How To Develop Your Ideas In An IELTS Essay

What does “developing your ideas” actually mean? And how should you develop your ideas in a way that will get you a Band 7 for Task Response? This lesson will answer these questions!

When you write an IELTS essay in IELTS Writing Task 2, you need to present your views on a topic. This might be your opinion, or what you think are the advantages and disadvantages of something, or what you think are the reasons behind two different views on a topic.

But it’s not enough to just say WHAT you think.

You also need to explain WHY you think this. The reasons for your view. These are known as supporting details.

Supporting details SHOW YOUR THINKING to your reader. They make the reasons for your view CLEAR to your reader.

Show Your Thinking

You need to SHOW YOUR THINKING to the IELTS Examiner

This is what is meant by DEVELOPING your ideas.

When you write academic essays at university, you can use different types of supporting details, such as:

  • statistics
  • research studies
  • quotes from experts
  • visual material (e.g. diagrams, graphs)
  • logical arguments (e.g. reasons for your view)

But in an IELTS exam you cannot be expected to remember statistics, research or quotes, and you can’t include visual materials. Logical arguments are the only supporting detail you need to include in an IELTS Exam.

In fact, EVERY IELTS task tells you to do this, because EVERY task says:

“Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

IELTS is telling  you to provide supporting details.

And if you are aiming for Band 7 or higher in IELTS Writing, you must do this for ALL your views. Because, to get a Band 7 for Task Response, an essay “presents, extends and supports main ideas.”

So what does developing your ideas mean?

Imagine having a conversation with someone about your favourite food.

Normally, conversations go like this:

  • What’s your favourite food?
    • Pizza!
  • Why?
    • I don’t know. It just is!

An argument like this will get you Band 3 for TR in IELTS! To get band 7 or above, you need to show your thinking.

So let’s add some supporting details:

  • What’s your favourite food?
    • Pizza!
  • Why?
    • Because it’s very tasty. The pizza sauce has lots of flavour, and the different toppings add variety to the flavours. It’s also very easy to eat – you can just eat it out of the box with your fingers, so you can easily watch TV while eating it.

This second argument contains lots of supporting details, lots of reasons why pizza is my favourite food:

  • lots of flavour
    • toppings
  • easy to eat
    • eat with fingers while watching TV

So I’ve EXTENDED my position, that pizza is my favourite food, by adding supporting details. I’ve given reasons for my view – pizza has lots of flavour and it’s easy to eat – and some specific examples of what I mean – toppings, can eat with fingers.

In fact, hopefully you imagined someone eating a delicious pizza while watching TV!

Eating pizza and watching TV

What good supporting details do, is paint a picture in your reader’s mind.

Let’s look now at an IELTS question:

Write about the following topic:

Plastic bags, plastic bottles and plastic packaging are bad for the
environment.

What damage does plastic do to the environment?

What can be done by governments and individuals to solve this problem?

Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience.

Write at least 250 words.

(Cambridge IELTS 16 General Training Test 1)

The first question is asking me what damage do I THINK plastic does to the environment.

I think the first damage it does is the effect on animals, so I might write:

Firstly, plastic discarded into the environment can cause harm to wildlife.

That’s my main idea, but I need to explain this in more detail. At the moment it’s too general. How does plastic harm wildlife? So I need to explain my thinking in more detail:

Since wild animals have no concept of plastic objects, they may easily mistake plastic bags and other items for food, and ingest them, leading to physical problems and even death.

This sentence EXPLAINS what I mean by ‘plastic harming wildlife’.

At this point, I may have done enough to get a Band 5 or Band 6 for Task Response. But to reach Band 7 and beyond, I need to go into even more detail.

And I can do this by ILLUSTRATING what I mean with a specific EXAMPLE.

For example, many birds mistake small plastic objects in rubbish dumps for waste food, but these objects may get stuck in the bird’s throat causing it to suffocate.

This last sentence ‘paints a picture’ in your mind. When you read this sentence, did you ‘see’ an image of some birds trying to eat a piece of plastic in a pile of rubbish? Did you imagine the unfortunate bird choking on the plastic?

Seagulls  on the plastic in the dump rubbish

This example was drawn from my own personal knowledge. I’ve read about the problem.

So I went from a general point – my main idea – that plastic waste can harm wildlife – to a specific example of birds eating plastic.

Firstly, plastic discarded into the environment can cause harm to wildlife. Since wild animals have no concept of plastic objects, they may easily mistake plastic bags and other items for food, and ingest them, leading to physical problems and even death. For example, many birds mistake small plastic objects floating on water for small animals, but these objects may get stuck in the bird’s throat causing it to suffocate.

And this is what it means to develop your ideas.

  • I EXPLAINED what I meant
  • I ILLUSTRATED my point with a SPECIFIC EXAMPLE

Developing your ideas basically means making your thinking clear to your reader.

How To Get Band 7 For Development?

The IELTS Writing 2 Band Descriptors say that at Band 7, an essay “presents, extends and supports main ideas.”

In other words, you explain and illustrate the main points in your argument.

But it’s also useful to look at the Band 6 descriptors too. At Band 6, an essay “presents relevant main ideas but some may be inadequately developed / unclear.”

In other words, in a Band 6 essay, SOME ideas are not explained or illustrated.

This means that to get Band 7, ALL of your ideas must be explained and illustrated. If one of your ideas is not developed in enough detail, your band score for Task Response will be limited to Band 6.

This is, I think, one of the main reasons why test takers get stuck at Band 6: they don’t develop their ideas in enough detail.

So if you are aiming for a Band 7…EXPLAIN AND ILLUSTRATE ALL OF YOUR IDEAS!!!

I hope you found this lesson useful. Please share using one of the buttons below.

And if you are having difficulty thinking of ways to support your ideas, find out how to generate ideas for IELTS essays.

Posted in IELTS Writing Task 2.

Charles Cornelius is a PGCE and CELTA-qualified teacher and former IELTS Examiner with 25 years' teaching experience all over the world. He has worked for some of the major English language schools including International House, IDP and The British Council. He holds a MA in Education from the University of Bath. His courses, for both English language learners and teachers, have been taken by over 70,000 students in over 160 countries around the world.

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