How to Format Your IELTS Writing Task

IELTS Writing Task Format

How important is format in the IELTS writing test? Coherence and Cohesion, in other words, format, makes up 25% of your total writing score. It is essential that you understand how to format your responses when attempting the IELTS writing test.

Effective writing gives you the impression of flowing without interruption from beginning to end. This is not easy to achieve. It’s especially important in the context of IELTS writing. Here are three important things people often overlook:

Number 1: Plan Your IELTS Writing Task

You should make a skeleton of your writing piece, whether task 1 or 2, before you begin writing it. This helps to keep your writing consistent with itself. Your plan should tell you:

  • How many paragraphs you intend to write
  • The central topic of each paragraph
  • Which paragraph contains a counter-argument (task 2)

IELTS Writing Task 1 Layout

If you are an academic candidate, your task 1 answer will generally have three paragraphs. The first one is a brief introduction and overview. The larger, second paragraph will contain your analysis of the data. You can end your piece with a brief summation and concluding comment.

If you are a general training candidate, it is easy to set up your letter. The question will give you three points to address. Use these as your guide and give each point its own paragraph.

IELTS Writing Task 2 Layout

For both general and academic candidates, task 2 is an essay. The way you plan this essay will depend on the type of question you face. As a general rule, you should always have at least three paragraphs. Your first paragraph is an introduction and statement of the position you wish to defend or describe. The second paragraph will contain arguments in favour of this position. Usually, you will end up dividing this into more than one paragraph. This is especially important if you are including counter-arguments. If you are uncertain, err on the side of more paragraphs, not fewer. If you include many different ideas in the same paragraph, you will give the impression that you don’t understand paragraphs.

Number 2: IELTS Writing Paragraph Format

A paragraph is a way of showing that you have moved to a new idea. Good writing needs breaks. A good speaker takes breaths and uses other means to show the start of a new idea. In the same way, a good writer separates paragraphs to help the reader. It is also important that each paragraph feels like it belongs to the whole. You must review each paragraph to make sure that it connects to the rest of your essay.

Coherence & Cohesion

When the examiner reads your essay, one of the important features will be how well you have managed your paragraphs. This means that your paragraphs must be internally coherent (each one must have a definite topic that supports your point). In addition, the writing as a whole must be cohesive (each element must flow logically from the one before, and lead naturally to the next one). Consider this paragraph in an essay about climate change:

The government should impose taxes on carbon emissions. People who use cars frequently are damaging the environment. It is fair that they should pay more because the rest of us have to live with the consequences. But I can see why taxing people is unfair. The population will get angry with these taxes and this could cause unrest.

This paragraph is neither coherent (in harmony with itself) or cohesive (in harmony with the whole essay). It fails to be coherent because it contains two conflicting ideas. When we reach the end of the paragraph, we are no longer certain what the author believes: should we tax motorists, or is it unfair? Does it matter? The failure to plan is really showing here.

For a detailed look at Coherence & Cohesion and how they relate to IELTS Writing Format, take a look at this recent article published by

Linking Sentences

The paragraph also wouldn’t sit well in any essay, because there is very little linking. The writer begins very bluntly with “the government”. A better way to start would be: “One of the reasons I feel that the government should be involved in carbon taxation is…”. There is also no linking inside the paragraph itself. It is just a list of statements. As a result, the writer makes bald generalizations without further justification or argumentation. Simple words like “this” (the reason for this is…) would make the writing flow more naturally.

Check out our Highway IELTS Writing Development Course more for advice on writing in a smooth, readable way.

Number 3: End the Way you Started

You must be very careful not to contradict yourself. This might sound obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to do this when you under pressure. To achieve a good band score, you must avoid coming to a conclusion that differs clearly from your introduction or from one of the points you made earlier.

Keep it Simple!

This is a real danger if you find yourself writing on a topic about which you have a great deal of specialist knowledge or experience. In this scenario, you might bring more nuance to the task than you really need. Remember, you must communicate your point of view to your reader. This must be clear and straightforward. You’re writing for an educated non-expert.

There is an equal risk in the other direction. You might have to write about a subject you haven’t thought about much. This can be daunting. If this happens, it is all the more important that you plan before you begin. Our writing courses are designed to expose students to a wide range of topic types and question types in order to equip you to handle situations like this.

Highway IELTS has developed tools that save you time by identifying your particular needs first. That is the only sound basis on which to make recommendations and chart the way forward. Attend our Discover IELTS Workshop in Durban or Johannesburg or check out some of our self-study development courses designed to help you achieve your goals.

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