IELTS coherence: how to write better essays

Coherence is the way you structure your essay, report or letter. A piece of writing with good coherence is easy to understand and easy to follow. Together with cohesion, it makes up 25% of the mark on both IELTS Writing Task 1 and IELTS Writing Task 2. In my experience, IELTS candidates often get their lowest score in coherence and cohesion. The good news is that it’s easy to make coherence better. In this article I explain everything you need to know about IELTS Coherence, and how to write essays, reports and letters that will get a high band score for coherence.

IELTS Coherence

IELTS Coherence: what do the IELTS examiners want?

The IELTS examiners want to read an essay in which:

  • ideas and information are logically organised
  • ideas and information are properly sequenced
  • especially in Task 2, paragraphs are appropriately used to organize ideas and information

This is what the assessment criteria, used by IELTS examiners, say about IELTS coherence:

Band 9
  • skillfully manages paragraphing
Band 8
  • sequences information and ideas logically
  • uses paragraphing sufficiently and appropriately
Band 7
  • logically organises information and ideas
  • Task 2 only: there is clear progression throughout, presents a clear central topic within each paragraph
Band 6
  • arranges information and ideas coherently and there is a clear overall progression
  • Task 2 only: uses paragraphing but not always logically
Band 5
  • presents information with some organisation but there may be a lack of overall progression
  • Task 2 only: may not write in paragraphs, or paragraphing may be inadequate
Band 4
  • presents information and ideas but these are not arranged coherently and there is no clear progression in the response
  • Task 2 only: may not write in paragraphs or their use may be confusing

IELTS Coherence: the key to getting a high score

The key to getting a high band score for coherence is planning your IELTS essay. In fact, planning is also the key to getting a high band score for task response or task achievement.

Planning helps you get a high band score for coherence because it helps you to structure the report, letter or essay, and it also helps you to structure each paragraph effectively.

IELTS Writing Task 2: Essay structure

To get a high score for coherence, each paragraph in your essay should be organized around one main idea. For Task 2 essays, I always recommend following a 4 paragraph structure.

  • Introduction: paraphrase the question and introduce what you are going to say
  • Body Paragraph 1: one side of the argument / advantages / problem
  • Body Paragraph 2: other side of the argument / disadvantages / solutions
  • Conclusion: sum up the argument and give your opinion

When you plan your essay, you should also come up with some ideas (e.g. the 2 sides to an argument, advantages and disadvantages, problems and solutions). These ideas should then be put into the appropriate paragraph.

It is important not to mix up the ideas. Many students write both advantages and disadvantages in the same paragraph. This confuses the reader. Keep different ideas in different paragraphs.

Paragraph structure

It is also important to structure each paragraph. Here is a simple structure that you can use for the body paragraphs, known as the 3 sentence paragraph.

  • Main idea: the opening sentence of a paragraph should summarise this main idea - this is called the topic sentence. The topic sentence should be short.
  • Explanation: The second sentence should explain the main idea in more detail
  • Example: The third sentence should provide one or two examples that support this idea (including personal experiences)

This is quite a simple structure, and you may have to adapt it a little, for example by writing 2 sentences for the explanation or for the example, but the basic structure is the same:

IDEA - EXPLAIN - EXAMPLE

So, a coherent essay would look something like this:

Introduction
  • Paraphrase question
  • Outline your essay
Body paragraph 1
  • Idea
  • Explain
  • Example
Body paragraph 2
  • Idea
  • Explain
  • Example
Conclusion
  • Sum up the argument
  • Give your opinion

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IELTS Writing Task 1: Report structure

To get a high band score for an IELTS Task 1 report, you should also think about the structure. The best way to do this is to break down the data into 'chunks'. So, for example, if you have a graph showing a trends between 1990 and 2015, you could break the graph into two chunks of data: 1990-2000 and 2000-2015. Sometimes, it's better to break the data into 3 chunks. Then you write a body paragraph on each chunk of data.

For Task 1 reports, I recommend the following structure.

  • Introduction: paraphrase the question and give an overview of the graph/chart/etc.
  • Body Paragraph 1: discuss one 'chunk' of data
  • Body Paragraph 2: discuss another 'chunk' of data.
  • If you have a third 'chunk' of data, add another paragraph

Paragraph structure

In each body paragraph, you should start with a topic sentence, followed by one or two examples.

  • Key detail: the opening sentence of the paragraph should summarise one key detail from the graph / diagram / etc, such as a trend or comparison.
  • Examples: The following sentences should provide one or two examples of this key detaila - you must refer to data when you do this.

So, a coherent Task 1 report would look something like this:

Introduction
  • Paraphrase question
  • Give an overview
Body paragraph 1
  • Key Detail 1
  • Examples
Body paragraph 2
  • Key Detail 2
  • Examples

If you are doing the General Training IELTS, you will have to write a letter. remember to use a clear structure for this as well. This is really easy in the General Training IELTS, because you are told what to include in your letter; the question will usually include 2 or 3 bullet points, and each bullet point tells you one thing to write about in your letter.  Your structure should simply follow these bullet points.

So, a coherent essay would look something like this:

Introduction
  • Say why you are writing
Bullet point 1
  • Respond to the task in the bullet point
  • Add supporting details
Bullet point 2
  • Respond to the task in the bullet point
  • Add supporting details
Bullet point 3
  • Respond to the task in the bullet point
  • Add supporting details
Sign off
  • Finish your letter by signing off

Remember, the key to getting a high band score for coherence is having a good structure and organizing your ideas in this structure.

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To get more information and tips, read my article on the IELTS Writing Test.

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