Opinion in IELTS Task 2 Introductions

Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, many people claim that taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

If you want a good score for Task Response in IELTS writing (IELTS Writing Task 2 band descriptors) then you need to make sure your opinion is clear in every paragraph – including your introduction.

Most of the time in academic writing we try to make our own opinions look strong and other people’s appear weak. We can achieve this in 3 ways:

1. Positioning

Position other people’s ideas before your own and add a contrasting signal to show that your own idea is coming next.

In our opening example, our writer uses effective positioning, beginning with someone else’s idea before giving us her own, and she uses a contrasting signal – however – to confirm that it’s her idea next.

2. Evaluative language

Use negative evaluative language to talk about other people’s ideas and positive evaluative language to talk about yours.

Our writer does not use particularly negative language to describe opposite opinion, but that’s OK – she has already put opposite opinion in ‘weak’ position. She then strengthens her own idea with an extremely positive evaluative adjective – beneficial.

3. Problematising

When introducing other people’s ideas, use problematising phrases to show that there might be something wrong with their ideas.

Our writer uses a problematising phrase – some people argue that – to introduce opposite opinion and make it appear weak. Great! But then..

sinking ship
..she uses another problematising phrase – many people claim that – to introduce her own idea!? This is supposed to be your opinion, not many people’s!

Summary

If we take out that second – confusing – problematising phrase, then we’re left with a nice introduction to this argument about gap years. The writer’s opinion is now obvious, and the reader can look forward to some supporting arguments in the following body paragraphs.

  • Some people argue that taking a year break causes hesitation to continue study permanently. However, taking a gap year between finishing high school and starting university studies is beneficial.

Success failure effort belief – Part 2

Spoiler alert! If you want to test your ability to use these words, try the gap fill challenge first!

In my previous post I challenged you to complete a text using the words success, failure, effort, and belief. In this post I give the completed text plus some advice about common collocations used in the text.

1. If you tried the challenge, read the text and check your answers.

Bill is a successful olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved success in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a success. Last year he successfully broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his success? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to succeed!

Budi is unsuccessful as a runner. He fails every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a failure. As a child he failed. As a teenager he failed, and now as a middle age man he continues to fail. He believes his constant failure to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso.

It seems that in order to succeed, a runner needs to make an effort to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a belief in winning. It is only when we believe we will win that we can avoid failure and achieve success.

2. Notice the underlined collocations!

  • achieve success (without ‘a’)
  • be a success (with ‘a’)
  • be a failure (with ‘a’)
  • make an effort to + V1
  • failure to win (failure uncountable)
  • a belief in + n

I searched in my favourite online collocation dictionary OZDIC and found some other collocations for success, failure, effort, and belief. Try searching for other forms of these words and look at different collocates.

3. Talk about it! (IELTS Speaking Part 2)

With a friend, share successful and less successful experiences. Talk about how much effort you made in order to achieve a goal.  Are you ‘a success’? How do you know?

4. Write about it! (IELTS Writing Task 2)

  • What are the factors that cause success or failure?
  • Does failure mean that the desire to succeed wasn’t strong enough?
  • What are some different ways to measure success and failure? What is the best way? Why?

Post your writing in the comments box below and I will give feedback.

Success failure effort belief

These words – success, failure, effort, belief – take different forms and collocate strongly with other words.

flag-of-indonesia They’re also problematic for Indonesian scholars. Success has become sukses, effort is translated from upaya, and belief is subject to the same word form error as life (see note below).

A guruEAP challenge!

Use a dictionary to complete the following text with suitable forms of these words. You can copy and paste into a word processor, and later paste your completed text into the comments box below this post where I will later add the ‘correct’ version.

Bill is a ______________ olympic runner. He has won several gold medals and has achieved ______________ in many other competitions. Ever since he was a child, he has always been a ______________. Last year he ______________ broke several world records. What does he think are the factors influencing his ______________? Clean living, plenty of training, and of course the desire to ______________!

Budi is a ______________ as a runner. He ______________ every time he enters a race. Ever since he began running he has been a ______________. As a child he ______________. As a teenager he ______________, and now as a middle age man he continues to ______________. He believes his constant ______________ to win may be related to his fondness for nightclubs and the fact that he eats nothing but bakso (with white rice, of course).

It seems that in order to ______________, a runner needs to make an ______________ to maintain the correct lifestyle and to maintain a ______________ in winning. It is only when we ______________ we will win that we can avoid ______________ and achieve ______________.

flag-of-indonesia Note to Indonesian scholars

  • In English effort is a noun (not a verb). So what is a good translation for mengupaya untuk..?
  • Word form errors made with belief and believe are the same as errors made with life and live.

More than one ‘most’!

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factor in environmental land degradation.

I know what you’re thinking – one means singular. Well, true, but that’s ‘over-grazing’ – even though it’s uncountable, the subject ‘over-grazing’ is a single thing. In this structure, one of + superlative adjective is telling us about ‘factors’, not about ‘over-grazing’.

I know what else you’re thinking – surely there is only one most?! Well, not always! When it comes to land degradation there is more than one ‘most significant factor’. For example, ‘deforestation’ is another ‘most significant factor’, and so ‘factor’ needs to be plural:

Over-grazing is one of the most significant factors in environmental land degradation.

Repeat after me..

one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
one of + superlative + plural countable noun
(repeat until you get tired..)

More examples using ‘most’ here.

You could use ‘can’, or not!

This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

This is possible in some languages but not in English. In English if something happens the same way, all the time, predictably, without variation, then there isn’t really any question of probability (‘could‘). For regular, predictable phenomena use good old present simple tense without modals:

  • This is achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.

Only use modals for unpredictable or uncertain situations, and then think about the degree of predictability or certainty:

  • This could be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level, but there are other, better methods.
    (= Gravity perhaps not the best method)
  • In most situations this can be achieved using gravity to allow the water to flow from the higher to the lower level.
    (= Gravity usually the best method)

flag-of-indonesia Notice that could implies a more negative evaluation than can. Indonesians should think carefully about this distinction as they tend to over-use could, having been taught in school that could is more formal than can. Well, yes it is, but only in offers and requests:

  • Can you pass the salt? (informal)
  • Could you pass the salt, please? (formal)
  • Excuse me. Would you mind passing the salt? (very formal)
  • etc.

Youths or young people?

These days youths are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

This is grammatically correct but inappropriate.

The countable noun youth tends to have negative connotations, especially when it’s plural or part of the lexical phrase the youth of today:

  • Youths at football matches often cause trouble.
  • The youth of today have no respect for others.

Youths are troublemakers, at that awkward age between childhood and adulthood when they rebel against authority and indulge in sex, drugs and rock and roll, often with negative consequences. Youths hang around town in gangs and old ladies are afraid of them.

'Youths' in a residential area
Youths in a residential area

Most of the time in IELTS Task 2 essays you want to maintain a more positive – or at least neutral – attitude to young people, and so it’s probably best to refer to them as exactly that – young people!

  • These days young people are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.

Another option for IELTS writing would be:

  • These days the younger generation are more challenged by the future because making decisions about the future is not easy.
'Young people'
Clean living young people facing the future
as responsible members of society!

In IELTS Task 2 you also often want to make a prediction about how a situation may affect young people in the future. In this case you are talking about future generations:

  • Global warming is a problem that governments need to solve for the sake of future generations.
  • Future generations will prosper as long as they follow a healthy lifestyle.

Notice that we assume there will be more than one future generation and if we’re generalising then there is no article (the).

Contribution, cause, effect

The experience I got from this job has strong contributions in changing my character from employee to leader.

This is a word that has been borrowed from English and is now used in Indonesian as the noun kontribusi. However, it’s difficult to find a verb that collocates with the noun contribution in English. Certainly you would not use ‘have‘ + ‘contributions‘. In English, contribution usually appears before the verb, as the subject of a sentence. In addition, contribution (subject) often refers either to money or to the efforts of a person or people. In the example above, however, experience and changing are both abstract nouns where one is the cause and the other is the effect.

If you want to communicate cause effect then you need the verb form contribute. There are still collocation issues, but heck – that gives you something to show off in your IELTS writing, right?

  • The experience I got from this job has contributed greatly to changing my character from employee to leader.

Notice!

Remember that when both nouns are abstract, contribute to behaves as a cause effect signal. This is a relatively low-frequency signal and is therefore a good signal to use in IELTS writing as an alternative to the more common verb cause.

Contribute to is also weaker than cause and is therefore useful when you want to express less than 100% certainty:

  • Greenhouse gases cause global warming. (Strong – implies no other causes)
  • Greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. (Weaker – implies there may be other causes)

Using weak verbs is one of several strategies for weakening debatable claims. I deal with other strategies in other posts. You can find two more strategies here.

Two chill pills for writers

Students experience stress when they enter university because college life is tough and tiring.

In my opinion this writer needs to take a chill pill. The claim he or she is making about university seems highly subjective and emotional.

The first problem is that there are plenty of students – myself included – who do not experience stress when they enter university. Secondly, college life is not always tough and tiring. College life includes fun social activities with friends, holidays, and leisure activities on and off campus. Both of these ideas can be incorporated into the original statement after taking two chill pills:

  • Students often experience stress when they enter university because college life can be tough and tiring.
  1. (Pill 1) The adverb often tells us two things:
    • the frequency of stress (not always!)
    • the number of students who experience stress (not all!)
  2. (Pill 2) The modal can tells us about the possibility that college life is not always tough and tiring (It’s possible, but maybe not.)

Why is it a good idea to weaken claims like this?

  • it makes claims easier to defend
  • it makes your writing appear less subjective and more objective
  • it shows that you are confidently uncertain. 
  • it sends a message to your reader that you might be wrong, and you welcome feedback and corrections

When you’re reading journal articles, look for other strategies writers use to weaken (or strengthen) claims.

Society and community revisited

Space exploration does not improve conditions in the society.

Recently in class we were discussing the difference between society and community and it occurred to me that this might be an opportunity to contrast society and the society (see also previous post).

As you may be aware, there are so-called ‘uncontacted peoples‘ living in forests in different parts of the world. These people form communities whose social structures are very different from those found in modern society. This is because uncontacted peoples – for whatever reason – are cut off from the rest of society.

In this case, society (uncountable, without the) refers to all of humanity. Meanwhile community (here countable) refers to a group having shared values, interests and lifestyle. Academics sometimes identify uncontacted peoples as primitive societies (plural countable), where each society can be counted as a separate group having unique social characteristics. Note, however, that the countable use of society tends to be restricted to the fields of anthropology, sociology, and other social sciences.

If we wish to talk about society (uncountable, without the) to mean all of humanity, then our opening sentence should probably read:

  • Space exploration does not improve conditions in society.

flag-of-indonesia A common error made by Indonesian students is to write the society (a particular group) when you really mean society (all of humanity).

For further analysis of society and the society try here.

Lemon Squeezy

Another song from @GuruEAP – this time to practice the words ‘easy‘ and ‘difficult‘. See also this earlier post for further practice of these not-so-easy items!

A free handout with lyrics and tasks for students accompanies the song. The video features Indonesian EAP students preparing to study abroad. Enjoy!