I have written many times about structure on this website, but mostly I have focused on task 2. Today, however, I am going to take some time to show you how to structure IELTS writing task 1 essays. This often seems like a mystery but in fact it is quite simple and you can usually follow a pretty basic template.

I am going to divide this lesson into two parts. First, we will deal with the IELTS Academic exam and then we will look briefly at the IELTS General exam because these require different structures. Also, keep in mind that IELTS academic writing includes line graphs, pie charts, bar charts, maps, and more, so each of these might require some changes to the essay structure.

IELTS Academic Writing Task 1 Structure

When you do IELTS academic writing task 1, you may find yourself presented with one (or more) of the following:

  • Line graph
  • Bar chart
  • Pie chart
  • Table
  • Process diagram
  • Map

These require quite different language but generally you can apply a similar essay structure to all of them. Whether you are writing about a line graph or a table, you can pretty much use this IELTS writing task 1 template:

Paragraph #1Explain the basic facts of the image
Describe the general trend
Paragraph #2Describe the first group of information
Paragraph #3Describe the second group of information

Let’s establish what “group of information” means

When you are doing IELTS Academic writing task 1, you need to examine the data and then describe it. To do this, you cannot just take a random approach and write about the different features of the data. Instead, you need to highlight the important parts.

This can be difficult, so let’s take an example.

someland smoking line graph

In this line graph, we only have two lines to write about. Clearly, we could write one paragraph about men and one paragraph about women. Easy! Our structure would look like this:

Paragraph #1It’s a line graph about smoking rates
Men increase; women decrease
Paragraph #2Describe the trend for men
Paragraph #3Describe the trend for women

To be honest, that is a very, very easy graph to describe so it was not a challenge. Let’s choose something more difficult to explore:

This is not a terribly difficult line graph to describe, but it presents a challenge for our IELTS writing task 1 structure template. How should we group these three lines?

One option is to structure it like this:

Paragraph #1It’s a line graph about tourism
They have opposite trends
Paragraph #2Describe the trend for visitors on the island
Paragraph #3Describe the trend for visitors on ships

Another option is to break the information down according to time:

Paragraph #1It’s a line graph about tourism
They have opposite trends
Paragraph #2Describe the data during the first few years
Paragraph #3Describe the data during the final years

Grouping by Time vs Grouping by Type

The easiest way to group data for IELTS writing task 1 is to put them into different types. For example, in this line graph about a Caribbean island, we could potentially describe the number of people who stayed on the island in one paragraph and then the people who stayed on the ships in another paragraph.

But is this the best way?

When you write an essay with that structure, it becomes harder to compare the data. Remember that your question will always say “make comparisons where relevant.”

This suggests that grouping by time is better for one major reason: You can compare the different types of data over time. In this case, we can see the two sets of data are opposites, which gives us a great chance to make comparisons.

Sample Essay

Here is my sample essay about the Caribbean island.

The line graph displays the numbers of tourists that visited an unnamed Caribbean island between 2010 and 2017. The tourists are divided into two groups – those staying on cruise ships and those staying on the island itself – and these had a loosely inverse correlation. The total number of visitors, however, rose more or less continuously throughout the eight-year period.

In the first year recorded, which was 2010, there were about twice as many tourists staying on the island as those staying on cruise ships. A year later, the number staying on cruise ships doubled to a half million, but this dropped back to around a quarter million in 2012. When the figures for tourists on cruise ships dropped, the number staying on the island rose quickly and over the coming few years, as this sudden increased levelled off, the number of people who stayed onboard their ship continued to grow again.

Between 2012 and 2017, there were more and more visitors staying on cruise ships. From just a quarter million, this rose to two million, while the figures for those on the island levelled off at just one and a half million and then dropped slightly in the penultimate year, before finishing at one and a half. This meant that, for the final two years, more tourists stayed on cruise ships than on the island.

Can you write more than 3 paragraphs?

I would like to make clear that there is no such thing as the correct IELTS writing task 1 essay structure. It is possible to write a great essay with 2 paragraphs, but it is also possible to do it with 4 paragraphs. I would not recommend writing more than 4 paragraphs and I would certainly not recommend writing just 1! This would show a total lack of understanding of Coherence and Cohesion.

(P.S. – Read all about the number of paragraphs for IELTS writing task 2 here.)

Anyway, let’s look at an example of an essay that might be best described with 4 paragraphs:

newport crime rate line graph

For this task, we have to decide how to group the data. I personally find that the trend for burglary is more interesting than the others because it has much more of a change, which tells me that it should be described first. You could definitely write a paragraph that grouped car thefts and robberies together, but one is much more common than the other, so it might not work well.

I would take this approach:  

Paragraph #1It’s a line graph crime rates
Burglary most common at start, but overtaken by car theft.
Paragraph #2Describe the trend for burglary
Paragraph #3Describe the trend for car theft
Paragraph #4Describe the trend for robbery

Of course, writing this much could mean taking a long time and potentially not finishing your essay. I have written an article about how many words you should write for IELTS, which you can read here.

Sample Essay – 4 Paragraphs

Ok, let’s look at the essay I wrote about crime rates in Newport.

The line graph shows changes in crime rates over a ten-year period in the city centre of Newport. Three types of crimes are listed, two of which ended the period at roughly similar levels to where they began, and one experienced a major drop.

In 2003, which was the beginning of the recorded period, burglary was the most common type of crime in Newport, with just under 3,500 cases reported. This rose slightly the following year, before entering into a long downward trend, reaching a low of about 1,200 in 2008. After this, the number of burglaries reported fluctuated until 2012.

The number of car thefts was about 2,800 in 2003, and ended the period slightly lower, at 2,700. During the decade-long period, it fluctuated, reaching low points in 2006 and 2008. Car theft was the second most common type of crime in 2003, but the fall in burglaries meant that from 2008 onwards, they were the most common crime in Newport.

Robberies were the least common crime and followed a somewhat similar trend to that of car thefts, starting and ending the period with around 700 incidents. It fluctuated only slightly during the ten-year period.

IELTS Writing Task 1 Pie Chart Structure

The previous examples were both line graphs because these are the most common type of IELTS academic writing task 1 question. However, in order to ensure you understand fully, I will also include a pie chart and show you how to structure your essay.

This is actually the most difficult IELTS writing task 1 question I have ever seen!

pie chart about nutrients for ielts

So how could we produce an IELTS writing task 1 essay structure to fit this?

The obvious choice seems to be writing 3 paragraphs, with 1 paragraph for each of the pie charts. That’s sensible, right?

Well, personally I think that would make it harder to draw comparisons between these data. Instead, I will group the data in terms of meals. I will look at the main meals in one paragraph and then snacks in a final paragraph. This allows me to compare all 3 nutrients!

My structure would then look like this:

Paragraph #1There are 3 pie charts about nutrients
2 pie charts are the same; 1 is different
Paragraph #2Talk about breakfast, lunch, and dinner, comparing the various nutrients
Paragraph #3Talk about snacks

**Please note that this is a quite advanced structure and it is difficult to do. I am including it to show you how it is possible to take various approaches and produce a great essay.

Sample Answer

This is my answer to the very difficult question about nutrients:

The pie charts show information about three different kinds of nutrients and their prevalence in typical American meals. There are four kinds of meal mentioned, including snacks. The figures for sodium and saturated fat are loosely similar, but for added sugar they are quite different.

Sodium and saturated fat are both extremely common in typical American dinners. According to the pie charts, 43% of sodium is consumed at dinner time as well as 37% of saturated fat, but just 23% of added sugar is found in American dinners. Almost a third of sodium eaten by Americans is consumed at lunch, alongside more than a quarter of saturated fat. Breakfasts contain the lowest amount of these potentially unhealthy ingredients, at 14% sodium and 16% for both saturated fat and added sugar.

The figures for snacks look quite different. More than four tenths of the added sugar consumed by Americans came from snacks, which also contained a fifth of the saturated fats and about a sixth of sodium.

IELTS General Training Writing Task 1 Structure

When you take the IELTS General Training (GT) writing test, you will see that task 1 requires you to write a letter. As such, there is no “recommended essay structure” that you can use.

Instead, you should aim to write a letter that follows typical letter-writing conventions and to use paragraphs logically to guide your reader.

How can you structure an IELTS general writing task 1 letter?

I would strongly recommend this sort of approach:

Paragraph #1Say why you are writing
Paragraph #2Explain the issue
Paragraph #3Say what you want the other person to do

Of course, I will say here that you should not take this as a 100% perfect letter template. It is merely a suggestion and you should pay close attention to the actual task you are assigned. This template can usually be adapted to make a good letter, but sometimes you need to add or combine paragraphs. Also, we might have a short paragraph at the start and/or end of the essay to give some friendly greeting or send some kind regards.

For one thing, sometimes you need to give much more weight to one part of the question, which could require using two paragraphs for that and one for the other parts. An example would be:

Paragraph #1Say why you are writing
Paragraph #2Explain the issue
Paragraph #3Continue explaining the issue
Paragraph #4Say what you want the other person to do

How to Adapt an IELTS General Writing Task 1 Format Structure

The people who score band 8 or 9 in IELTS writing are not the ones who memorize structures and vocabulary, or who attempt to predict the questions they will encounter. Instead, these are people who can learn from others but create their own essays and letters by adapting good ideas to the present situation.

Let’s look at an example question from IELTS GT writing task 1.

A large company in your area has decided to spend a certain amount of money, either to sponsor a local children’s sports team for two years, or to pay for two open-air concerts. It has asked for feedback from the general public.

Write a letter to the company. In your letter,

– describe the benefit of sponsoring the sports ream

– summarise the benefits of paying for the concerts

– say how you think the company should spend the money

How can we structure a reply to this task?

I am going to use the IELTS general writing task 1 format structure that I suggested above, with two paragraphs of explanation in the middle because there are two sides to the issue. My structure would look like this:

Paragraph #1Say why I am writing
Paragraph #2Explain the benefits of sponsoring a sports team
Paragraph #3Explain the benefits of paying for a concert
Paragraph #4Give my opinion – the sports team is a better option

Sample Answer

ielts general writing task 1 format structure
An example of a well-written letter.

Here is my sample answer to the above question:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in response to your request for input on the decision about either spending money on a sports team or for two open-air concerts.

Firstly, if you were to sponsor the children’s sports team, it would obviously be a great investment in the community. Nothing is more important to us than our children’s health and happiness. If you decided to sponsor the football team, this would mean a tremendous amount to many families.

The concerts would also be beneficial in bringing the community together in a big event. This would foster some positive experiences and allow people to have fun together doing something they don’t normally do. It might also be good for local businesses.

It is my opinion that you invest the money in the sports team as I think this would have the greatest benefit. For two whole years, parents would be able to watch their children play sports, and that is much better than going along to two concerts.


David Wills

More Resources

This is a massive topic to cover and so I suggest that you continue reading once you are finished with this article. I have countless lessons on this website about IELTS writing task 1 (both academic and general) that you can read. I also have an IELTS writing task 1 template PDF file here.

More articles about structure: