One of the most important aspects of your IELTS experience will be your skill at writing an introduction for IELTS task 2. As the saying goes, well begun is half done. If you get the introduction right, you will give your essay a strong frame into which you will be able to fit your ideas about the topic. An effective introduction will also signal to the examiner that you are a competent user of English with an ability to plan and execute a coherent piece of writing. Failure to put together a convincing introduction will have a knock-on effect on the rest of your essay and might depress your score. The facts discussed in this article are relevant to both the paper-based and computer-based versions of IELTS. An even fuller discussion of the relevant issues is contained in the writing development program.
Purpose of the Introduction
The introduction to your task 2 essay serves three main purposes. The first and most obvious is to introduce the topic to the reader. Many people make the mistake of launching directly into their arguments without first setting the scene. As we’ve discussed before, the safest way to do this is to simply paraphrase the topic you were given. This sets the frame in the best possible way, and you will be able to show the examiner an ability to paraphrase in the process. This will be directly relevant to the rating you receive for both Lexical Resource and Grammatical Range and Accuracy.
The second is to express your viewpoint, so that the reader knows what to expect. The examiner should be able to glean what your stance on the issue is, from your introduction alone. The way you do this will depend on the question. “Do you agree or disagree” requires an appropriate expression of agreement or disagreement. “What can be done to solve this problem” requires you to come up with a solution to a problem. But whatever the case may be, it’s essential that you answer the question at this point, in a concise and definite manner. Don’t give up clarity for nuance at this point.
The third is to provide a kind of roadmap for the reader. You should give a brief list of the arguments you will be making in support of your viewpoint. Of course, you don’t have space to actually develop these arguments fully. That comes later. But it’s important that you provide an outline of what the reader can expect in the rest of the essay. We can give these three elements each a short title:
- Paraphrase the topic
- Answer the question
- Give an outline
Paraphrase the topic
In some ways, this is the hardest part to get right. You want to avoid two extremes. One on hand, some people tend to do too little and make only minimal changes. This will not impress the examiner. On the other hand, it’s also not a good idea to overdo it. As we’ve said here many times, naturalness is very important for IELTS, because it is your ability to communicate that the test is measuring. Complexity for its own sake is never a good thing. Consider the following topic:
Shopping is becoming more and more popular as a leisure activity. However, some people feel that this has both positive and negative effects.
There are many different ways to attack this. Importantly, we don’t have to follow the same sentence structure. What some writers do, mistakenly, is simply give a synonym for each word in the original. Sometimes this works, but it can go wrong. For example:
Buying things is becoming increasingly favoured as a recreational pastime.
Here, we have kept the sentence structure but changed words and phrases:
- shopping – buying things
- more and more – increasingly
- popular – favoured
- leisure activity – recreational pastime
Assessing the paraphrase
The resulting sentence is not good. Reread it to yourself and you will find that it sounds quite wooden. “Buying things” is, in some way, a paraphrase for “shopping”, but it just doesn’t work. “Favoured”, likewise, is actually quite unnatural here, and “recreational pastime” is over-the-top. It’s also redundant, because all pastimes are recreational. Overall, this is not a great start. A better alternative would be to actually go outside the structure of the original:
In our day and age, recreational shopping is on the rise. Whether or not this is a healthy development, divides opinion.
In this example, we have captured much of the meaning of the original in a compact phrase “recreational shopping”. We have used another concise expression to convey the idea of increase: “on the rise”. The phrase “In our day and age” shows an awareness that we are talking about a contemporary issue, and also reflects what the original intended with “is becoming”. This is a better introductory sentence than the first one. The lesson here is quite simple: go with what sounds natural. If your opening sentence strikes you as weird, wooden or unnatural, it probably is. You might have to get creative with sentence structure to achieve a convincing result.
Answer the Question
Many people overlook this seemingly obvious step. When writing an introduction for IELTS task 2, some candidates see the first sentence, form their ideas and launch into them, without actually answering the question. Unfortunately, no matter how well you write, if the examiner has to search for your answer to the central question(s), your score will suffer. Following on from the opening sentence we saw above, we read:
Why is shopping so popular?
What effects does its increase in popularity have on individuals and on society?
Notice that there are two questions here. They are both straightforward and they both require an answer. Most task 2 questions will have just one question, but it’s possible to get an example like the above. So how will we handle this? It’s quite simple. Answer the questions in a direct manner in your mind.
Why is shopping so popular? Modern advertising creates desire
How does this affect individuals? It creates debt (negative)
How does it affect society? It stimulates economic activity (positive)
Those were the responses that came to mind when I asked myself the questions. Whether or not I am “correct” is not really relevant. It’s important that my answers are direct, concise and not overly nuanced. I could condense all of this information into a sentence or two to accompany the opening sentence we came up with earlier:
In my view, modern advertising drives the popularity of shopping by artificially creating desires for goods. On the downside, this can lead to personal debt, but it also has the effect of stimulating the economy.
We have shown the examiner that we are answering the question by the use of the leading phrase “in my view” (yes, you can use I, me and my in IELTS). We have then given a concise answer, which we will develop later on, in the body of the essay. After that, we have contrasted a positive effect with a negative one.
Give an Outline
All that’s left now is to give the reader a roadmap of where we are going in this essay. The reader knows what the essay is about (from the paraphrase). The reader knows our opinions (from the answers we gave). Now we need to tell the reader what to expect:
In this essay I will discuss how the media generates need and consider the advantages and disadvantages of consumer culture. I will argue that the economic benefits do not outweigh the social costs.
Now the reader is truly ready to read the essay. We do not want to force the reader to have to hunt down these elements in the body of the essay. They should all be present in the introduction. This is what our introduction looks like:
Writing an Introduction for IELTS Task 2: Final Product
In our day and age, recreational shopping is on the rise. Whether or not this is a healthy development, divides opinion. In my view, modern advertising drives the popularity of shopping by artificially creating desires for goods. On the downside, this can lead to personal debt, but it also stimulates the economy. In this essay I will discuss how the media generates need and consider the advantages and disadvantages of consumer culture. I will argue that the economic benefits do not outweigh the social costs.
Admittedly, this is quite long. Having two questions to answer complicated the process and the result is longer than usual. However, it would form a good basis for the rest of the essay, because all of the content is present in germ.