Many students say writing is the worst part of their English, but it’s often just a case of confidence. With practice, and the tips in this post, you can gain the confidence you need to maximise your English and really show it off. This post will look at the three stages of writing - planning, writing the text and reading it back.
If you are preparing for an exam, please be aware that for the latest information on exam format you should always go straight to the source – IELTS website. You can practice free online IELTS Academic Writing tests or General Training Writing tests. You can also practice writing your answer by downloading an IELTS Writing Answer Sheet.
Planning is an integral part of your writing. You might say “I don’t plan”, but somewhere in your subconscious, you do! By raising your awareness of your own planning process you can improve enormously. As a teacher, I see many students who plan and many who don’t. In general, the students that plan produce much better work, so if you are in the “no plan” camp, you should at least experiment with some of the ideas coming up.
Planning 1: Address the question
If you are writing for a class assignment or an exam, it is crucial that you address the question given. Adequate planning (five minutes is better than nothing) will keep you on track.
Start by breaking the question down into its parts. There will usually be two or three aspects to the question. You want not only to cover all aspects of the question, but also make it obvious to your teacher or the examiner that you have done so, and the best way to demonstrate this is to give each aspect its own paragraph.
Planning 2: Brainstorm vocabulary as well as ideas
Once you have identified your paragraphs, think about what vocabulary you have at your disposal. Perhaps you would like to write one paragraph from a particular angle, but when you start planning you might find there are holes in your vocabulary and you are better able to write from a different angle. Choose ideas which best overlap with what you can clearly state in English.
Planning 3: Write chunks of language
Even with all the vocabulary in the world, some ideas are complex to express in writing. Causality, speculation and hypothetical scenarios are all abstract concepts which make it more challenging to say exactly what you want, but these are also an opportunity to push your English ability to the max and show your grammatical range.
Sound out in your head how you will make your arguments, and when you get stuck, try writing this part down in your plan. It might be a whole sentence of just a clause. This will help you decide if you have enough English ability to get across a really impressive idea, or if you need to simplify your thoughts in order to remain clear to the reader.
Writing the text 1: Use your plan!
I have seen many students write logical, competent plans that address the question, only to go off on a random tangent when they start writing!
Of course, you might change some things as you go along, for example if you have a new idea, but keeping an eye on your plan will prevent you from getting distracted and bring you back to the question you must answer. It will also keep you aware of how you are doing for word count and time.
Writing the text 2: Write your introduction last
You should at least consider this idea. The purpose of an introduction is to tell the reader what they are going to read, so how can you write the introduction when you haven’t written the content yet?
Introductions are fiddly to write on a blank canvas, but much easier when we already have the content written in front of us.
If you are writing on paper, it is still possible to write the introduction last - you just need to leave a few lines for it.
Writing the text 3: Make sure your introduction and conclusion match
Your introduction and conclusion should also match the content of your main body paragraphs. This might seem obvious, but I wish I had a euro for every time I have seen an introduction passionately in favour of something followed by body paragraphs and a conclusion that were passionately against.
This problem can be avoided by writing your conclusion last, as suggested above. It will also be avoided by planning, and thinking a little more deeply how you feel about the question before you start. When I say a little more deeply, I’m talking about a minute or so, not hours.
Writing the text 4: Use linkers
Linkers are often misunderstood as simply a way of showing “formal English” but in fact, we use linkers all the time, even when chatting with friends. We use them in speech and in writing to indicate “I’m going to add to what was just said,” “I’m going to contradict what was just said,” and generally to help the listener or reader understand where we are going next.
After writing the text
This is another area where many students are very reluctant - you need to read what you wrote!
Check for spelling errors, missing third person s, capital letters, whatever errors you are prone to make… and if you don’t know what errors you are prone to make, it’s because you aren’t checking your writing, so you need to start today! You can be the expert on your own writing strengths and weaknesses, and this will just make you better and better.
Moreover, you should read back your text because it’s enjoyable to see how skillfully you put your ideas down and how convincing your arguments are. You did it! Well done! Enjoy the moment with some positivity!