Academic Writing: Part 2
Answering the Question


In your academic essay, a considerable number of points are available according to how well you answer the question in the title. Therefore, it’s very important to make sure you understand the title fully before you begin. Don’t just find a keyword in the title and start writing. Examine the question carefully first.
You need to consider:

1.  How many things are you being asked to do?
Some essay titles may have two parts, so make sure you address both questions.

2.  What are the question words in the title?
Make sure you understand what the question words mean. Here are a few of the commonest question words:

  • Explain:  If you explain something, you give reasons why it happens.
  • Discuss:  If a question asks you to discuss a statement, you should consider the topic from different, opposing viewpoints. Don’t just write about your own opinion; discuss two or more sides of the argument. Conclude by giving your own point of view, based on the ideas you raised in the essay.
  • To what extent…:  ‘To what extent…’ means ‘how much…’ These questions often ask you whether or not you agree with a statement, and should be tackled in the same way as a Discuss question.
  • Evaluate/Assess:  If you evaluate or assess something, you decide how good it is. The best way to approach this is to examine the good points and then consider the negative aspects. In the conclusion, state how good it is overall.
  • Illustrate:  If you are asked to illustrate something, you need to use examples to support your ideas.

IELTS academic writing essay topics are very varied. You could be asked about anything from Architecture to Zoology, and you may feel you know nothing at all about the subject. Nevertheless, it is very important that you keep to the topic. Don’t stray onto something else. So, how can you get ideas about a question that you know very little about?

Firstly, divide your essay up into manageable sections. If it is a ‘discuss’ question, these sections will be ‘Agreement with the statement’ and ‘Disagreement with the statement’. If it’s an ‘evaluate’ question, they will be ‘positive aspects’ and ‘negative aspects’.

Next, spend some time brainstorming. On rough paper, note down any ideas you can think of. If your mind goes blank, try some of these ideas.

1.  Consider the question from other people’s points of view. What would a parent’s opinion be? What about an elderly person or a teenager? Would a man’s opinion be the same as a woman’s? Would people from different countries have different opinions? How would the point of view of a politician differ from that of a conservationist or a businessperson?

2.  If you’re still stuck for ideas, think about the question from these different angles.

  • The economy:   Is the issue expensive to solve? Who will pay for it? Or can this issue make money?
  • The environment:   How will animal life, soil, the air and water supplies be affected by this issue?
  • Society:  How will the issue affect people’s lives, their health and relationships?

Don’t spend too long brainstorming. You only need two or three ideas for each paragraph. However, it’s worth trying to come up with some examples to support your ideas. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be an expert. You may have read about something in a newspaper, or seen a programme on television which you can use to illustrate your points. Mention people, buildings, places or festivals from your home country. It doesn’t matter whether or not the examiner has heard of them. As long as you describe them fully, the examiner will accept your answer. 

Let’s look at an example:

As computers are being used more and more in education, teachers will soon be unnecessary. To what extent do you agree or disagree?

1. Divide your essay in to sections
This is a ‘To what extent…’ question. Therefore it should be divided into two parts: ‘Agreement with the statement’, and ‘Disagreement with the statement’.

2. Brainstorm some ideas:

Agreement with the statement:

  • Computers hold more information than a teacher
    E.g. the Internet, websites, CD Roms
  • Lots of activities can be done on a computer
    E.g. design software, videos
  • Children have been educated by computers for a long time in isolated places
    E.g. central Australia

Disagreement with the statement:

  • Teacher has a role in disciplining children
  • Teacher has a role in encouraging and inspiring children

3. You now have a structure for the main body of your essay, and it answers the question perfectly. Now you just need to add an introduction and a conclusion, and write it up!