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IELTS Writing Task 2: Writing Better Essays

Posted on
February 17, 2017
by Atlas Language School

The IELTS essay (Writing Task 2) can be a tricky one to get right. There are different essay types that you have to prepare for and practise, and ones that ask you to discuss unfamiliar topics that you may have never thought about before can be especially challenging. The most important things that you’ll have to prepare yourself for, though, is being able to identify the particular essay type and quickly recall its special features, as well as use a style of English that is appropriate for essays in general.

At Atlas, we ensure our IELTS students have a good understanding of the differences between the essay types and how best to structure each type.

1. Getting the Style Right

The style of an IELTS Writing Task 2 essay should be formal, and also as clear and concise as possible. Here is a list of things that you should take into account when writing in a formal style.


A. Don’t use figurative language

Figurative language is language that is different in meaning from the literal interpretation.

For example, the expression “It’s raining cats and dogs” does not mean that it’s actually raining animals from the sky, but that it’s raining heavily.

Other typical examples of figurative language are phrasal verbs (e.g., get over, get rid of, cut down on, etc.) and metaphors (e.g., you are what you eat, don’t judge a book by its cover, etc.). You need to be clear about what you say and figurative language is not seen as direct language.

Remember, of course, we do recommend you use figurative language in your speaking exams. That would be wholly appropriate.

B. Do not use contractions

Make sure you don’t (or do not) use contractions in your essays. Contractions are typically used in informal writing, so make sure you don’t include them.

C. Write in the third person

To write in the third person, you can write sentences like: “One must consider the drawbacks”, instead of “You must consider the drawbacks”. Using “you” as the subject can make it sound too personal.

D. Avoid the imperative voice

Don’t say: “Think about the solutions you’ll need” and instead say “One should think about the solutions they’ll need”. Using the imperative, as in the first example, is an order that we only tend to give to people we know.

E. Use more formal vocabulary

You will also need to show you have an awareness of being able to differentiate between formal and more informal or colloquial language. 

F. Use more formal grammar

Certain grammatical structures are also seen as more formal. Here are a few examples that you can find in your grammar books that you can study or revise:

F1. The reported passive:
When we use a passive structure, we are putting the focus on the object rather than the person who uses the object. We can also use it to distance our opinion, or make it seem like an opinion is not our own. For example, look at the following sentence: “People say that global warming is getting worse.”

Even though this may be close to your opinion, using the passive in the following way can make it seem less personal, further away: “It is said that global warming is getting worse.”

F2. Negative inversion:
This is more commonly used in formal writing and can help give more emphasis to what you are trying to express. To use this structure, we need to invert the auxiliary and the subject of the sentence. Let’s have a look at the following example: “We have never seen before such a catastrophic event.”

Using inversion we can change the emphasis: “Never before have we seen such a catastrophic event.”

Other examples of inversion are:

  • Not only do young people have to take global warming more seriously, but also be more active about it.
  • Only by stopping burning fossil fuels, can we finally begin to stop global warming.

F3. Non-defining relative clauses:

This type of clause allows us to give non-essential information to a defining relative clause.

For example, consider the following sentence: “There are many online communities, which have appeared in recent years, helping inform people about what is going on in the world.”

“... which have appeared in recent years” is the non-essential information, but is helpful in terms of helping to paint a fuller picture of what you are describing.

IELTS Essay Writing Task 2.png

2. Understanding the Question Properly

To answer the the Task 2 question correctly you’ll have to differentiate between the following different essay types:

  • Agreeing / disagreeing
  • Discussing two opinions
  • Advantages and disadvantages
  • Causes and solutions
One important point to appreciate is that with these Task 2 questions you need to answer what you are asked and only what you are asked. So, for example, do not give your opinion unless you are asked. Here are some example questions that you could be asked for each of the above essay types, along with some advice on how to answer each one. These example questions and many more can be found on Liz’s IELTS website.

Agreeing / disagreeing

With the increased global demand in oil and gas, undiscovered areas of the world should be opened up to access more resources. To what extent do you agree?

The fundamental part of this sentence is “to what extent’, which you must answer. This means “how far do you agree with this statement.” Do you strongly agree or disagree? Are you on the fence? If you don’t explicitly answer this you could lose a lot of marks.

Discussing two opinions

Some people think that environmental problems should be solved on a global scale while others believe it is better to deal with them nationally. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

Once again the most important part is answering the question correctly. If you do not discuss both sides and only give your opinion, you will lose a lot of marks for not answering the question properly.

Advantages and disadvantages

The rise of convenience foods has helped people keep up with the speed of the modern life-style. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this trend?

When you mention the advantages and disadvantages, make sure that you support each one with reasons and not just list a load of pros and cons. Also, using contrastive language (e.g., although, however, in spite of, etc.) can really help you to express and support your ideas.

Causes and solutions

Crime rates tend to be higher in cities than in smaller towns. Explain some possible reasons for this problem and suggest some solutions.

In this question above, you are not asked for your opinion. This can be a trickier one to tackle as you really have to think critically to provide the reader with some clear reasons and suggest possible solutions.



These are the core main essay types and there might be some slight variations. So make sure you understand and answer every part of the question. If you don’t, you will lose some valuable marks.

3.  Structuring your Essay

The exact structure of your essay will largely depend on what type essay you have to write. What each one must contain, though, is an introduction to introduce the essay and a conclusion to, of course, conclude or summarise your main points. Here is how we at Atlas recommend you to structure your essay based on each question type.

Agreeing / disagreeing

With the increased global demand in oil and gas, undiscovered areas of the world should be opened up to access more resources. To what extent do you agree?

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce topic - Say to what extent you agree/disagree
  • Paragraph 2: Reason 1 - Giving an example and justification
  • Paragraph 3: Reason 2 - Giving an example and justification
  • Paragraph 4: Reiterate opinion and sum it up

Discussing two opinions

Some people think that environmental problems should be solved on a global scale while others believe it is better to deal with them nationally. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce topic - paraphrase the opinions
  • Paragraph 2: Discuss first opinion
  • Paragraph 3: Discuss second opinion
  • Paragraph 4: Clearly state which side you agree with

Advantages and disadvantages

The rise of convenience foods has helped people keep up with the speed of the modern life-style. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this trend?

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce topic - give extra point
  • Paragraph 2: Discuss the advantages
  • Paragraph 3: Contrast with the disadvantages
  • Paragraph 4: Summarise your ideas

Causes and solutions

Crime rates tend to be higher in cities than in smaller towns. Explain some possible reasons for this problem and suggest some solutions.

  • Paragraph 1: Introduce topic - give extra point
  • Paragraph 2: Discuss a reason and possible solution
  • Paragraph 3: Discuss second reason and possible solution
  • Paragraph 4: Conclude and describe situation if problems persist

Although these are very important factors, simply knowing the differences in essay structures is not enough to get high scores in the IELTS. Of course, you need to really make sure that you have a good level of grammar and vocabulary and that you are able to use complex grammar structures and a wide range of vocabulary appropriately. 




With IELTS Task 2 Writing questions, it is also useful to understand that there are common topics that come up in different question types. So, one additional way to prepare more fully is by generating ideas and planning the answer for one essay type, before going on to plan the answer to a  question on the same topic but in answer to a different question type. This deeper practice will help you prepare to answer whatever question type is thrown at you on the day of the exam.

For tips on the IELTS speaking exam make sure to check out our blog post: IELTS Speaking Exam - Top Preparation Tips

At Atlas we offer full-time IELTS exam preparation courses for students wishing to further their English language skills to succeed in the IELTS examination. Our IELTS preparation courses are structured to give you the opportunity to develop and practise the key exam skills around different academic topics each week so you can start at the beginning of any week.



Contact us for more information and if you need help prepare for your IELTS exam.
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