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A Test Taker's Journey:IELTS writing task 1: Writing the detail paragraphs (1)

【明報專訊】LET US move on to the last step of the recipe in answering a Task 1 question — the detail paragraphs.

The detail paragraphs are the elaboration of your overview sentence. While in your overview sentence you should write about the most important features of the graph, the detail paragraphs should provide clear and detailed expositions of your observations complete with numbers.

A four-paragraph structure

Generally speaking, there should only be two detail paragraphs. As you will recall, one of the four criteria on which your work will be judged is ''coherence and cohesion'': how easy it is to read your essay and how well your ideas are linked. You are required to write between 150 and 180 words for Task 1. A four-paragraph structure, comprised of the introduction, the overview sentence and two detail paragraphs, generally makes for the easiest read, giving the reader a pause after around 40 words. If there is only one detail paragraph, all the information will be cramped. If there are more than two detail paragraphs, your essay could read like a disorganised list of numbers — one that is seriously lacking in cohesion.

Let us take a look back at the question we have been tackling (see diagram). Our overview sentence was ''During the two-decade period, the overweight rates in Countries A and C rose, while that in Country B fluctuated. As of the year 2000, Country C had a higher percentage of overweight people than the other two countries.''

Let the overview sentence be your guide

As soon as you attempt to write the detail paragraphs, however, your ability to organise information coherently is put to the test: how will you divide what you have to write into two paragraphs? The chart is about three countries in three separate years. It is not a good idea to classify your findings by country or year. After all, how can we distribute statistics about three years or countries into two paragraphs while retaining a feel of balance?

What we have to do is simple: let the overview sentence be our guide. We made two observations in the overview sentence, so we will just use one paragraph to expand each of them. That is exactly why it is important to identify two main features only in the overview sentence.

So let us return to the first sentence of the overview paragraph: ''During the two-decade period, the overweight rates in Countries A and C rose, while that in Country B fluctuated.'' Begin by describing the trends with numbers, but make sure that you are not giving the examiner an impression that you are simply telling them what the number is for that country that year. A bad example would be something like this:

╳ In the year 1990, Country A's overweight rate was around 1%. In 2000, the percentage was around 10%. In 2010, it was around 11%.

A better answer than this will require two things: selection and comparison. We will go into detail in the next issue.

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■Writer's Profile

Terence Yip (葉凱楓) is passionate about English more than anything else. Never has he studied or worked in an English-speaking country, but he scored 8.5 in IELTS nevertheless, and is ceaselessly honing his skills as a test taker with the aspiration to score 9 someday.

Email: terenceyipmingpao@outlook.com

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