Coherence and cohesion in Writing Task 2:
- Makes up 25% of your total mark.
- Make sure your main points are clear and easy to understand.
- Use pronouns, cohesive devices and paragraphs properly.
- Read over your essay. Ask yourself: will the examiner understand my answer?
Below is a transcript of the video above:
Hey, guys. Chris here from ieltsadvantage.com. Today, what we’re going to work on is coherence and cohesion, specifically for task 2 writing. I thought I’d make this video because a lot of you seem to be a little bit confused about what coherence and cohesion means and so I thought that I would make a video today showing you in basic practical terms with examples and everything what it actually means in real life, in a real test situation. Okay. Coherence and cohesion is worth 25% of your total mark, so it is extremely important because it’s worth a quarter of your total marks and without doing it properly, you’re really going to struggle to get the score that you’re hoping for. Like many things on IELTS test, the problem is not that it is hard, or it is difficult, the problem is that most students don’t understand what this means in just basic practical real terms.
In this lesson what we’re going to do is we’re going to take a practical approach to understanding these concepts because often what I see is students being taught it in a way of very high-level theory so many teachers, not criticizing teachers in any way, but the way that it is taught is often talking on a theoretical basis. A lot of students find this difficult to understand so we’re going to keep it really, really practical today. We’re going to look at what practical steps you can take to improve your coherence and cohesion score. We’re going to apply what we learn to real examples. We’re only going to look at task 2 today. We’re not going to look at task 1 but if you want more information on task 1, go and check out ieltsadvantage.com and you’ll see a task 1 section there and you can have a look there.
Let’s just focus on one thing at a time because when I’ve combined task 1 and task 2 coherence and cohesion before it gets a little bit confusing so let’s just focus on task 2 today. All right, first I want to start off with a quote from Tim Ferriss, Tim Ferriss is a New York Times bestselling author. I think his podcast is one of the top ten podcast in the world by number of downloads. I was listening to one of his podcasts, I’ve listened to every single one of them. Definitely check it out, not only just to practice your listening but just really interesting. He interviews some really, really interesting people so it’s called the Tim Ferriss Podcast. He was talking about writing the other day and he said, “Writing is a reflection of our thinking,” and I totally agree with this.
In my VIP Facebook group, I posted this and it resonated with a lot of my students because what happens is when students go into the test, if their mind is confused, if their mind, everything in there is just really scared, and they’re stressed out but more importantly they’ve just no idea how to answer the question and everything in their head is very, very, very confused then that comes out on the paper. That comes out in the writing. If they know exactly what they’re doing and everything is nice like clear coherent, cohesive, then that will lead to a very clear piece of writing. We’re going to look at that in much more detail in this lesson. First, I want to say there’s a big, big, big, big difference between learning and doing.
You are completely wasting your time today by just watching this video and not doing anything about it. It is better to watch one video and actually implement what you have learned in that video and actually do the things in that video then it would be if you watched 20 videos. You might be watching this on YouTube, you might be watching this on Facebook. The most important thing you can do when you read an article or watch a YouTube video, or whatever it is, is actually take the things that you learned and apply it by practicing, by implementing in your writing. The people that do that are the people that are going to really improve. The people that just watch YouTube video after YouTube video, they’re really information junkies.
All the information in the world is not going to help you but implementing it, practicing it, applying it to your real writing is really going to help you especially for practical stuff like coherence and cohesion. What do coherence and cohesion mean? Rather than getting to the theory and talk about it in a very academic way just going to get yourself to ask yourself these three questions. “Is it easy for the examiner to understand my essay?” If it is not easy for the examiner to understand your essay then your coherence and cohesion need to improve. The examiner is not superwoman or superman, they cannot read your mind. They cannot guess what you meant. What you put on the paper is all they have to go on.
If it is very confusing and difficult to read then you’re not going to score very well for coherence and cohesion. “Are my main points easy to follow?” The main points in your essay is it easy to understand them, they do develop them well, is it easy to follow your main arguments. If not, your coherence and cohesion need a little bit of improvement. “Are my main points connected in a way that makes them easy to understand and follow?” We’re going to look at that third point in a bit more detail with a real example in a minute. What does that mean in a real essay? Probably that you’re thinking, “Okay, Chris, you’ve explained that but I still don’t really know what that means.” Let’s look at these eight things and that will help you understand exactly what you need to be doing in your essay. Is it clear that you’ve understood the question?
If you don’t understand the question there is no way that you will be able to write a clear coherent answer to the question. You need to answer the question clearly. The first step of that is understanding the question. Are your ideas relevant to the question? If your ideas just don’t answer the question at all or they’re about a different topic or maybe they just talk about the topic in general rather than answering a specific question then it’s going to be difficult to follow your argument. Is your message clear throughout the essay? Is your opinion clear? Is your argument clear? Are your main ideas clear? Have you developed your ideas properly?
Instead of you just writing 20 different ideas or six different ideas, I see that a lot, like three ideas in the first main body paragraph and three ideas in the second main body paragraph. The reader is going to find it really difficult to understand what you mean by those ideas unless you develop them with explanation, examples and we’ll look at that again in a little bit more detail in this video. Do you use structure and paragraphing in a way that aids clarity? By clarity I mean is the essay easy to understand because of the structure that you used or because of the paragraphing that you used? If you’re using some structure that is very, very, very complicated and doesn’t actually do the job that a structure is meant to do which is to make it easy to write and easy to read your essay then you might not be on the right track.
Do you know how to write effective paragraphs? By that I mean do you know how to write an introduction? Do you know how to write a main body paragraph? Do you know how to write a conclusion? Each of those things has a job, has a role within an essay. If you know what to put in those paragraphs then you’re going to write a better essay, in very basic terms. Is your use of cohesive devices appropriate and accurate? We’re going to look at what cohesive devices are but the key thing is that you have to use them appropriately and accurately. Does your language aid clear communication? You’re going to get 25% for grammar, 25% for vocabulary, but using vocabulary and grammar properly it should aid clear communication, should help clear communication.
The purpose of writing is not to show off how many amazing words and phrases you know, the purpose of writing is to clearly communicate with the person reading your writing. If you’re using language that there’s a lot of mistakes or languages just not correct in terms of meaning or collocations or whatever, there are many, many things that could go wrong there if you’re making lots of mistakes it’s really difficult to understand. I’m going to show you a real example that a student sent me that I corrected to demonstrate what happens when you maybe make a few too many mistakes or do the wrong thing in terms of grammar and vocabulary. It all starts with planning. A lot of you do not like planning because you think it’s a waste of time, timing is an issue for you. Let me explain something to you. I have never met a band 8, a band 8.5, a band 9 student who didn’t plan for task 2 before at least five minutes.
A lot of my most successful students plan for ten minutes. Think about it this way, if you were in a strange city and you are trying to find your way around the city, which way would be better, to have Google maps and to open Google Maps and have a look at that and invest some time in putting your details into Google Maps or would it be better just to run around and try to find it yourself? Writing an essay, planning is like having Google Maps for your essay. It shows you exactly where to go. It does take a little bit of time but it saves you a huge amount of time. It is really a good investment of your time. What happens here? Understanding the question. If you don’t understand the question, you will not be able to write a coherent essay. Very, very, very simple.
Take the time to think about what the examiner wants you to do. What I see with many of my students when I’m dealing with students face to face and we do like mock exams and things, they open the paper, look at the question and immediately start writing. I mean, you cannot do that. You have to take the time to just sit there very calmly and think about what’s happening with the question. Think about what the examiner wants you to do. Think about what the question is asking you. That investment of one or two minutes is really going to pay off in the rest of your essay. Idea development, think of specific relevant ideas that answer the question. First of all, you have to think of the ideas and then how are you going to develop those ideas.
By development, I mean how are you going to explain those ideas, how are you going to support those ideas with examples? An idea is only as good as how much you can develop it. It doesn’t matter if you think of an amazing idea if you can’t develop that idea then during the planning process you should discard that idea because if you can’t explain it and if you can’t develop it then it’s no good. Structure, how are you going to organize your ideas? Structures are not magic. They don’t lead automatically to band 9 or band 8 even though some students believe that. Really, they’re just a tool to help you organize your ideas in a coherent way, in a cohesive way also. There should be a roadmap for your entire essay.
Once you thought about the question, you thought about your ideas, what you want to do is you want to populate a structure just a very basic skeleton structure with your main ideas and maybe your explanations, your examples. You don’t have to write full sentences or anything like that. It’s just planning. Get it all done and that really is your map for the rest of the time that you’ll be writing. You’re spending the planning time just thinking on planning. Then your writing time is just devoted to writing rather than if you don’t plan, you’re writing and you’re thinking and you’re writing and you’re thinking and then you get lost and then, “Oh my god, I have 20 minutes left.” It’s not the best position to be in. Do invest some time in planning and try it out yourself.
If you’ve never planned before, try planning for five minutes next time you’re doing some practice test and you’ll really see a huge difference. Then you need to organize your ideas. Why do you need to organize your ideas? You organize your ideas to make it easy for the reader, always think of the reader. Why do we plan anything? Why do we organize anything? It’s not to show off that we know structures or anything like that, it’s just to write a clear essay that’s easy to understand. In the introduction, here’s what the essay is about, this is what you are saying to the examiner, “Here’s what my essay is about and here’s what I think about the question and here are my main ideas.” Everybody teaches introductions in a different way. If you ask five different IELTS teachers they’ll give you five different ways.
I’m not saying any of them are wrong, there are many correct ways to writing an introduction. I like my students to include the main ideas because I think it’s easier to write the whole essay like that but please don’t comment below saying, “My teacher told me never to write my main ideas in introduction.” That’s fine if you want to follow that way, I’m just showing you my way. The main body, you’re saying to the examiner, “Here are my main ideas,” and your topic sentences. This is how they answer the question, by development it. Here are some examples to support my main points. In the conclusion, what you’re saying to the examiner is, “Here’s a summary of the things I just talked about.” You’re going to write your introduction, you’re going to write your main body and then the conclusion is just here’s a summary of everything above here.
If you think about it in very simple, easy to understand terms like this instead of a whole big course that is dedicated to structures and very complicated structures, just think about it in simple terms like this and it normally helps people that way. If you’re thinking clearly, if you’re thinking in a straightforward way then your essay is going to be clear and it’s going to be straightforward. What does that look like? All right, I’m going to show you I’m not going to show you a whole IELTS essay. One, because it’s difficult to fit a whole IELTS essay on one slide in PowerPoint like I’m using right now. Two, it’s just really, really complicated to talk about everything in an IELTS essay.
I’m going to use a very, very simple example but I have simplified everything. You are not going to able to, sorry, there’s just a taxi outside to pick up my little boy and my wife. Sorry for the background noise. I’ve just simplified everything so that the purpose of this essay is not to show you exactly how to write an essay, it’s to demonstrate the points that we’ve already been talking about. Please don’t complain that this is not a real IELTS essay, I know it’s not. I’ve simplified it down to its very, very bare bones. Liverpool are the best football team in the world. Do you agree or disagree? You will not be asked a question like this. What I’m doing with this question is using a very, very, very, very simple example to help demonstrate these points.
My introduction, “I don’t think Liverpool are the best team in the world because they haven’t won anything in years and they are currently in ninth place in the Premier League.” All right, what I’m doing with this introduction is I’m telling the examiner this is what the essay is about and here are my main points. Main body one, Liverpool haven’t won anything in years. That’s the main point of the paragraph. This shows that many other teams are better than them, that’s my explanation. The last time they won a major trophy was in 2005. That’s my example. They are currently 9th in the Premiership. This demonstrates that there are eight teams better than them in England. Liverpool have not been top of the league in more than 20 years. Again, my second main point I’ve explained it, I used an example.
Again, I know some of you are typing already, this is too short or this is not a real IELTS essay. I know it’s not, I’m just using a simplified version. In conclusion, Liverpool are nowhere near one of the best teams on the planet just because of their failure to achieve any success either this year or in the last couple of decades. All right, let’s look at this in a little bit more detail so let’s get the laser pointer here. Okay, I have given my opinion here and I’ve outlined my main points. Then, I’ve taken the first main point and I put it here in my topic sentence. I’ve explained it and I’ve supported it with an example. Then I’ve taken my second main point, I put it here.
I put it here in my topic sentence, my second main body paragraph. I’ve explained it, I supported it. Then what I’ve done is I’ve summarized these three paragraphs here in the conclusion, just down right here. “Liverpool are nowhere near one of the best teams on the planet because of their failure to achieve any success either this year or in the last couple of decades.” Is my message clear? If somebody was to read this, would they know if I agree or disagree with this? Yes, it would be very, very, very clear to them. If somebody were to read this, would it be clear why I believe that? Yes, it would be extremely clear why I believe that. Have I developed my ideas?
I’ve developed my ideas here and first main body paragraph and here in the second main body paragraph so I’ve done that to make it very, very easy for the reader to understand everything that I’ve been doing. In a real IELTS task 2 response, you’re obviously not going to keep it this simple. You’re going to develop everything a lot more. It’s going to be a lot longer but I hope just that very, very practical simple example will show you how I would deal with that question and how I would do it in a very clear coherent way. This is a do you agree or disagree question. This is not showing you a structure for every type of task 2 question. Again, sorry for going on and on and on about this but a time when I did this before, lots of students complained about it and it’s not real IELTS essay.
Do you know how to write the key paragraphs? By key paragraphs, I’m talking about introductions, main body paragraphs, and conclusions. Introduction paraphrase the sentence, state your opinion or your main ideas depending on what the question is asking you about. Main body paragraphs, topic sentence, explanation, examples. Even these three things, let me get my little laser pointer. Even these three things are aiding coherence and cohesion, the topic sentence is basically saying to the examiner this is what this paragraph is about. Here’s my explanation, making it very clear and here’s my example supporting that. Each sentence or each thing that you’re doing in this paragraph is helping with coherence and cohesion.
Then the conclusion, reiterate your opinion, main ideas. Again, that totally depends on what type of question it is. The way I teach task 2 is totally dependent on the type of question but this is generally very generally what you’d be doing. Cohesive devices often referred to as linking words or connecting words. For example, therefore, in conclusion, for example. These are examples of cohesive devices. Some people call them linking words, some people call them linkers, some people call them connecting words. You must use these appropriately and accurately. Accurately, you’re not going to say, therefore …
For example and then give a conclusion, that will be inaccurate to use it and you’re not going to say in conclusion and then, in your introduction, that will be inaccurate. You have to use them accurately. Each of the different cohesive devices has a very specific use. I’m going to give you this in a minute and show you all the different uses that they have. Also, you must use them appropriately. One of the biggest problems that I see is a lot of students think and I don’t know why I think maybe some websites or maybe some teachers have taught this that the more cohesive devices you use, the more points you get or the higher score you get. This is not true at all. In general, band 8, band 9 students don’t use these as much as band 6, band 7 students.
You do not get extra points by putting one at the start of every single sentence. Look at real English. Look at academic reports or the news or look at the Guardian or the Times or some quality newspaper like that. Look at how often they use these types of words. It’s not as often as you think. You do not get extra marks for using fancy or impressive cohesive devices. This is another thing that I see where students are learning very, very, very complex complicated cohesive devices and think that this will impress the examiner. They’re not giving you extra marks for this. They are judging your ability to use cohesive devices appropriately and accurately. That’s the only thing that they’re looking at really.
If you want more information on cohesive devices, you can download this infographic PDF thing that I created. Just Google IELTS cohesive devices or IELTS Advantage cohesive devices and it will take you to a full article and it will give you this PDF download and you can have a look at this. It takes a long time to explain all of this and the article does that so after the video, have a look there and you can really get into it there. I’m not going to get into it anymore here because the video would be too long if I do that. All right, the importance of grammar and vocabulary. The importance of grammar and vocabulary to coherence and cohesion. Most of you will be surprised that your language errors and the way that you use language affects your coherence and cohesion but it really, really, really does.
Pause the video and read this. You will probably have a headache after it because I look at these every day. Students send me these for me to correct. The more bad use of grammar, bad use of vocabulary, for example, let’s look here, “Since these activities are as simple as washing hands,” this person is trying to use idioms. You shouldn’t be using idiomatic language anyway in your task 2 writing but not only have they used them inappropriately but they haven’t really used them accurately either. What happens is when you have lots of grammar mistakes, lots of vocabulary mistakes like this person has, it makes it extremely difficult to understand what this person is trying to say. Let’s look at what most students do with grammar and vocabulary.
I’ll use lots of complex, high-level, impressive words and phrases. This is the number one thing that I see again and again and again. Students thinking that complex, high-level, impressive, whatever you want to call them, words are going to help them get a high score. If they did everyone would get a band 8 and the average score worldwide 2015 was the last time they released statistics on that and about 5.5 for academic writing. If this worked, people wouldn’t be getting on average 5.5. They’d be getting a very high score. It doesn’t work. Step two, they think that I’ll use lots of complex structures, complex sentences, complex phrases.
Basically, lots of complex grammar and this is really going to help you, it’s not. The next thing they do is say all of this will really impress the examiner and I’ll get a high mark. That’s what the average student does. The average student gets about a 5.5 for academic writing. Don’t be the average student. What really happens? Most of your impressive words are inaccurate or inappropriate. Most of your complex sentences have errors in them. Some of them have small errors, a lot of them have really, really serious errors that stop the reader understanding what the sentence means. That’s very, very bad if you do that. The examiner finds it difficult to understand what you’re trying to say.
This not only lowers your vocabulary and grammar score but lowers your coherence and cohesion because what this coherence mean? Coherence means it’s easy to understand the essay. If you’re using words, phrases, grammar, structures, all of those different things incorrectly, it makes it extremely difficult to understand and lowers your coherence. In summary, if I was to summarize this lesson I would say put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Always think of the reader. Make their job as easy as possible. Their job is to understand what you have just put on the paper, make their job easy. The main purpose of writing is clear communication.
The main purpose of writing is not to show how great your grammar is, the main purpose of writing is not to show how many words you memorized from a so-called band 9 vocabulary list or something like that. The main purpose of writing is clear communication. Always remember that. Grammar, vocabulary, structures, cohesive devices are all just tools to aid that. Grammar, vocabulary, structures, cohesive devices are all just tools to help communication, to help you send a message to somebody. Focus on answering the question in the clearest possible way. If I was to summarize this or give one piece of advice that will help you not only with coherence and cohesion but just in general get the mark that you deserve, focus on answering the question in the clearest possible way and that is really going to help you.
Okay, thank you very much, guys. There’s a whole lot of other stuff that I could have talked about today and I try and limit these videos to about 30 minutes because after 30 minutes people kind of switch off a little bit. If you need more help, there’s my free website ieltsadvantage.com where you’ll find hundreds of articles, videos, everything you’ll need there. I put new stuff nearly every day on Facebook so Facebook.com/ieltsadvantage. Make sure you go there and you like the page to keep up-to-date with everything. [email protected] is my email, if you have any questions, you need any help or if you want to work further with me, if you want me to help you one-on-one or join one of my courses or just have any IELTS question.
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For more help with IELTS Writing Task 2, check out our Task 2 page.