Using good examples in IELTS essays
How important is using good examples in IELST essays? Well every IELTS essay question ends with the same instruction:
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from you own knowledge or experience
Write at least 250 words
Include relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience. Mmm – this instruction seems clear enough, but what does is actually mean? What are “good examples in IELTS essays?
- Can I give personal examples from my own life?
- Should I invent statistics to cite in my essays?
- Do I need an example in every paragraph?
Well, these are the questions we’re going to answer in today’s blog. Plus, we’ll look at FIVE nice ways to add examples to your body paragraphs. But before we look at some good examples, why don’t we examine three examples of bad examples! 👈😂
The Personal Example 👎
On the one hand, it is true that an employee’s personal life can sometimes affect their professional one, so it might seem acceptable for employers to want to more about your home circumstances. People who are married with children might need more time off for family commitments. For example, last month I had to take a week off of work to look after my sick son. Also, people might have personal beliefs that run against the ethos of a company………….
OK, so the IELTS instructions ask you to give examples based on your own experience. However, what they mean is things that you have observed in society NOT your own personal experiences. You really shouldn’t mention yourself or your Mum or your cat in your IELTS essay! 👦👵🐱
But, does that mean we have to disregard all of your personal experiences? NO! It just means that we need to turn them into more GENERAL EXAMPLES. And, we can easily do this by simply changing the personal pronoun “I” to the more general “people”!
For example, I like to exercise in the mornings before work = Personal
For example, MANY PEOPLE like to exercise in the mornings before work = General
Now, I want to be honest, there is no official rule about whether or not personal examples are “accepted” in IELTS. However, I have never seen a good IELTS book that teaches students to use them. And, in EAP courses, we definitely teach students never to use them. So, based on this I would say why “risk” using a personal example when you can simply turn it into a more academic one by changing the pronouns and (if necessary) the tense.
For instance, in the example paragraph above, the writer gives a specific example of taking time off to look after their sick child. However, to turn this into a more general example, we would just have to change the subject “I” to “people”. And, we will need to move from the past simple (which describes a specific event) to the PRESENT SIMPLE (which describes a general truth).
On the one hand, it is true that an employee’s personal life can sometimes affect their professional one, so it might seem acceptable for employers to want to more about your home circumstances. People who are married with children might need more time off for family commitments. For example, many parents have to take time off work to look after their children when they are sick. Also, people might have personal beliefs that run against the ethos of a company………….
So, by all means think of experience that you have had in your personal life that can support your arguments, but then turn those personal experiences into general observations.
The Fake Study Example 👎
Firstly, there are physiological differences between men and women. Men are stronger which means that have an advantage when doing jobs which involve intense physical work men. For instance, recent research by the University of Cambridge shows that 90% of construction work is done by men.
Now I don’t know where, when, or how this trend started, but I have to say I find it intensely irritating that students are being taught to give examples in this way. 😤 😤 😤 (Sorry if you use this method, but I’m assuming you didn’t invent it, so it’s not your fault!) Let me tell you why:
- In Academic English, if you cite research or an experiment, you have to give a clear reference as to where you got the information from. THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. If you don’t, you will receive a very low score from your lecturer. Teaching students who are trying to enter a university course to invent statistics is future academic suicide.
- Many of the “studies” that students invent are CRAZY. They are obviously fake and are therefore NOT CONVINCING at all. Any good examiner will simply ignore them as they are not relevant.
- Inventing examples to support your ideas means that you can end up making arguments that have NO SENSE. Seriously, when you are generating examples, you should ask yourself: What have I seen or heard or experienced that makes me want to give this example? When you invent studies and statistics, you skip this step and, therefore, you never “test” your argument. The result? You can arrive at some very strange conclusions. Recently, I have seen a “system” to building paragraphs that goes like this: 1) Give argument 2) Invent study to prove argument 3) state how fake study proves initial argument. For many students this might seem like a simple way to build a paragraphs, but time and time again I see it end in disaster. Why? Well, what happens if your FIRST ARGUMENT is simply not true?
The Problem with a Poor First Argument
There are some who argue that the main reason why Macdonald’s is very popular is that it is healthy. In a recent study, 70% of people who ate at least twice a week in the restaurant reported losing more than 10kg over the course of a year. Therefore, it is vital that everybody eats fast food.
Can you see the problem? If you don’t test your ideas by thinking of REAL examples, you can end up with paragraphs that make crazy claims and will therefore score very low for TR. Never run the risk of telling me McDonald’s is healthy!!!!
Again, the tragedy is that making a fake example a good example is SO SIMPLE. You just remove all of the specific details and TALK IN GENERAL. Rather than saying “recent research by the University of Cambridge” say research, or even an expression like it is well known. Rather than saying “80%” use an expression like the majority of or many. SIMPLY TALK IN GENERAL!
Firstly, there are physiological differences between men and women. Men are stronger which means that have an advantage when doing jobs which involve intense physical work men. For instance, it is well known that THE MAJORITY of construction work is done by men.
Personally. I don’t think that you every need to ever mention research but if it the results of studies ARE well-known, then you can simple say: Many studies have shown that more men are employed in the construction industry than women. However, my main point is that you should NEVER create a fake study, and certainly never add statistics to your examples.
Want to listen to Nick and I explain the problem with fake examples in more detail? Listen t this episode of the My IELTS Classroom Podcast
The Unconnected Example 👎
On the other hand, I agree with those who believe that there are many other reasons to master a foreign language. First and foremost, learning a foreign language at school is mandatory in most countries, so its purpose is simply to have a well-rounded education. In fact, there are some who may never do anything more than read literature or watch films in their chosen second-lagnauge. Also, research has proven that the progression of degenerative diseases like Alzheimers is slower in those who are multilingual as knowing more than one language allows the brain to work more and release hormones that delay the progression of this disease.
OK, this is a much less serious problem than the first two, but it is still one that can lower your score. Very simply, you should never end a paragraph with an example. Why? Well, you have to show how your example supports your position. Even though the relevance of the example might be obvious to you, you still have to clearly tie it back to the exam question.
All we need to do to resolve this problem is add another sentence that shows why preventing degenerative diseases might be a reason to learn another language:
On the other hand, I agree with those who believe that there are many other reasons to master a foreign language. First and foremost, learning a foreign language at school is mandatory in most countries, so its purpose is simply to have a well-rounded education. In fact, there are some who may never do anything more than read literature or watch films in their chosen second-lagnauge. Also, research has proven that the progression of degenerative diseases like Alzheimers is slower in those who are multilingual as knowing more than one language allows the brain to work more and release hormones that delay the progression of this disease. Therefore, more and more middle-aged people are taking up learning a language to help protect their future mental health.
So, if you finish a body paragraph with an example, make sure you add one more sentence that connects it back to the question.
Good examples in IELTS essays 👍
OK, so those were three BAD ways to add examples to your body paragraphs. But what makes a good example? Well, the key to having a good example is simply to think of something in the real world that you have seen or observed that supports your argument. It should be something general (so not personal) and it should be something fairly obvious (we are writing an IELTS essay, not a university dissertation!)
It can help to imagine that you are fighting with a friend who disagrees with your position. What example would you give to support your beliefs? What factual evidence could you give them to persuade them to your viewpoint? The answer to those questions should form the basis of your example.
Then, once you have an idea, all that’s left to do is build it into your paragraph. That will mean showing the examiner that you are about to present them with an example. This might sound simple, but many students fail at this final hurdle, so here are FIVE great ways to connect your examples to your arguments.
- you can only follow such as with NOUNS. e.g. Many people today eat too much fast food, such as hamburgers and pizza.
- such as can come at the end of a sentence (like in the above example), or the middle of a sentence, but never at the beginning. e.g. Fast food, such as hamburgers and pizza, can have a damaging effect on people’s health.
- you can only follow For example with a FULL SENTENCE e.g. Many people today have an unhealthy diet. For example, they eat too much fast food that is high in sodium and saturated fats.
- For example will always come at the beginning of a sentence and be directly followed with a comma (like in the example above)
- you can use For instance as a synonym of For example
TAKE X, FOR EXAMPLE.
- a really nice alternative to the simple For example is using the expression Take X, for example. This is particularly good if you have an example that needs a full-sentence or two to be explained e.g. Take fast food for example. Even eating out only once or twice a week can have a negative impact on your health as most shop-bought food is high in sodium and saturated fat.
A GOOD ILLUSTRATION OF THIS IS X
- A good illustration of this is another good way to single that an example is coming. I like this phrase because it forces you to have a clear argument and THEN back it up. e.g. People often eat unhealthy food without realising it. A good illustration of this is when people buy yoghurts that are labelled low in fat because they think they are healthy, but in fact they contain high amounts of sugar.
- Not all examples have to start with such an obvious signpost word as For example! Remember, examples are often facts that we have observed in the real word, so we can make it clear that information is factual by simply starting with In fact. e.g. People often eat unhealthy food without realising it. In fact, many yoghurts are labelled low in fat, but in fact they contain high amounts of sugar.
Using good examples in IELTS essays
We have covered A LOT in this lesson. Why don’t we look at a quick summary of everything we have learned.
- You don’t need to add examples to EVERY paragraph (but I would recommend that you include at least ONE or TWO clear example in your essay)
- You should NOT mention yourself or your friends or family in your examples
- You should NOT invent fake studies with statistics to support your arguments
- Never end a body paragraph with an example – i.e. it should be VERY clear how the example supports your argument
- Good examples describe the general observations you have made about the world
- Good examples start with signpost words that make it clear to the examiner that an exampling is coming (such as + noun / For example, + clause / In fact)
OK. If you enjoyed this post, you might like to check out last week’s lesson on how to generate good ideas for your IELTS essay. In fact, I wrote this week’s lesson only came about because so many people said that now they had ideas, but no examples to support them! If you have an idea for a future blog post, then please let me know in the comments below – I will always do my best to create lessons that people really. 👇👇👇👇