As the introduction to ‘Dubious Trends in IELTS Writing‘ states, there are many IELTS sources out there giving suspect advice. This section here has seven pieces of that advice used for IELTS Writing Task Two. The trends are listed, and my responses are given, attempting to prove exactly why the trends are unlikely to help. Let us begin.
Dubious Trend One: Fluff
Let’s say the IELTS question concerns whether the government, or the individual, should fund old-age care. Some sources will give sentences such as ….
Views on this issue vary from person to person.
An array of factors contribute to this complicated problem.
There are diverse opinions which are contentious.
There is no doubt that there are advantages and disadvantages.
There are compelling reasons to examine this in depth.
I will present my response in tabular form.
Relevant Quote from the Public Version of the IELTS Band Descriptors
which is listed under …
The sentences add nothing to the task.
|Ideas are limited and not sufficiently developed.||IELTS 5|
Coherence & Cohesion
|These sentences do not give any progress to your argument.|
There may be a lack of overall progression.
|None of the words in these sentences are specific to the topic.|
Uses a limited range of vocabulary.
|These sentences are obviously memorised, and may be ignored.||Uses a limited range of grammar.|
Dubious Trend Two: Stating the Obvious
Let’s say that you write ….
This will create widespread warfare, which is bad for the economy.
The number of people in poverty is increasing, and this has a bad effect on society.
Young adults are not as mature as fully-grown adults.
This can cause theft, which is bad for shops.
As I write in students’ essays, ‘Some things are too obvious to need saying’. You can see this in the underlined portions of the previous sentences. This sort of writing is a BIG problem. These ‘statements of the incredibly obvious’ are often repeated, with ‘model’ sentences from dubious IELTS sources. This writing may get you words and grammatically-correct sentences, but that is all it does.
Here are some examples where the whole passages achieve nothing.
For example, riding trains can make people move to their destinations sooner compared to those who commute by foot, since walking is slower than taking a train.
Take musicians for example. They produce a vast range of musical songs for individuals to enjoy in society. Furthermore, all citizens can listen to these pieces of music. This can bring not only joy, but also reduce stress.
Good healthcare systems not only provide good healthcare for citizens, but also reduce the death rate, which is good for society.
Money is important to businesses. In other words, money helps the business to succeed. Moreover, money enables businesses to be competitive by allowing them to buy objects.
In other words, (1) trains are fast, (2) musicians play music, (3) good healthcare is good, and (4) money is important. In other words (again), trains are trains, musicians are musicians, healthcare is healthcare, and money is money. In other words ……. [there is now nothing to write here; the sentences have disappeared with a puff of smoke!]
Let us quote from the public version of the band descriptors. Which band score do you think these passages could achieve?
IELTS 7 = Presents, extends, and supports main ideas.
IELTS 6 = The development is mostly clear.
IELTS 5 = The development is not always clear.
[Source: public version of the IELTS Band Descriptors]
For instruction about how to actually write such thoughts, you could refer to my IELTS Writing Task Two book (pictured), Tip 15, Part Four: Go Forward!/Move Ahead, p.116 and 117.
Dubious Trend Three
Some people would argue … // It has been suggested … // People hold the view …
Again, I will present my response in tabular form.
Some people would argue that nuclear waste is radioactive.
|Uh, it is.|
Many believe obesity has become a serious problem in modern society.
|Uh, everyone knows this.|
It has been suggested that planting trees is good for the environment.
Uh, this isn’t a suggestion; it’s a fact.
People hold the view that childcare is expensive.
Uh, it is! Everyone holds this view.
|Other people hold the view that technology gives benefits.|
Uh, it does! Again, everyone holds this view.
The problem is students are using these memorised sentences for facts, instead of opinions. Let us change the first sentence into one I would write.
Some would argue that nuclear waste is too radioactive to be stored to within an acceptable degree of safety.
Wow, a logical and well-written sentence! This comes from thinking for yourself.
Dubious Trend Four
Based on the latest government survey, … // Research has shown that …
Good writers are honest. The previous phrases are often used for blatant and obvious lies.
Based on the latest government survey, [now write whatever you like].
I can even make the lie bigger (and more blatant).
Based on the latest government survey in the Economist Magazine (September, 2015), [now write whatever you like].
The sentence is grammatically correct, but the logic is often absurd [‘Based on the latest government survey, medicine is important’.]
Dubious Trend Five
It cannot be denied that … // It is an undeniable truth that … // It is evident/indisputable/agreed/acknowledged that …
My IELTS Writing Task Two book (Tip 14, p.105, and Appendix 14, p.183) deals with this. Here is the relevant section.
Think about this. ‘It is undoubted that men are generally taller than women.’ Similarly, it is also unanimously agreed that 1 + 1 = 2, and it is an irrefutable fact that 2 + 2 = 4, and it is widely believed that 4 + 4 = 8, and it cannot be denied that 5 + 5 = 10. Do you see what is wrong with these sentences? The problems is that facts are facts, and when they are obvious, using introductions for emphasis is merely fluff, which is bad writing. Often it merely proves the arrogance of the writer.
It is an irrefutable fact that men are smarter than women.
If it is a fact, and fact is less known, or one which some people might disagree with (for example, because it is controversial), then using such introductions would be possible, and we could consider this factual phrasing. Using some emphasis becomes more appropriate since there is disagreement to overcome.
It is a fairly well-known that girls are now outperforming boys in literacy tests.
It is a fact that most secondary school teachers are females themselves. [Used in Appendix 8, first example]
Most people would accept that racial discrimination still exists to some degree.
Many studies have shown that people’s sexuality can change throughout life.
For obvious facts, again, just write it as a statement of common truth. For example, …
It is universally believed that the Internet plays an important role in modern society.
Dubious Trend Six: ‘Citizens’
This word is almost like a disease. My students even put it into IELTS Writing Task One (‘Citizens spent more on books’).
Consider the following: am I, the creator of this website, a citizen?
The answer is …. no! I’m actually an alien (would you believe). I have an ‘Alien Registration Card’ to prove it. In fact, in this multi-cultural and globalised world, with international travel, tourism, business, trade, and interconnected economies, you will find that a significant proportion of any population are NOT citizens. They are foreign travelers, tourists, students, and government officials, guest workers, business people, and illegal immigrants. And these NON-citizens will buy books!
The use of ‘citizens’ as a blanket-term for ‘people’ often shows the writer’s clumsiness and inability to use vocabulary well. And, logically, such inability can NOT help with the IELTS Vocabulary Band Score.
Bad Uses of ‘Citizens’
Citizens often complain about the quality of public transport.
|Use ‘The public’|
This has aroused great debate among citizens.
|Take out ‘among citizens’. Better still, consider not writing the sentence (unless it is actually true).|
The majority of citizens use public transport.
|Use ‘Most people’. You could also consider the passive construction: ‘Public transport is widely used.’|
There are illegal citizens in most societies.
|Use ‘aliens’ or ‘immigrants’|
Citizens can now purchase goods online.
|Use ‘People’ or ‘Shoppers’ or (again), the passive construction: ‘Goods can now be purchased online.’|
Many citizens support capital punishment.
|Use ‘people’ or ‘There is some public support for capital punishment’.|
‘Citizens’ is actually a difficult word to use correctly. This suggests you should avoid using it. It only makes sense when distinguishing ‘citizens’ from ‘non-citizens’. Thus, it could be used for writing about civil rights and political issues.
In a healthy democracy, all law-abiding citizens have the right to run for public office.
American citizens have the right to purchase, and carry, guns.
Politicians often respond to the strident demands of citizen-groups.
To repeat, if I struggle to find natural sentences using the word ‘citizen’, why do learners of English want to use this word all the time?
Dubious Trend Seven: ‘Milking’ Paragraph Signposts for Words
One reasons which is absolutely crucial and cannot be denied … // First and most importantly, … // Another reason which is just as important as the first // Last but not least …
Once again, good writers are honest. The writer who uses these is probably writing dishonestly. I have the following exchange regularly with my students.
- “Do you really believe this reason is the most important?”
- “I don’t know.”
- “So why did you write this?”
- “I copied it from a book.”
Let me quote from the public version of the IELTS Band Descriptors (also, quoted in full on p.46 and p.37 of my Writing Task One and Two books,respectively). It is about ‘cohesive devices’, or those words which help your writing ‘cohere’ or fit together smoothly and logically.
IELTS Writing: Use of Cohesive Devices
[They are] inaccurate or over-used.
[They may] be faulty or mechanical.
There may be some over-use.
Source: public version of the IELTS Band Descriptors
Notice that IELTS 7 says ‘some’ over-use, which means IELTS 8 = No overuse [confirming William Strunk’s opinion – See the introduction]. The public version states that IELTS 9 = cohesive devices attracts no attention. In other words, the reader does not even realise they are there.
The key point is, if you make mistakes in these memorised phrases, then the examiner could decide on …
IELTS 5 = inaccurate cohesive devices,
IELTS 6 = faulty cohesive devices,
… or if the examiner thinks you have used too many of them, the examiner could decide on …
IELTS 5 = over-use of cohesive devices.
IELTS 6 = mechanical use of cohesive devices,
There is no sign of IELTS 7 here.
Here’s an example from one of my students’ first pieces of writing.
Paragraph 2 begins: ‘Firstly and most importantly, …’
Paragraph 3 begins: ‘Another reason which is more important than the first is …’
Do you see why this is inaccurate, faulty, over-used, and mechanical? What score has the essay probably now achieved? All because of memorisation.
The sample Writing Task Two answers in my IELTS Writing Task Two book, and IELTS Test Practice book (pictured), do not use any of the phrasing given in this section. Please check these answers, or go to Analysis of My Sample IELTS Writing Task Two to examine the answer there.
To quote from my IELTS Writing Task Two book (p.66), …