Dogs don’t have voices

Moving on to look at the various factors irritating theatregoers, six include undesirable voice including sneezing, whispering, snoring, rustling sweet papers, mobile phones and coughing.

Indonesian flag Indonesians stop and think the next time you want to translate ‘suara‘!

None of the sounds in the above example represent an attempt to ‘voice’ (v) speech or song, and so they are not examples of voice‘ (n), they are simply examples of ‘sounds‘. Note that whispering, which is a form of speech, is nevertheless notvoiced‘ (your larynx does not vibrate when you whisper):

  • Moving on to look at the various factors irritating theatregoers, six include undesirable sounds including sneezing, whispering, snoring, rustling sweet papers, mobile phones and coughing.

When you are sick with a heavy cold or flu you sometimes ‘lose your voice‘, so that people cannot hear very easily what you are saying, and singing becomes impossible. However, only humans can lose their voices. All other animals, vegetables and minerals simply make ‘sounds‘.

Opinion in topic sentences

A student recently asked what is the difference between..

  • the topic sentence of a body paragraph
  • the main claim of the paragraph

Many students have read about topic sentences and believe that it’s essential to make a separate sentence to introduce the topic before making any kind of argumentative claim:

(sample body paragraph #1)

The first issue to discuss relates to the use of police time in the enforcement of marijuana laws. If marijuana is legalised then valuable police time will be saved. First of all, supporting idea one blah blah blah blah blah. In addition, supporting idea two blah blah blah blah blah. Furthermore, supporting idea three blah blah blah blah blah. Finally, supporting idea four blah blah blah blah blah.

  • sentence 1: topic only (saving police time), no opinion
  • sentence 2: topic (saving police time) plus opinion (valuable police time will be saved)

This is unnecessary repetition. The second sentence already contains the topic AND the main claim of the paragraph, and so it already behaves like a topic sentence:

(sample body paragraph #2)

If marijuana is legalised then valuable police time will be saved. First of all, supporting idea one blah blah blah blah blah. In addition, supporting idea two blah blah blah blah blah. Furthermore, supporting idea three blah blah blah blah blah. Finally, supporting idea four blah blah blah blah.

In academic writing it is generally a good idea to get to the point as quickly and concisely as possible. This kind of writing is much easier to read and is more likely to result in a good score in IELTS Task 2 for task response (TR) and coherence and cohesion (CC).

The percentage (raised/rose)

The percentage of Australians holding a maths, science, or computing degree raised quite significantly from 10 to 18.

It’s an easy mistake to make. There are 2 verbs with similar meanings. One is transitive (must have an object), the other intransitive (no object).

Indonesian flag Indonesians need to consider the difference between naik and menaikkan.

In your example you use ‘to raise‘, as in ‘raise the titanic’ (V2: raised). However, you have no object, and so what you need is ‘to rise‘ (V2: rose):

  • The percentage of Australians holding a maths, science, or computing degree rose quite significantly from 10 to 18.

Let me try to make a sentence using ‘to raise‘:

A combination of improved teaching methods, widespread availability of courses, student interest and governmental commitment raised the percentage of Australians holding a maths, science, or computing degree quite significantly from 10 to 18.

Possibly you were looking for a synonym for ‘to increase‘ in the hope of avoiding repetition. OK, well the synonym you’re looking for is ‘to rise‘. But ‘increase‘ is a very effective word in Task 1 writing. To avoid repetition, use ‘increase‘ both as a verb and as a noun:

  • The percentage of Australians holding technical degrees increased.
  • At the same time there was an increase in the percentage of women joining the  Australian workforce.

Don’t forget the whole!

The graph illustrates information about the results of a poll of theatregoers regarding disturbances during theatre performances. In general the 4 most disturbing problems are coughing, rustling sweet papers, whispering and arriving late. Their percentages stand at above 50%.

Thanks to the context setting at the start of the essay, I can see that 50% means 50% of the  theatregoers who took part in the poll. But it’s not immediately obvious and I had to read the opening a second time to make sure I understood what you meant. If a text is difficult to understand then it will receive a low score in IELTS for coherence and cohesion (CC). In the example above it can also affect your score for task achievement (TA), because you don’t really say anything meaningful about ‘50%‘. (See IELTS Task 1 Writing public band descriptors)

A good strategy to introduce and develop percentages in IELTS Task 1 can be seen in this extract from an article in The Economist (analysis below):

Data collected by USC Annenberg (University of Southern California) demonstrate that the “hyper-sexualisation” of men in films has increased substantially in less than a decade. Of the 100 top-grossing films at the US box-office in 2007, 4.6% of male characters [1] were seen dressed in “sexualised attire” and 6.6% [2] were shown “with some nudity”. In 2014 those figures stood at 8.0% and 9.1% [3]. 2013 marked the highest point of this trend (the year that “Man of Steel”, featuring Mr Cavill, was released), with 9.7% of male characters [4] shot in sexually alluring clothing, and 11.7% [5] taking some—or all—of their kit off on film.

That said, Mr Cavill and Mr Harington would do well to remember that these figures are paltry when compared to those of actresses. In 2014, 27.9% of female characters [6] wore ‘sexy’ clothing and 26.4% [7] exposed their chests, legs, or other body parts on camera: they are roughly three times more likely to be objectified on screen than men.


What is ‘good’ about this reporting of percentages?

[1] The first percentage is expressed using the following pattern:

x% + of + noun (‘male characters’) + verb (‘were seen dressed..’)

Notice that the reader knows exactly what is meant by ‘male characters thanks to the clear context setting of the opening sentence. Setting a context like this makes your writing coherent. When you use this structure you explicitly state the ‘whole’ – in this case ‘male characters’.

[2] The second percentage obviously also applies to ‘male characters’, and so there is no need to repeat ‘..of male characters’.

[3] ‘Those figures’ signals back to the previous two percentages, which we understand refer to ‘male characters’. Notice the structure:

past time expression (‘In 2014’) + subject (‘those figures’) + ‘stood at‘ + x%

[4] ..follows the structure:

x% + ofnoun (‘male characters’)

[5] is in the same sentence as [4], and so we can assume the figure also refers to ‘male characters’.

[6] ..follows the structure:

x% of + noun (‘female characters’).

We’re not surprised to read ‘female characters’ because this new context was set in the opening sentence of the paragraph. Again, this context setting makes your writing both cohesive and coherent since you explicitly state the whole (now ‘female characters’).

[7] is in the same sentence as [6], and so we can assume the figure also refers to ‘female characters’, which is the new context of this second paragraph.

Whatever you do..

Make sure your first mention of a percentage includes an explicit reference to the whole:

x% of + noun (the whole)

Would anybody like to try and re-write the text about theatregoers to make the ‘50%’ figure mean what it’s supposed to mean? Answers in comments below! 🙂

PS. Another example of what I’m talking about just came to my attention:

Researchers identified 990 fatal shootings in 2015 – more than twice as many as had ever been recorded in a single year by the federal government – and Washington Post data journalists and graphic designers built an interactive, searchable database detailing those incidents.

A team of Washington Post reporters dug into the data and revealed that most of those who died were white men armed with guns who were killed by police in threatening circumstances. But The Post also uncovered some troubling patterns: A quarter of those killed were suicidal or had a history of mental illness. More than 50 of the officers involved had killed before. And while only 9 percent of people killed by police were not armed, unarmed black men were seven times more likely than whites to die by police gunfire.

source: Washington Post

Experiencing failure with countability

Moreover, a failure can be caused by a lack of practical experiences.

It’s annoying, I know, but while some nouns are countable and others are uncountable, yet others can be either countable or uncountable, and here are two examples in the same sentence: failure and experience.

Generally speaking, if a noun can be either countable or uncountable, and if you’re speaking generally, use the uncountable form. On the other hand if you’re talking about specific things then use the countable form – for example you may be talking about the time you failed an exam and saying what a terrible experience that was.

In the original example, I think we’re talking generally, right?

  • Moreover, failure can be caused by a lack of practical experience.

Meanwhile, using the countable versions of these words:

  • His brothers were all successful, but he was a failure. Receiving his exam results was an experience he would like to forget!

Consumptive consumers?!

Advertising tends to make people more consumptive.

Once upon a time consumption meant ‘wasting away’, but in the context of tuberculosis, not shopping. Of course these days consumption is still a kind of wasting, but not as life-threatening!

Coughing, consumptive customers

The modern habit of wasting money on wants rather than needs is consumerism:

  • Advertising tends to make people more consumeristic.

Compare: consumptive and consumeristic.

Only 37% student?!

AAS students which have just about 37% students, submit assignments on time.

You seem to be saying that AAS students are not completely AAS students – 63% of each AAS student is not an AAS student!?

Perhaps you mean:

  • AAS students, who represent just about 37% of all students, submit assignments on time.

You are much more likely to make sense if you construct a noun phrase in which your percentage number is followed by ‘of’:

x% + of + ‘the whole’(???) + verb + etc.

Make sure you state the whole explicitly. For example if you are discussing male and female representation among students, then the ‘whole’ is students. If you want to say that 50% of students are female, do not write 50% of females are students. For a more detailed look at what I mean by the ‘whole’, take a look at my post Don’t forget the whole.

Use this structure with the first two or three numbers that apply to each new theme that you introduce and your reader will understand what the numbers refer to. You will also receive a good score in IELTS in all four assessment criteria (see public band descriptors).

As we know, fixed expressions rock!

As we know that, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

English, even academic English, is full of ‘fixed expressions’ – phrases that are always written and spoken in exactly the same form. Fixed expressions can be quite long and may include some sophisticated grammar, but it’s best to think of them as individual vocabulary items. Record them as vocabulary items. Memorise them as vocabulary items. Don’t change the word order of a fixed expression, and don’t change any word forms inside a fixed expression, even if you think your alterations make sense:

  • You’re playing with fire!
  • You’re playing with fires! (Altered word form)
  • You’re playing with flames! (Changed word)
  • You’re playing with the fire! (Added word)
  • You’re with fire playing! (Changed word order)
Indonesian flag You will be less likely to make errors like these if you memorise fixed expressions much as you might memorise individual vocabulary items. You may also notice how the structure of a fixed expression differs from its translation. For example, Indonesians feel a strong urge to add bahwa after seperti kita ketahui. (In English there is no bahwa):

  • As we know, last year the government removed English from the elementary school curriculum.

As we know  = 1 item, 3 words (not 4!)
Notice also that in this example as we know also requires a comma (,) to separate it from last year.

Record fixed expressions in your vocabulary notebook. Review them. Memorise them. Use them in sentences. And watch how your IELTS scores for writing and speaking start to increase!

Aggressive contents(!)

Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive contents.

It’s difficult to imagine contents behaving aggressively:

aggressive contents

Take a look at some examples of sentences using content (uncountable) and contents (plural countable). Remember that when you’re talking about something that can be countable or uncountable, and if you are writing in general terms about that thing, then you should use the uncountable form.

  • Children these days spend a lot of time using interactive media which increases their exposure to aggressive content.

There are pigs inside your house?!

In my place there are many farm animals such as pigs, cows, and goats.

Indonesian flag Are you by any chance translating ‘di tempat saya‘?! In English in my place generally means inside my house!

Consider using the following:

  • In my hometown there are many farm animals such as pigs, cows, and goats.
  • Where I live there are many farm animals such as pigs, cows, and goats.
  • In the place where I grew up there are many farm animals such as pigs, cows, and goats.