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Wednesday, January 03, 2018


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Hi Simon,

Is there another way to state firstly, secondly and finally? My teacher told me these are already overused. Thank you.

Hello Simon,

I got overall 7.5 (listening 8.0, reading 8.0, writing 7.5 and sparking 7.0), thank you for all your work, I had prepared by your video lessons and your book concerning ideas for essays.


There is "first of all, additionally/also, lastly"; but it seems that just switching to these alternatives is not going to improve your result. As Simon has stated: if you want to impress the examiner, you need to use good vocabulary related to the question topic.


Also notice Simon's use of "Another possible consequence.." above. If your paragraph explores one aspect in more detail, there is automatically more scope for alternative types of linkage and cohesion.

Hello Simon,
My answer for the question is the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
So is it aceeptable if i write about the advantages of having more older people in the first body paragraph (on the one hand) and then write about the more advantages of having more younger people in the second one (on the other hand - my opinion)
Waiting for your response. Thank you so much


"My advice for these questions is to write a paragraph about each side, and make it clear in the introduction and conclusion which side outweighs the other (i.e. your opinion about whether there are more advantages or disadvantages)."


English people seem to use "although" and "though" a lot in writing.



'Firstly' 'Secondly' 'Finally' are common English words used by natives. They do not sound or feel memorised, and therefore you should use them.


The question mentions 'disadvantages'. If you don't write about this, you will probably be penalised for not fully answering the question. Looking at the advantages of older people is not the same as looking at the disadvantages of having many young people.


The words 'although' and 'though' are used a lot because they have a similar meaning to 'but'. All languages like to use contrasts when they speak and write.

Thank you Csai and Sjm for your responses to my question.

Hi Simon. You said that it is not necessary to write a conclusion in a Task 2 essay: http://ielts-simon.com/ielts-help-and-english-pr/2012/04/students-questions-2.html

However, in the Official Band Score Descriptor - Task Achievement, candidates are given a 5 score if they "expresses a position but the development is not always clear and there may be no conclusions drawn".

Could you explain on this?

Second paragraph seems safer:

British Council themselves advise:

"Don’t over-use linking words or phrases or use inappropriately – this could become confusing or irritating for the reader. Also don’t always use linking words at the beginning of sentences – show more variety"


They also mention "referencing" (specified in the marking schema) and "substitution".

Dear sjm and Simon

If the question asks me to talk about advantageS and disadvantageS, or to talk about causeS and solutionS, is it ok for me to use the second structure--to talk about only 1 solution or cause in detail?

Also, are there any differences if i talk about two rather than three causes? Is it better to have more ideas (talk about 3) or to discuss something in more detail (talk about 2)?

Thank you very much!

According to the ngram below the incidence of "Firstly" at the start of a sentence is 0.0003%. If applied to a 300-word essay, this would mean that it would crop up once in a thousand essays. (300 @0.0003% times 1000 = 0.9 times rounded to once)


"Secondly" is twice as common and would occur in one in 500 essays.

"Finally" is much more common and would be in every sixtieth essay.

Although these words as an organizing sequence do come up when looking at Google books, many of the initial results seem to relate to books on writing, or are found in books whose authors have quite non-English sounding names.


Interestingly, the sequence "Firstly.. Secondly ... Finally .." does not seem to show up in magazines at all.

"In addition" at the start of a sentence is more common than "Firstly.." , "Secondly..", or "Finally..", and might be expected in one essay in twenty-four. Starting a sentence with "Moreover", "Also" or "Furthermore" is less common than "Finally" but still noticeably more common than "Firstly" or "Secondly".


@Anh Tran

In Sept 2012 Simon also wrote:
"The examiners' band descriptor sheet states that a band 7 essay "presents a clear position throughout the response".

A "clear position" means that your opinion must be clear (if the question asks for it), and "throughout the response" means from the beginning to the end of your essay.

For this reason, it's a bad idea to save your opinion for the conclusion. We don't like 'surprise conclusions' in English academic writing. Instead, you should state your position in the introduction, support it in your main paragraphs, and repeat or summarise it in the conclusion."

Perhaps if your position/conclusion has already been made clear throughout, then if you run out of time, not in fact having a formal conclusion would be less of an issue.

@Anh Tran

In the model answers provided by British Council there is a conclusion in both Task 1 and Task 2:


The also state:

For both tasks:
- use as wide a range of vocabulary and grammatical structures as possible – both range and accuracy are assessed;
- write in clear paragraphs with a distinct topic for each paragraph;
- Include a short clear conclusion.

https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/teach-ielts/ielts-teaching-faq#I have a new student who asked for advice because

For the record:

British Council also state:

"Write in a formal style in the IELTS Academic Writing test."


Thank you csaj. Such a thorough answer!

Hi Simon,

Thank you for the great samples. May I ask you an advise about what should I do if in IETLS speaking test, I intend to use "Firstly, Secondly, Lastly" paraphrase to express an idea but after saying "firstly" idea I cannot think anymore any idea :)

A youth bulge (a relatively large youth population) may give rise to problems related to employment. It often results in considerable numbers of people leaving school or university at the same time, creating an oversupply of labour and consequently intense competition for jobs. It may thus cause an increase in unemployment, or lead to poorer working conditions as employers realise that they can bring wages down and exploit young workers. A youth bulge might also force young adults to migrate abroad in search of work, bringing about an exodus of well-qualified young graduates and workers, often referred to as a ‘brain drain’, which is not a desirable outcome for any country.

By using "youth bulge" as defined short label for the topic in the opening topic sentence, and deliberately making this the grammatical subject of every sentence, and thus accessing pronoun substitution, the paragraph sounds more focused and cohesive.

The key to this technique are the following verbs, similar in meaning:
"give rise to"
"results in"
"lead to"
"bring about"

A) Problems related to employment sometimes stem from a youth bulge—a demographic trend where the proportion of persons aged 15-24 in the population increases significantly compared to other age groups. It often results in...

In the above version, the topic of the paragraph seems to be "employment problems", and it is not clear what "It" refers to in the second sentence.

B) A demographic trend where the proportion of persons aged 15-24 in the population increases significantly compared to other age groups can be termed a youth bulge. It may give rise to problems related to employment and often results in ....

This version clearly defines the terminology and the paragraph topic, and makes it easy to carry on clearly with "It".

And here's the business-speak version (NOT for IELTS):

A demographic youth bulge [DYB] is a demographic trend where the proportion of persons aged 15-24 in the population increases significantly compared to other age groups. DYB gives rise to problems related to employment and often results in .... DYB causes an increase in... DYB also forces .....

Hi, Simon,
I think the idea of disadvantages win of the 2 body paragraphs contradict your idea in introduction and conclusion you posted on the last blog.


Yes, you're right. My aim in the lesson above was to simply show two types of paragraph. They were not written to accompany an introduction or conclusion from another lesson.

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