at words related to crime and criminals, and also into ideas about environment and biology.
By those last two words, I mean the issue of nature vs nurture. This refers to whether people are born with certain traits or develop them over their life. It would be good to know about this at even a basic level in order to give a good answer.
Here are some words and phrases from my essay:
- innately bad
- a more liberal approach
- acts of desperation
- hereditary psychological condition
- predilection towards violence
- controversial perspective
- traumatic backgrounds
- criminal compunctions
- impoverished communities
- crime flourishes
- overlook social norms
- empathic perspective
- unfortunate circumstances
You can see how these are used in the following essay.
Sample Band 9 Answer
Throughout history, people tended to believe that crimes were committed by those who were innately bad, but in the modern era a more liberal approach has led to the idea that crimes are often acts of desperation, committed by people whose circumstances are bleak. This essay will explore both perspectives, concluding that the latter is usually true.
First of all, it should be noted that some crimes are committed by people who appear innately driven towards such acts. These people may have some sort of hereditary psychological condition that means they do not feel empathy for others, or a predilection towards violence. This is a controversial perspective and although it feels true for many, it is hard to prove. Many of the most violent criminals have traumatic backgrounds, such as child abuse, neglect, or sexual assault, which suggests that they were not born with their criminal compunctions, but rather that these developed very early, which thus places them more into the circumstances than nature category. However, the lines are blurry.
Certainly, it does seem as though most criminals are created out of difficult circumstances. To understand this, one just has to look at impoverished communities around the world. These are places where crime flourishes because the people there are desperate and forced to do immoral things in order to survive. In such states of despair, people tend to put themselves first and overlook social norms, laws, and the usual empathic perspective that would stop most people from hurting others. In such areas, people tend to be conditioned for a young age to ignore the law or even social decency, joining gangs and becoming influenced by dangerous people. This tends to be a problem due to a lack of resources, opportunities, and education in such areas.
In conclusion, it appears likely that most crime is the result of people’s unfortunate circumstances, meaning that criminals are not inherently bad. However, there may be some people who were born with a certain compunction towards violent or criminal activity.