Have you tried present perfect recently?

Social media are the most common media to be used to share information recently.

This looks like as though it might function as the opening sentence of an IELTS Task 2 essay. Let’s first of all remind ourselves about some ideal features for the IELTS Task 2 opening sentence:

  1. We’re introducing the topic as stated on the IELTS question paper.
  2. We’re thinking about our reader and what might be interesting to him / her. (Our reader is an educated non-specialist, someone quite educated who reads a lot and knows what’s happening in the world.)
  3. We’re relating the topic to a current situation or event, because current situations or events are automatically interesting.
  4. We’re relating the topic to a local context, because that’s also interesting to our reader, and because we know more about local than about distant contexts.

Hmm, even without seeing the question paper we can see that our writer has generally ticked these boxes. Now let’s focus on the word recently. That’s a good word to use as it helps to tick box number 3 – it helps us to focus on a current feature of the topic. It’s important to understand, however, that current is communicated in various ways and we have to choose time expressions and matching tenses carefully.

Current = now

  • Social media are the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are the most common media to be used to share information.

All present simple tense.
Notice that present simple tense can mean ‘now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.

Current = around now

  • Social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media are today becoming the most common media to be used to share information.
  • These days social media are becoming the most common media to be used to share information.

All present continuous tense.
Notice that present continuous tense can mean ‘around now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
Notice also that ‘to be ‘ cannot be continuous. In this case it is easy to use ‘become’ in the continuous, but only if you feel the situation is changing over time.

Current = up to and including now

  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information.
  • Social media have become the most common media to be used to share information recently.
  • Social media have recently become the most common media to be used to share information.

All present perfect tense.
Notice that present perfect tense means ‘up to and including now’, and so you don’t have to use a time expression.
‘Recently’ is a strong ‘present perfect’ time expression and if you don’t believe me, browse over and check out countless other examples at forbetterenglish.com.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening example, clearly our writer wants to communicate either ‘now’ or ‘around now’, and so ‘recently’ is not the best time expression! My advice would be to use present simple + ‘today’:

  • Social media are today the most common media to be used to share information.

IELTS Task 2 opening with balls

The topic of change in people’s lives has been widely discussed recently.

The opening sentence of any essay is an opportunity to:

  1. introduce the topic
  2. arouse the reader’s interest in the topic

In the opening example the first aim was just about met – the topic is some aspect of change.

The second aim is not met. Let us not forget that the reader is an IELTS examiner. He or she is a well-educated person who reads a lot and keeps up to date with current events.

Is there anything at all in this opening sentence that is likely to arouse such a reader’s interest and make him or her want to continue reading?

  • Yes. Adding the word ‘recently‘ puts the topic in a time frame that is automatically attractive for most people.
  • No. The reader will be less interested in the fact that the topic has been ‘discussed‘. And since you’re not specific about the context of this ‘change‘, or what kind of ‘change‘, then the reader cannot yet predict the content or direction of your writing.
  • At the very best, the reader is hopeful that you will go on to say something interesting about ‘change‘ and that you will explain the significance of ‘recent discussion‘. If you don’t do these things then your writing will be dull and will lack coherence.

Next time do something more ballsy:

  • Recent economic and technological developments have caused unprecedented social change.

Your reader will find this interesting because..

  1. this reader is interested in anything ‘recent
  2. this reader is familiar with recent economic developments in general
  3. this reader is familiar with recent technological developments in general
  4. this reader is familiar with social change associated with recent economic developments
  5. this reader is familiar with social change associated with recent technological developments
  6. this reader is interested to know more about all of the above
  7. this reader is interested to know what you have to say about all of the above

If you can continue from this opening and satisfy your reader’s curiosity, then you will achieve a high score in IELTS Task 2 writing, at least for task achievement! (See public band descriptors)