Most students know that essays should start with an introduction and end with a conclusion. However, beginning and ending the essay is often far more difficult than writing the main body. Introductions are especially difficult because they give the examiner his or her first impression of your essay writing skills. Conclusions are the last thing the examiner will read before deciding your grade! Therefore, it’s important to know what should and should not be included in each of these sections.
The purpose of an introduction is to clarify what you understand the title to mean. You may also want to mention briefly why this is an important issue. Finally you need to outline how you intend to answer the question. Let’s examine each of these ideas in more detail.
1. Clarifying the meaning of the title
What are you being asked to do? Define any keywords. If there are no words which require a definition, it is still a good idea to interpret any keywords in the title. Look at this essay title, for example:
Illiteracy has traditionally been viewed as a third world problem. However, in developed countries, illiteracy is increasing. Examine possible causes for this and its effect on society.
You should define ‘illiteracy’ in the introduction. It’s also important to make it clear that you understand the difference between ‘third world’ and ‘developed’ countries. You also might want to interpret the word ‘society’. What exactly does ‘society’ mean in the context of this essay? Clarifying this will help you to write a focused, relevant essay.
2. Mention briefly why this is an important issue.
You may want to include one sentence addressing why this issue is interesting or important, and to whom. However, take care. Students often begin essays with a statement such as ‘Illiteracy is a hot topic in today’s society’. Try to avoid this. It sounds as if you are reciting a phrase you have learnt and you are not thinking about the issue itself. Consider why illiteracy is important, who it affects and whose job it is to solve the problem.
3. Outline how you intend to answer the question
This is a very important part of the introduction. The last sentence of your introduction should outline exactly what you aim to do in your essay, and how you aim to do it. This sentence is called the Thesis Statement. The thesis statement is very similar to the title. For example, a suitable thesis statement for the title above could be:
This essay will firstly describe some reasons why illiteracy is increasing in developed countries, and then examine the effect of illiteracy on society.
A good thesis statement will show the reader how the essay will be structured. For example, by reading the thesis statement above, the examiner will know the number of sections in the essay, and the topic of each paragraph. He or she will also know that the writer understands the question in the title and is addressing it directly. Obviously, you cannot write a good thesis statement unless you have planned your essay outline first.
One more important thing to remember is that you must not start answering the question in the introduction. Do this in the main body of the essay.
In your academic essay, a considerable number of points are available according to how well you answer the question in the title. Therefore, it’s very important to make sure you understand the title fully before you begin. Don’t just find a keyword in the title and start writing. Examine the question carefully first.
You need to consider:
1. How many things are you being asked to do?
Some essay titles may have two parts, so make sure you address both questions.
2. What are the question words in the title?
Make sure you understand what the question words mean. Here are a few of the commonest question words:
- Explain: If you explain something, you give reasons why it happens.
- Discuss: If a question asks you to discuss a statement, you should consider the topic from different, opposing viewpoints. Don’t just write about your own opinion; discuss two or more sides of the argument. Conclude by giving your own point of view, based on the ideas you raised in the essay.
- To what extent…: ‘To what extent…’ means ‘how much…’ These questions often ask you whether or not you agree with a statement, and should be tackled in the same way as a Discuss question.
- Evaluate/Assess: If you evaluate or assess something, you decide how good it is. The best way to approach this is to examine the good points and then consider the negative aspects. In the conclusion, state how good it is overall.
- Illustrate: If you are asked to illustrate something, you need to use examples to support your ideas.
IELTS academic writing essay topics are very varied. You could be asked about anything from Architecture to Zoology, and you may feel you know nothing at all about the subject. Nevertheless, it is very important that you keep to the topic. Don’t stray onto something else. So, how can you get ideas about a question that you know very little about?
Firstly, divide your essay up into manageable sections. If it is a ‘discuss’ question, these sections will be ‘Agreement with the statement’ and ‘Disagreement with the statement’. If it’s an ‘evaluate’ question, they will be ‘positive aspects’ and ‘negative aspects’.
Next, spend some time brainstorming. On rough paper, note down any ideas you can think of. If your mind goes blank, try some of these ideas.
1. Consider the question from other people’s points of view. What would a parent’s opinion be? What about an elderly person or a teenager? Would a man’s opinion be the same as a woman’s? Would people from different countries have different opinions? How would the point of view of a politician differ from that of a conservationist or a businessperson?
2. If you’re still stuck for ideas, think about the question from these different angles.
- The economy: Is the issue expensive to solve? Who will pay for it? Or can this issue make money?
- The environment: How will animal life, soil, the air and water supplies be affected by this issue?
- Society: How will the issue affect people’s lives, their health and relationships?
Don’t spend too long brainstorming. You only need two or three ideas for each paragraph. However, it’s worth trying to come up with some examples to support your ideas. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert. You may have read about something in a newspaper, or seen a programme on television which you can use to illustrate your points. Mention people, buildings, places or festivals from your home country. It doesn’t matter whether or not the examiner has heard of them. As long as you describe them fully, the examiner will accept your answer.
Let’s look at an example:
As computers are being used more and more in education, teachers will soon be unnecessary. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
1. Divide your essay in to sections
This is a ‘To what extent…’ question. Therefore it should be divided into two parts: ‘Agreement with the statement’, and ‘Disagreement with the statement’.
2. Brainstorm some ideas:
Agreement with the statement:
- Computers hold more information than a teacher
E.g. the Internet, websites, CD Roms
- Lots of activities can be done on a computer
E.g. design software, videos
- Children have been educated by computers for a long time in isolated places
E.g. central Australia
Disagreement with the statement:
- Teacher has a role in disciplining children
- Teacher has a role in encouraging and inspiring children
3. You now have a structure for the main body of your essay, and it answers the question perfectly. Now you just need to add an introduction and a conclusion, and write it up!
Conclusions are actually quite simple. The purpose of the conclusion is to answer the question in the title. Do this by referring to the points you have already made in the main body. Don’t repeat whole sentences, just summarise the main points. It is also important that you do not raise any new ideas in the conclusion. The conclusion need not be long. Keep it brief and make sure it is directly related to the question.
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