This entry is an overview of all the important writing related terms that are often referred to in our writing courses. Use them to help you revise the main concepts to do with essay, descriptive report and letter writing during your preparation.
the 10% rule: the idea that your draft should not exceed 10-15% of the official, final word count of a piece to help you make good use of your time in the exam.
abbreviations: a shortened form of a word or phrase.
academic adjective: adjectives typically used in different types of academic text (e.g ‘substantial’).
academic adverbs: adverbs typically used in different types of academic text. We distinguish different types of adverbs (e.g manner, time, place, frequency, place, degree, quantity, focus).
academic noun: nouns typically used in different types of academic text (e.g ‘implication’).
academic verb: verbs typically used in different types of academic text (e.g ‘analyze’, ‘assess’, ‘assume’).
accurately: precisely, without making factual errors when describing the data presented in the descriptive report task in the academic module of the exam.
action plan: a list of concrete learning action points that a candidate plans to accomplish to improve their writing skills in a certain writing genre.
adverbs of degree: intensifying or down-toning comparative forms, typically used in descriptive reports.
affixation: the process of adding either a prefix or a suffix to a word to change its meaning or word class.
angle: a perspective from which certain topics can be examined (e.g scientific, religious, or psychological) when brainstorming for an essay.
axis: a fixed reference line for the measurement of coordinates. Line graphs and bar charts have them.
bar chart: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports which consists of rectangular bars orientated horizontally or vertically with the lengths proportional to the data values that they represent and are useful for showing how something has changed over time.
body: the central part of a piece of writing, usually consisting of two or more paragraphs.
brainstorming: freely collecting ideas before setting out to write your draft, making sure that they are clear, relevant and different enough from one another.
capitalization: starting a word with a capital letter (e.g ‘Paris’).
checklist (generic versus personal): a list of recurring problem areas that candidates typically have with a genre or that you have discovered that you personally need to check before handing in your writing.
clear: one of the three important qualities of a good argument or paragraph in an essay/letter/report.
coherence: one aspect of one of the four main criteria (‘Coherence and cohesion’) based on which your IELTS writing is assessed. It checks if what you are writing is generally logical, consistent and unified as a whole.
cohesion: one aspect of one of the four main criteria (‘Coherence and cohesion’) based on which your IELTS writing is assessed. It checks if the parts of your writing are logically connected to one another. This can be achieved by the use of various cohesive devices, such as linking words and the careful use of pronouns.
collocation: set expressions. They might be made up of, for example, an adjective and a noun (e.g ‘a considerable discrepancy between’).
communicative purpose: the main message that the writer of a piece of writing wants to get across to their reader. This can vary in the case of academic essays, as some should convince (‘opinion’), some highlight both sides of the same question (‘for and against’), suggest solutions to a problem (‘solution’), or simply describe/examine a matter (‘discursive’).
comparative structures: one of the distinguishing features of descriptive reports. They compare two things (e.g ‘Jim is a faster runner than Jason.’).
concisely: briefly, shortly. Descriptive reports ask you to summarize the information presented in the visual input.
concluding sentence: the last sentence in a paragraph that summarizes its main message (=topic sentence).
conclusion: the last paragraph in a piece of writing, summarizing its main ideas and message.
contractions: writing pronouns and auxiliaries or auxiliaries and the word ‘not’ together (e.g ‘I’m’, ‘didn’t’). A characteristic of informal writing.
contrastive linker: a type of conjunction that creates a logical contrast between parts of a sentence or text (e.g ‘though’).
countable: nouns that can be used with numbers or in the plural.
creativity: in letter writing you will be provided with some ‘prompts’ that you have to respond to in your answer, but these tend to be very generic (e.g ‘tell somebody what the problem was during your stay in a hotel’), so you need to come up with concrete examples to fulfill the task.
criteria: the different aspects of your performance (=writing) that are checked when you are assessed.
critical thinking: the ability to evaluate any information available and make logical connections and assumptions by formulating relevant arguments.
density: the amount of information presented by the visual input in a descriptive report task. Some tasks might expose you to a lot of information and even multiple graphs, in which case you need to prioritize more what you want to write about in your response.
details: one of the three means of support that you can use to expand your topic sentence into a full paragraph.
diagram: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports to show how something works.
discursive: one of the four main essay sub-genre types on IELTS, in which you have to examine a topic from various points of you, but without arguing either for or against anything.
drafting: using key words and expressions to capture the collected ideas before starting writing. It is important that you do not write in full sentences at this stage yet, use only approximately 10-15% of the final word count and check once again that the ideas that you are planning to use are indeed clear, relevant and different enough from one another. You should also decide at this point about the order in which you are planning to present them.
draw on real-life experience: when you are writing your letter it is useful to recall or imagine similar situations that have happened (or could have happened) to you as well, because this visualization of (possible) real-life events will help you come of with the ideas that you will incorporate into your response.
editing: checking your work for spelling, grammatical, logical, etc errors at the end of writing.
ellipsis: the omission of a word or words that are superfluous or able to be understood from contextual clues (e.g ‘I drank beer and she wine.’).
example: one of the three means of support that you can use to expand your topic sentence into a full paragraph.
explanation: one of the three means of support that you can use to expand your topic sentence into a full paragraph.
flow chart: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports illustrating a process or a sequence of events.
for and against: one of the four main essay sub-genre types on IELTS, in which you have to consider the two sides of the same matter.
formal: formal writing tends to be longer and include more complex grammar, have formal vocabulary (e.g more Latinate words and fewer everyday phrasal verbs) and no contractions.
to generate ideas: the ability to collect thoughts that are connected to the topic.
genre features: the unique characteristics of a particular type of writing (e.g essays are formal and argumentative, descriptive reports are formal and objective).
grammatical range and accuracy: one of the four main criteria based on which your IELTS writing is assessed. It checks two main aspects of your grammar: how much grammar you use, (i.e how varied and advanced the grammatical structures are that you demonstrate), and how accurately you use them. This means that it is not enough to randomly show off some advanced grammatical structures if they are inappropriate in a given context, for example because they are too formal in an informal letter, or if they are inaccurately formed (e.g *’If you would’ve called me yesterday, I probably would’ve gone to the cinema with you.’).
hybrid: essays or letters which have two communicative purposes at the same time, e.g a letter of application in which you also have to ask some questions (=a letter of inquiry).
‘ideas given’ versus your ideas: in the letter writing task you are given some basic topics to cover, but you need to develop the details for your letter to meet the Task achievement criterion.
informal: informal letters use shorter sentences, more common, simpler vocabulary, abbreviations and contractions (e.g ‘C U soon!’).
input: the way how the information to be described is presented in the descriptive report task might include line graphs, bar charts, pie charts, tables, diagrams or flow charts.
instruction verbs: some typical verbs that essay writing tasks include and help you understand what type of essay you need to write (e.g ‘discuss’, ‘analyze’, ‘suggest’).
instruction words: the typical phrases in a task that will guide you to recognize what type of essay/letter/report you have to write. They are particuarly important in essay writing because they help you safely identify the subgenre required (e.g ’Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of …’ will require that you write a ’for and againts’ essay).
to interpret: to make sense of the data visually presented in the input in writing task 1 in the academic module of the exam.
introduction: the first paragraph of a piece of writing, which usually gives a brief overview of what the essay/letter/report is going to be discussing.
irrelevant: when an idea, a sentence, or even a paragraph does not logically fit in with the topic or main message of the whole essay.
key vocabulary: during the brainstorming and drafting stage of the writing process you need to consider not only the main ideas that will be presented in the piece, but collect (and take note of) some of the words and phrases that are pertinent to the topic and you are planning to use.
layout: the physical presentation and formatting of a text using paragraphs and other, genre-specific features (e.g greetings at the beginning of a letter).
letter types: the different kinds of letters that candidates might encounter in the general training module of the exam, including letters giving information, requesting something, complaining about something, etc.
Lexical resource: one of the four main criteria based on which your IELTS writing is assessed. It checks how varied your vocabulary is; how appropriate the words and lexical chunks, phrases are that you use and if you skillfully use synonyms and paraphrasing to avoid lexical repetition and demonstrate enough language.
line graph: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports which displays information as a series of data points connected by a line.
means of support: either adding an explanation, details, or (an) example(s) to create a paragraph from a topic sentence.
meaty: ideas that are strong, varied and relevant; and therefore contribute to achieving your communicative purpose and score high grades for Task achievement.
multiple input: having to describe different sources of information in the descriptive report writing task. If you are presented with various sources of information, first you need to understand how they are connected, then select the main features of the input that you plan to include in your description.
note form: not writing down your thoughts in full sentences at the drafting stage, just using some expressions as reminders of your ideas and key vocabulary.
opinion: one of the four main essay sub-genre types on IELTS, in which you have to put forward your one-sided opinion about a matter.
paragraph: a set of sentences strung together in a logical fashion to express and support an idea that forwards the main argument or message of your essay or letter.
passive voice: a grammatical construction, in which the noun or noun phrase that would be the object of an active sentence appears as the subject of it. It is one of the key language features that have to be used when writing a descriptive report, especially one about a process (e.g ‘the product is delivered to the costumer’).
phrase lifting: using longer stretches of language from the task, especially in task1 in the academic module of the exam. It is penalized, and so has to be skillfully avoided by using synonyms and paraphrasing the task.
pie chart: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports using circular charts divided into sectors (=’slices’) used to show parts of the whole.
prefix: the conjunction of some letters placed before a word to modify a term’s meaning, for example by making it negative (e.g ‘dissatisfied’).
process: the idea that writing is a series of steps and can therefore be broken down into components to make you become a better writer by practicing the stages.
product: the idea that different types of writing (for example essays as opposed to letters) have very distinct features that also need to be reckoned with, not just be confident about the writing process itself.
pronouns: are crucial in making your piece of writing coherent and cohesive.
proofread/edit: to check your writing for mistakes after you are done. You should spare a few minutes for this at the end of the writing process.
proportionate: the idea that your essay/letter/report should have paragraphs of roughly the same length and the paragraphs in the body should be longer than the introduction or the conclusion.
punctuation: using commas, full stops and other punctuation marks to structure writing.
reading the task: the first stage in the writing process. This is the part of the writing process when you understand what type of essay/letter/report you have to write, and what the boundaries (=’scope’) of the given topic are.
reason and result: a type of conjunction that logically connects parts of a sentence or text (e.g ‘therefore’).
register: the style or level of formality in a piece of writing. Its components include formal or informal vocabulary, contractions (in informal writing) or lack thereof.
relevant: one of the three important qualities of a good argument or paragraph in an essay/letter/report.
repetition: repeating the same idea and/or vocabulary is to be avoided if you want to get a high score for your Lexical resource and Task achievement criterion.
report structure: the typical structure of descriptive reports includes an overall statement of the information displayed, followed by a few main features detected and a generalization of the trends illustrated in the input.
scope: the ‘width’ of your subject (e.g it is not the same to talk about ‘books’ as opposed to ‘printed books’ as opposed to ‘printed books used in Italy’ or even ‘printed books used in education in Italy’, as these are all different scopes of the same subject).
selectively: not discussing all the information at hand, but focusing on the key data only. It is especially important in task 1 in the academic module of the exam not to try to discuss all minute features of, for example, a line graph.
separate: one of the three important qualities of a good argument or paragraph in an essay/letter/report.
sequencing linking words: words that help the reader orientate in the text by noticing the separate stages of a process, often used in descriptive reports (e.g ‘after this’).
sequencer: sequencing linking words (e.g ‘then’).
solution: one of the four main essay sub-genre types on IELTS, in which you have to deal with a problem defined by the task and suggest ways how it could be solved.
spelling: the exact way how a word is written. English spelling can be difficult, because the way how a word is pronounced sometimes does not correlate with how it is written.
stages of writing: the five parts of the writing process: reading and analyzing the task, brainstorming for ideas that are relevant, choosing from these and organizing them; using key words in the drafting stage; writing; and checking your work (i.e editing, or proofreading).
structure: the layout, length, the existence and number of paragraphs and how proportionate they are to one another in a piece of writing (e.g the concluding paragraph typically should not be longer than a body paragraph).
subgenre: the type of writing, especially the kind of essay that you might have to write in IELTS. Other than learning the typical genre features of essays in general you need to become familiar with the differences between ‘for and against’, ‘opinion’, ‘discursive’, and ‘solution’ essays, as all these will require that you take a different stance in your writing.
suffix: the conjunction of some letters placed before a word to modify a term’s meaning, for example by changing its word class (e.g ‘happy, happiness’).
superlatives: one of the distinguishing features of descriptive reports. They compare one thing to a whole group of the same category (e.g ‘Jim is the best runner in the school’).
to support an idea: is to back your topic sentence up with relevant commenting sentences.
supporting sentence: the ‘extra’ sentences in a paragraph that elaborate on its topic sentence by adding either an explanation, details, or (an) example(s).
synonym: a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase.
table: is a type of visual input used in descriptive reports with the information displayed in columns or boxes to illustrate a set of facts and the relationship between them.
task achievement: one of the four main criteria based on which your IELTS writing is assessed. It checks if you are familiar enough with the genre expectations of what you are writing (i.e essay, descriptive report or letter); in some genres whether you identified the communicative purpose (e.g ‘for and against’ or ‘letter of application’) right and if you wrote enough but not too much.
tense agreement: making sure that the tenses you choose to use in a text are coherent.
thesis statement: the main sentence in an essay, comprising of a clearly defined topic and a statement about it.
threefold editing: looking for generic mistakes (e.g typos), genre-specific ones; and your own, recurring personal errors of that given genre.
time limit: the amount of time you have for writing in a writing situation/exam.
topic/subject: the main theme of a piece of writing, especially an essay. Many IELTS candidates score badly on Task achievement and Coherence and cohesion simply because they do not properly identify the exact topic and its scope. If the task asks you to write about ‘the problems elderly people face living in the countryside’, do not only discuss ‘the issues that elderly people face’, or ‘the problems people in general face in the countryside’, because neither is really relevant to the theme as defined by the task.
topic sentence: the main sentence of a paragraph, comprising of a clearly defined topic and a statement about it, all logically connected to the main communicative purpose of the whole essay.
topic+statement: the formula for correct thesis statement and topic sentence writing.
transactional: the letters that candidates write in the general training module of the exam are of a transactional nature. This means that one or more clear communicative purposes have to be achieved by writing them (e.g giving information, requesting something, complaining about something, apologizing, applying for a job or scholarship, writing to a magazine editor or some authority to draw attention to an issue).
typical expressions: each type of letter has its commonly used phrases that you should memorize while preparing for the exam (e.g ‘I am writing to tell you how incredibly sorry I am for…’).
uncountable: nouns that are not used with numbers or in the plural (e.g ‘information’).
weaving: logically connecting the different parts of the multiple visual input of a descriptive report writing task by using linking words for a better grade in Task achievement and Coherence and cohesion.
‘while writing’ versus ‘after writing’: the idea that some aspects of your writing can be checked and remedied even after you have finished, while others cannot, therefore need more conscious planning pre-writing and while you are writing.
word count: the number of words you have to write in a writing situation/exam.
The Word Count Skeleton method: planning how many paragraphs your writing will have and how many words you will use in each before you start writing, to help you manage your word count throughout.