Coherence & Cohesion. Understanding what these words mean is fundamental to passing your IELTS Writing exam, especially if you are looking for a Band 7 or higher score. In this article, we will discuss the 3 main elements to make your essay coherent and cohesive. You will also learn practical tips you’ll be able to implement straight away.
Imagine, you just finished reading a piece of writing and you’re not quite sure what the main message is. Most likely, that’s because it was incoherent, meaning it wasn’t clear enough. Your IELTS essay should be the opposite of this. So, our first element is clarity.
“Making it clear” in IELTS terms is coherence. The way your essay is put together should make sense to the reader. That’s what the IELTS examiner is looking for.
Let’s take a General Training Task 2 essay topic. I’ve chosen one where we must express an opinion.
Many people today would argue that cinemas are becoming irrelevant due to new TV streaming services. To what extent do you agree or disagree?
The question is asking for your point of view. Please remember that the examiner is not judging you on your opinion but on your skill at presenting it.
Here’s a tip.
Here are mine.
Streaming vs. Cinema
Opinion: Cinema will never be irrelevant but must learn to adapt to changing social habits.
Conclusion: Cinema has already adapted to social change with smaller multi-screen cinemas. It will always be relevant to “minority taste”. It will always be relevant to someone.
It’s useful to write down the advantages and disadvantages of each view when doing an “agree-disagree” essay. This is one of the ways to find ideas to talk about, and then use these ideas to support a more developed opinion.
If you’d like to learn what you’re expected to write about in each type of essay or what’s the difference between writing an opinion essay when you agree, disagree or have a balanced opinion, check my IELTS preparation packs. Each contains step-by-step IELTS Writing and Speaking courses that can help you meet each IELTS Band 7+ requirement.
Let’s move on to the next essential element of any well-written IELTS essay: logic. Your sentences should be logically organised. This is also part of making your essay coherent.
In our Task 2 IELTS essay, this means organising the topic, knowing how to start and how to finish and how to fill in the very important parts in the middle.
Where do you give your opinion? There’s no clear answer, but most examiners I’ve talked to recommend making your position very clear in the introduction, just after presenting the topic.
Here’s my essay structure for this essay.
Introduction: Paraphrase question, state viewpoint that cinema faces change but will always be relevant.
Paragraph 2: Growth of streaming. Why? Advantages and disadvantages.
Paragraph 3: Cinema’s advantages and disadvantages. How cinema has adapted to remain relevant.
Conclusion: Concluding remarks. Importance of minority taste.
Here’s a very important point:
That’s why I have one paragraph about cinema and another about streaming.
Remember that it’s best to make your examples neither too general nor too personal or local. The examiner may not know that your local cinema closed down last year, for example. So, if you mention that fact try to put it into a broader context:
My own local cinema shut its doors last year due to the ever-decreasing number of cinema-goers, and that is something that is happening worldwide.
Or here’s how I could begin my body paragraph:
Streaming services have become very popular in recent years. Most people I know, for example, tend to watch films at home rather than go to the cinema.
If you link your ideas well with linking words, pronouns and substitution, you’ll make your essay cohesive, or, in simple words, you’ll make your ideas flow from one to another. Our last essential element is the flow.
So, clarity and logic are necessary to make your essay coherent. Coherence is the overall picture and the way your ideas are presented in a clear and logical way. When sentences are connected between the ideas within a text, we call this Cohesion.
Time for another tip.
Let’s look at several versions of the same paragraph to show you how cohesion works. Here’s your task: read and think about the linking devices and if they are used well.
Do you think the linking devices were used well? They were all used correctly, but there are too many connectors. They are slightly distracting from the main message of the paragraph.
And if we cut all the connecting devices out?
Doesn’t it feel a little “jumpy”? All the connections are left to the reader to figure out. This is not good for IELTS. You need to give your reader just the right amount of help. Let’s look at this paragraph:
In the last example, there’s just the right number of cohesive devices. One mistake test-takers make is in trying to impress the examiner by using far too many connecting words. Some people try to use at least one linker in each sentence, but this isn’t the right approach.
If you want to learn more linking words that you can use in your IELTS essay, you can read my blog on Essential Linking Words for a Band 7+ IELTS Writing Task 2 Essay.
Now, there is another aspect of cohesion we need to talk about.
Use words like “this” or “that” to refer back to what has been said without the need to repeat entire phrases. Also, pay attention to the use of alternative words to avoid repetition.
Look at some of the examples in our “streaming services” paragraph.
Streaming services have become very popular in recent years. Not only do they offer a wide variety of entertainment including films, series and documentaries, but also the service is economically accessible to most. Moreover, because you’re in the comfort of your own home, choices such as subtitles, pausing the film whenever you wish or even just stopping it if it’s not to your liking, are up to you. However, what these services cannot offer unless you have a very large screen and an excellent sound system, is the overall cinema visual and audio experience.
Notice the pronoun references: they for “streaming services”; it for “the film”.
Note the use of alternative ways to express something, sometimes by generalizing or omitting a word. For example the service for “streaming services”, these services for “the streaming services previously mentioned”.
We also have words that express a thought in a different way: visual and audio for “large screen” and “excellent sound system”.
You can see how all these elements come together in a Band 9 essay, which you can download below.
How to Write a Band 9 IELTS Writing Task 2 Essay | Two Direct Questions
Common IELTS Writing Mistakes You Must Avoid to Get a Higher Band Score
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