If you want to write a great essay for IELTS, then it needs to have a good structure. Fortunately, this is quite easy to do. Whilst IELTS writing is notoriously difficult, producing a competent structure is something you can learn in just a few hours.
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about structuring an IELTS essay. If you want an even more in-depth guide, you can refer to my book, How to Write the Perfect Essay for IELTS, which goes into a lot of detail.
The Importance of Essay Structure
Before we look at how to structure a task 2 essay, we should briefly talk about why we need to do it. This may be obvious to some, but to others it is a mystery.
Essentially, for IELTS you are being marked in four different areas. Each has a basic reason associated with it (although there are many complexities to consider). This is what the IELTS writing band descriptors mean:
|Task Achievement||How well did you answer the question?|
|Coherence and Cohesion||Did you effectively connect your ideas?|
|Lexical Resource||Were your words used correctly?|
|Grammatical Range and Accuracy||Did your words connect to each other correctly?|
Today, we only interested in Coherence and Cohesion, so let’s look at that.
Basically, you need to structure your essay well in order to present your ideas effectively. If you wrote a lot of good ideas with good vocabulary and accurate grammar, you could still get a poor score for Coherence and Cohesion if your ideas were not structured well.
There are some other things to consider for Coherence and Cohesion (transition words, linking of clauses, referencing) but structure is the most basic one and perhaps the most important if you are aiming to score band 6 or 7.
An essay that is not well structured will be hard to read. It will also be the first thing that any reader notices, for it is quite obvious when someone has failed to use proper paragraphs.
The First and Most Basic Thing…
Ok, let’s start at the beginning. The most basic thing about essay structure is…
You need to use paragraphs.
This might be obvious, but actually a large number of people simply don’t know this. They write a huge block of text that has no paragraphs or else they put each sentence as a single paragraph. This is not good and you would not be able to get a good score for your essay if you did this.
At the most basic, you need to divide your essay into about four paragraphs. There are various reasons, but essentially 4-5 paragraphs is optimal. Any more or less would surely have serious problems.
Common IELTS Essay Structures
When it comes to task 2, the vast majority of essays can be adapted to one simple structure:
- Body paragraph #1
- Body paragraph #2
Of course, these paragraphs will be dictated by the topic and content of the essay, but almost every question could be effectively answered with this structure. I have a writing correction service and for it I write sample band 9 answers. I used this four-paragraph structure for 99% of my answers.
Some people prefer to write 5 paragraphs and this can definitely be useful, but it is a little more difficult to do, and so I recommend that you write four paragraphs for your essays except when you have a very good reason to do otherwise. This is discussed in detail here.
Question Types and Essay Structures
The four-paragraph essay structure can essentially be adapted to any IELTS question type:
- Discuss both views
- Two-part questions
It requires some small changes in terms of internal paragraph structure, but overall you can just use the same basic format.
For example, if you were given this question, you could easily use the four-paragraph structure:
Some people feel that manufacturers and supermarkets have the responsibility to reduce the amount of packaging of goods. Others argue that customers should avoid buying goods with a lot of packaging.
Discuss both views and give your opinion.
You would simply structure your essay like this:
|Intro||Introduce the idea of pollution |
Focus specifically on the topic – manufacturers/supermarkets vs average people
State your position
|Body para #1||1st view – it is the responsibility of companies |
Explain why (in detail)
|Body para #2||2nd view – it is the responsibility of average people |
Explain why (in detail)
|Conclusion||Again, give your position |
This time, review the main ideas to explain
For reference, here is my answer to that question:
Sample Band 9 Answer
The problem of pollution is a major one in the modern era, and in the developed world people have been trying to find solutions for several decades. Currently, one of the biggest debates revolves around whether it should be companies or individual people that bear the majority of the responsibility for this improvement. This essay will look at both arguments and conclude that the responsibility should be shared.
To begin with, some people argue that major corporations are responsible for fixing our environmental problems because they have profited from reprehensible crimes against the environment for decades. If these companies suddenly changed to sustainable, eco-friendly products and packaging, consumers could still continue their normal shopping without having so much of a negative effect on the world. This would take away the individual’s choice and thereby ensure that everyone contributes to repairing our planet. However, companies function on profits and generally single-use plastics are cheap, so many of them are reluctant to make the switch.
On the other hand, people can also make a difference. Companies only sell what there is a demand for, and if people start demanding greener products and more responsible corporate actions, then companies will have to comply. If their customers started complaining about or boycotting overly-packaged goods, companies would quickly change to keep the consumer happy. However, sadly not all people care about the environment, and in many parts of the world cost comes first. If we rely entirely upon people to make this choice, there will be no progress. In many parts of the world, people still think it is fine to throw plastic into rivers so they should not be depended upon to make reasonable choices.
In conclusion, both companies and individuals should take an active role in fixing the damage they have done to the world, but neither can be entirely trusted. Everyone should make some positive effort and it would also be helpful for governments to pass laws with serious punishments for offenders who violate environmental regulations.
Structure: Overall and Internal
One important thing to note here is that there are two ways of viewing essay structure for IELTS. The first is to view it as a matter of structuring your overall essay into paragraphs and the second that there are some finer details, such as linking sentences.
Indeed, both of these are very important. I have written extensively about internal structure here. You really need to think carefully about both aspects if you want to get a high score for Coherence and Cohesion. Internal linking is more difficult and it is what you should do once you have mastered the basics of overall essay structure.
For now, it is enough to know that you need to write a good introduction, two body paragraphs, and a conclusion if you want to score at least band 6. You should also consider that your introduction and conclusion should, in almost all cases, be shorter than your body paragraphs. This ensures that the body paragraphs are sufficiently developed. Remember that the purpose of the introduction and conclusion is simply to give basic guiding detail and state your position (if needed).
This video gives a pretty good summary of the requirements of Coherence and Cohesion:
Hey there! Quick question, is it absolutely necessary to use the “outline sentence”? It feels very “I am 10 years old and can’t write a proper thesis statement that actually outlines my essay with the thesis itself.” Is this what you would say is an “official structure”?
No, nothing is really absolutely necessary. However, I would strongly recommend it for IELTS students. It shows a grasp of structure and language, even if, as you say, it may seem rather simplistic in a native speaker’s academic essay.
In learning English writing, I think it’s important students work within a set structure until they have really quite advanced skills, otherwise it tends to turn into a disaster. Giving guides for each sentence is essential. At a certain point they can then break free and try something more complex.