Today, you are going to learn how to put examples in an IELTS essay. Specifically, this will be a task 2 essay because you won’t need examples in a task 1 report or letter.

We will cover a few things here. Firstly, I will explain why you ought to include examples. Then, I’ll talk about picking appropriate examples. Finally, we will look at the language used for giving examples in an essay.

Table of Contents

Why do we need examples?

In an IELTS essay, you might want to include examples as a way of better explaining something. Whether you are giving your opinion or discussing an idea, examples are often a handy way of showing development, which is critical for a good Task Response score.

Let’s say you have to write an essay about animal experimentation. You might want to explain that animal testing cannot be justified, so one of your paragraphs might be structured this way:

SentencePurpose of sentenceText
1State the opposing viewThe people who believe that animal testing is necessary tend to say that there are serious benefits to humanity, such as testing medicines before using them on human beings.
2Explain furtherThey believe that this will help to figure out the cures to many serious illnesses, which will make the world a better place for humans.
3Give your opinionHowever, this is wrong for several reasons.
4Main reason supporting your opinionChief among them is the fact that animal testing is not as helpful in developing medicines as people think.
5Clarify thisMedicines that work on animals do not always work on humans, and vice versa.
6Explain furtherAs such, these trials are not just unnecessary but also profoundly unhelpful.
7Give exampleFor example, if scientists give a mouse diabetes and then try various drugs to cure the problem, they may find that there are twelve drugs that do not work on the mouse.
8Develop exampleHowever, maybe one of those drugs would have worked on a human.
9Concluding sentenceAs such, animal testing would have caused more problems than it solved.

Look at sentence #7.

Why did I add this?

Well, I had previously explained my perspective in a clear way, but to make it even easier for the reader to understand (as well as making a more convincing argument), I can add an example.

Examples often illuminate a concept in a clear way. They help people to understand abstract or challenging ideas better. In the above case, I had explained my opinion logically but by giving a concrete idea – something that the reader could imagine – I have made it more likely that they will understand and agree with me.

(You can read the full essay and an explanation here.)

Also, let’s consider what the examiners actually want. Note the highlighted part of this sample question from IDP:

This quite clearly shows that you are meant to provide examples. The band descriptors provided by the British Council also show that it is necessary for a candidate to “support” their ideas in order to get a good score. To get band 8, a candidate’s ideas must be:

relevant, well extended and supported.

What makes a good example for an IELTS essay?

A good example in an IELTS essay should be:

  1. Relevant
  2. Realistic
  3. Intelligent
  4. Carefully placed

Those are the most important facts. Let’s look at each.

  1. Relevant. Above, I gave an example that illuminated my main point. I wanted to show why animal testing can be flawed, so I created a hypothetical mouse being subjected to testing for diabetes drugs. This perfectly illustrated the point, so it is relevant.
  2. Realistic. A lot of people make up examples because of course you cannot do research in the middle of the IELTS exam. This is fine but please keep it realistic. For example, you may be asked about climate change. If you said “a recent study shows that 90% of the world will be underwater in 10 years,” then it is not very credible.
  3. Intelligent. Although your answers for IELTS writing do not need to display any sort of technical expertise, you do need to display some sort of critical thinking ability. Thus, whilst you don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of history or technology, you should be able to draw upon some reasonable examples or invent one that sounds believable. These should be logically tied to your main idea and fit nicely into your essay.
  4. Carefully placed. Your example should come at just the right point in your essay. Where is that? Well, it depends on your essay. Each one is different. Typically, you would state a main point, explain it, and then add an example but there are other ways to do this. Just be logical and use an example for a sensible purpose. This will help you get a better score for Coherence and Cohesion.

Here, we can see the two body paragraphs of an essay about reliance on technology.

You can see that both paragraphs include an example but they are included differently. The first does not use the words “For example” or “To illustrate.” It just gives the example subtly. The second uses more formulaic language but it introduces the example in a more interesting place. This is because I wanted to incorporate the example in my explanation rather than illustrate the explanation entirely by following it with an example.

As you can see, there are various ways to do this effectively!

Can you make up examples?

Yes, you can use invented examples but keep in mind that they must be realistic. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Make up an example that is easily within the realm of possibility. For example, you might cite a study that does not exist but as long as your claims are realistic, it doesn’t matter. No one is going to check.
  2. State clearly that it is a hypothetical example. Again, you can use my mouse/diabetes example from the above table. I used the word “if” to show that it was an imagined example situation.

Try to avoid saying anything that is obviously fake or unbelievable. This would reduce the credibility of your argument.

Can I use personal examples?

You can use personal examples in an IELTS essay, but these tend to be more common in lower-scoring essays. Of course, for these you could easily make up an imaginary brother or friend to illustrate a situation.

It all depends on the situation, of course. If you are asked about a broad societal question, an example such as “my brother thinks…” does not really demonstrate any sort of capacity for serious thinking. Thus, you can do it but it’s not a great idea.

On the other hand, if you are asked about families or other daily or personal topics, you could definitely give your relatives as examples.

What language is used for giving examples?

There are different ways to introduce an example. The most common one is to say “For example…” and then state the example. Many people think this is “too basic,” but there’s no such thing. As long as you don’t use it repeatedly, you’re fine.

Other phrases to introduce examples include:

  • To give an example
  • For instance
  • To give but one example (=this implies that you are giving one but that there are many other possible examples)
  • As an illustration
  • To illustrate

It’s also quite possible to just subtly weave an example into the passage without this sort of formulaic language. Let’s take a sample passage:

  • There are many everyday items that are used once and then thrown away, adding to the pollution in our seas. For example, plastic bags and soda bottles routinely end up flowing from rivers into the oceans.

This passage used “for example.” We could also have just said:

  • There are many everyday items that are used once and then thrown away, adding to the pollution in our seas. Plastic bags and soda bottles routinely end up flowing from rivers into the oceans.

Now I have included an example but without saying “For example…”

Note that I could also use “such as…” This requires slightly different grammar, though:

  • There are many everyday items, such as plastic bottles and bags, that are used once and then thrown away, adding to the pollution in our seas.

A final note is that the phrase “For example” can be placed at different points in a sentence:

  • For example, plastic bags and soda bottles routinely end up flowing from rivers into the oceans.
  • Plastic bags and soda bottles, for example, routinely end up flowing from rivers into the oceans.
  • Plastic bags and soda bottles routinely end up flowing from rivers into the oceans, for example.

Common mistakes

Let’s now look at a few common mistakes people make when putting examples into their IELTS essays:

  1. Too many examples. Having one or two examples in an essay is fine but you definitely don’t want to include many more than that. Remember that an example is used to illuminate a point but it should not be used as a shortcut. Learn how to explain an idea and then back it up with an example rather than using examples in lieu of a thorough explanation.
  2. Irrelevant examples. I quite often see irrelevant examples in IELTS essays when doing my writing correction service. Basically, there is a logical disconnect between the previous statement and the given example.
  3. Unclear examples. Sometimes people just don’t explain things clearly, so the example given may seem irrelevant or confusing. This is often not because it’s a bad example but rather the example or the previous point had been poorly explained.
  4. Poor grammar. People sometimes make grammatical mistakes when adding an example. This happens because they do not understand the part of speech used to introduce the example or they forget that the example may have to be a full clause.