In this week’s article, I want to show you how to structure an IELTS writing task 2 essay. I’ve written about this many times in the past, but today I want to show you a simple, 7 step approach that can guide you to the perfect essay.

First of all, I want to mention that there are lots of ways to write an amazing essay. There are also 5 different kinds of question, hundreds of topics, and lots of different combinations. This means that you cannot just memorise an answer or even memorise a structure. You can learn about that in my IELTS books:

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However, this article will give you a guide to writing a great essay structure by logically sequencing your ideas. This can help you to score highly for Coherence and Cohesion, which is worth 25% of your writing score.

IELTS Essay Structure: The Basics

Before we begin with the 7 steps, I would like to give you a short overview. Writing an IELTS essay requires many skills and you have a lot of different criteria to meet in order to get a band 7 or above. Your essay will be judged in four ways, each accounting for 25% of the total score:

  • Task Achievement
  • Coherence and Cohesion
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

When thinking about structuring an essay, we are essentially talking about Coherence and Cohesion. Being able to produce a strong structure with logically sequenced ideas will give you a good chance of a high score in this section.

There are lots of different approaches, but most IELTS trainers agree that a four-paragraph structure is the best approach, with five paragraphs sometimes being appropriate. [Read about 4 vs 5 paragraphs] You should aim to divide your ideas sensibly and then build them in order to support your thesis or explain the issues as necessary.

Today, the steps that I will describe for you are as follows:

  1. Analyse the Question
  2. Brainstorm Ideas
  3. Plan your Overall Structure
  4. Plan your Internal Paragraph Structure
  5. Write a Strong Introduction
  6. Link your Sentences
  7. Write a Good Conclusion

1. Analyse the Question

Every IELTS question is different and so it is really important that you read it carefully in order to understand it fully. If you just read it quickly, you might get the wrong idea. It is natural for our brains to see a word and jump to a conclusion. For example, a question that mentions climate change might really be asking about solutions to fossil fuel emissions rather than the consequences of global warming. If you don’t understand the question, you cannot write a good answer.

Before you begin brainstorming, read the question at least twice. Let’s look at an example:

Some people claim that not enough of the waste from homes is recycled. They say that the only way to make people recycle more is to make it a legal requirement.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

When you first look at this question, your eyes will be drawn to keywords like “waste” and “recycle.” That is good, but we need to understand the full sentence. What sort of waste are we talking about? Waste from homes. What does “legal requirement” mean? It means make it a law.

You will always see a statement of some sort above and then the question below. Once you understand the statement, you should read the question. In this case, the question is “To what extent do you agree…?”

Therefore, you need to choose a position (agree/disagree) and then write an essay that explains your position.

Note: Some IELTS candidates believe that you have to give a balanced viewpoint. This is not necessarily true. You can read about it in this article.

2. Brainstorm Ideas

Once you understand the question, you can begin to think of ideas to use in your essay. My biggest piece of advice here is: DON’T CHOOSE TOO MANY IDEAS!!

Seriously, it is not helpful to use lots of different ideas or examples in your essay. Yes, this might help you reach 250 words easily, but your essay will definitely get a low score for Coherence and Cohesion (and possibly Task Achievement) because it will not be well organized and probably will lack sufficient development of ideas.

I encourage my writing students to follow the idea of ONE PARAGRAPH, ONE IDEA. In some essay types, this is easy. For example, in an advantages/disadvantages essay, you can just devote one body paragraph to advantages and the other to disadvantages. Simple!

However, in other types of essay, you might find it harder. With agree/disagree essays, you might have two reasons why you agree. In this case, you just put one reason in each body paragraph.

Let’s brainstorm now.

Personally, I agree that laws should be passed that require people to recycle their household waste. Therefore, I would consider the following ideas:

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Those are just some ideas. Sometimes you will struggle to think of even two ideas and sometimes you will easily think of five or six. The important thing, though, is to choose the most important ones. Think about what would make the most convincing argument.

3. Plan your Overall Structure

By “overall structure,” I mean your basic paragraph plan. Every IELTS writing task 2 essay should have an introduction and conclusion, and at least two body paragraphs. This is the standard essay format and I highly recommend that you practice with it. Essays that have lots of paragraphs are usually a mess and will receive low scores for Coherence and Cohesion.

I want to write an advanced essay that will score band 9, so I am going to use an interesting structure that will allow me to show off my essay-writing skills. My first body paragraph will look at opposing viewpoints and then refute them, before the second body paragraph concisely states why we do need laws that make people recycle.  

For this essay, my overall structure would look like this:

IntroductionIntroduce topic Explain purpose of essay
Body paragraph 1Give 2 opposing arguments and then refute them
Body paragraph 2Give strong argument to support my viewpoint
ConclusionRe-state main idea and summarize arguments.

This is a pretty simple and flexible paragraph structure. I highly recommend that you use it because once you become comfortable with it, you can really adapt it a lot. Even though it is basic and you can use it for scoring band 6, you can also use this structure for band 9 essays.

The reason is that you can vary the content of your body paragraphs greatly. Here, I have tried to give balance to the argument, even though I agree with one side – the need for laws. However, rather than simply state two compelling reasons, I will first dismiss the counter-arguments and then give an argument in favour of my viewpoint.

4. Plan your Internal Paragraph Structure

This is the most difficult part of structuring an essay and it is the reason why most people struggle to get a high score for Coherence and Cohesion.

It is really, really important for IELTS writing that your ideas are sequenced logically. That means they go from one idea to the next in a logical way. Look at these two example passages. One contains a logical flow of ideas and the other does not. Can you tell which is which?

  1. The case in favour of laws mandating recycling is simple and irrefutable. These laws would ensure that a far higher amount of household waste is recycled, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that goes into our environment. People cannot be trusted to do this for themselves, and the evidence exists in the places where environmental laws are strictly enforced, compared to those where they are non-existent, or weakly enforced.
  2. These laws would ensure that a far higher amount of household waste is recycled, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that goes into our environment. People cannot be trusted to do this for themselves, and the evidence exists in the places where environmental laws are strictly enforced, compared to those where they are non-existent, or weakly enforced. The case in favour of laws mandating recycling is simple and irrefutable.

Which one is correct? Answer: #1.

In this answer, I began with a topic sentence. This is a sentence that introduces an idea. I then explained that idea in more detail. Finally, I added another sentence that built upon the previous two. Both the second and third sentence supported the first. When you put them in the wrong order, they make no sense.

Finally, notice that I used certain words to refer back to previous ideas: these laws, do this.

5. Write a Strong Introduction

It’s really important with any kind of writing to give a strong introduction. This grabs your reader’s attention but also tells them what to expect from your writing. If an examiner reads a really terrible introduction, they will think that your body paragraphs are likely to be very bad, too.

As such, it is important that you devote a little time to writing an excellent intro.

What does that involve?

I recommend that people generally write a three-sentence introduction. (However, remember that there is no one perfect way to write an essay and so there are other good possibilities.)

I suggest this:

  1. General statement that addresses the topic.
  2. Slightly more specific statement that relates wider topic to specific question.
  3. A sentence that shows essay intention or overview.

For the above question, I would write an introduction like this:

Pollution remains a significant problem all around the world and this is causing people to debate possible solutions. One such solution is for governments to impose laws requiring citizens to recycle certain kinds of waste from their homes. This essay will argue that environmental laws are essential to reducing waste and thereby saving the planet.

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Let’s look at how those sentences are structured:

  1. A very general statement: pollution is a problem; people discuss solutions.
  2. More specific statement: introduce potential solution with simple detail
  3. Essay statement: state that laws are essential for solving problem

6. Link your Sentences

Next, you are going to need to write the body paragraphs. With your essay structure already written, it should not be too hard to do this. You need to follow a simple but effective internal paragraph structure that develops and supports each idea.

When you do this, it is important that you link your sentences. Now, if you have a good enough structure, your sentences will already be linked. That is because your ideas will flow naturally from one to the next.

As you will know, it is possible to use “cohesive devices” (also called transitional or linking words/phrases etc). These include words and phrases like: however, therefore, next, after that, meanwhile, on the other hand. They are very useful and help guide your reader, but you should not over-use them or it will make your writing weak.

Let’s look at my third paragraph as an example.

The case in favour of laws mandating recycling is simple and irrefutable. These laws would ensure that a far higher amount of household waste is recycled, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that goes into our environment. People cannot be trusted to do this for themselves, and the evidence exists in the places where environmental laws are strictly enforced, compared to those where they are non-existent, or weakly enforced. In the United Kingdom, people are required to recycle most of their household waste, and the environment is far cleaner than other countries, such as China, where people can throw any trash away without consequences.

How many cohesive devices did I use?

None. My sentences were already well-organized, so I did not need to use any.

You can read all about not using too many cohesive devices here.

7. Write a Good Conclusion

Finally, you must finish all your IELTS writing task 2 essays with a conclusion. This means a final paragraph that summarizes everything you have said so far and then references your key ideas. This can be either one or two sentences, but don’t write much more than that.

A conclusion will also differ according to the question type. Some might require you to make a suggestion or state an opinion, while others will really just require you to summarize you have said.

It is a pretty good idea to follow a structure like this:

  1. Paraphrase your main idea.
  2. Re-state your main arguments.

For example, here is my conclusion from the above question:

In conclusion, laws are absolutely essential to ensure that people recycle their household waste. Without such laws, very few people would actually go to the trouble of recycling; however, if governments enforce these laws, almost everyone would have to comply.

In this conclusion, the first sentence paraphrases my main idea (laws are necessary) and the second sentence re-states my main arguments (people would not recycle without laws; laws make people recycle).

Note that I have avoided repeating myself. In these two lines, I have simply referred to my previous arguments but I have not copied the things I already said. I have used new language for it.

Sample Band 9 Answer

Next, I will show you my answer for this question. Remember that this is just one possible answer. There are other ways to write a band 9 score. However, I do think that this is the best way because it is easy to learn and apply to your own essays. I recommend that you download the essay as a Microsoft Word (.docx) file because I have annotated it fully. You can see a clear explanation of what purpose each sentence has.

Sample Answer

Pollution remains a significant problem all around the world and this is causing people to debate possible solutions. One such solution is for governments to impose laws requiring citizens to recycle certain kinds of waste from their homes. This essay will argue that environmental laws are essential to reducing waste and thereby saving the planet.
The case against laws imposing mandatory recycling revolve around the notion that people can learn to recycle by themselves, and this is true to an extent. With the improvement of education, people typically litter less and recycle more. However, our planet is presently in the grips of environmental catastrophe and it would take several generations for people to make changes to their lives. It is also sometimes argued that poor people cannot afford to make the sacrifice necessary to use less plastic and switch to sustainable products, and it is therefore unfair to punish them. However, mandatory recycling would not require people to immediately give up plastics; instead, they would simply be required to dispose of them in an ethical manner at a government-run recycling facility.
The case in favour of laws mandating recycling is simple and irrefutable. These laws would ensure that a far higher amount of household waste is recycled, thereby reducing the amount of pollution that goes into our environment. People cannot be trusted to do this for themselves, and the evidence exists in the places where environmental laws are strictly enforced, compared to those where they are non-existent, or weakly enforced. In the United Kingdom, people are required to recycle most of their household waste, and the environment is far cleaner than other countries, such as China, where people can throw any trash away without consequences.
In conclusion, laws are absolutely essential to ensure that people recycle their household waste. Without such laws, very few people would actually go to the trouble of recycling; however, if governments enforce these laws, almost everyone would have to comply.

You can download a copy of that sample essay here. This will allow you to see all of my annotations like this:

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Improving your Writing Skills

If you really want to get better at IELTS writing, the best way is to have an expert check your work. People who use my writing correction service find that they can quickly identify their mistakes and improve their overall IELTS score.

E-mail me at david [at] ted-ielts [dot] com to find out more, or check the above link.