Process Essay For Ielts

The key word in the title of this lesson is process. The idea is that if you want to write a successful exam essay, it helps to think of the essay not just as a product but something that is produced as a result of the process of writing. If you miss out on one of the stages of this process, then the essay itself may not work.To get this right, it helps to understand the different stages in the process of writing and what you want to achieve at each stage of the process.

And so what you will find here is

  • a little bit more about why I think it helps to concentrate on the process of writing an essay
  •  a suggested process with explanation about what you should think about in each stage
  • advice on common mistakes that can happen if a stage in the process is missed out
  • a practice exercise

I should add that there is no “magic formula” here. This is just one process that I believe works for IELTS essays. You may be familiar with other processes. That’s fine. The smart candidate will adapt what they read here to themselves.

Why writing should be a process – avoiding two very common problems

1. incoherence – essays that do not fit together

If you think of your writing as a process, then you are much more likely to go through all the stages of an essay (step 1, step 2. step 3 etc) and to recognise the importance of each part of an essay. This way you are more likely to make your writing coherent. If, however, you think of an essay as a whole product , it is much easier to miss out a vital step and the essay as a result becomes incoherent.

2. the wrong essay – an essay you already know – or the wrong question

The danger with pre-planned essays is that they don’t answer the question. You sit down and start writing an essay which is already in your head and not one that answers the question in front of you.

Alternatively, you may get a question type that you are unfamiliar with. In this situation, it helps to have a routine or process you can rely on. You can still answer the question, even if it seems to be a question type you don’t know. Learn the skill of writing an essay, learn the process of exam essay writing and life becomes easier.

The pre-writing process

In many many cases, this is where things go wrong and this is the part of the process that gets forgotten in the heat of the exam. There is always time for this part of the process – it’s not something that should be automatic and “forgotten”.

Stage 1 – read and understand the question

Many “good’ essays go wrong simply because they don’t answer the question that is being asked. All IELTS essay questions have a precise question that needs to be answered. If you fail to give time to reading and understanding the question, you are most unlikely to answer it well. A possible problem here is that some candidates may come from an academic background where it is enough to write about the general topic within the question. That doesn’t work in IELTS. To avoid this common mistake simply make giving enough time to read and understand the question part of your writing routine.

Common mistakes

  • You get an essay topic, you have written before. You write the same answer. The question is different.
  • You write about a general topic, not the question itself.
  • You simply misunderstand what the question is asking you to do.

Stage 2 – think – don’t just plan, really think

I could call this stage in the process “Plan”. Here I prefer the word “Think”. The danger with plans are that they may be ready-made and they may not fit the question in front of you. I prefer the word “Think” because it is more likely to get you looking at the question in front of you and deciding how you can answer it using your language, knowledge and experience at that moment. Part of the point is that you should treat each different essay as a new essay. You can borrow structures/ideas/language from essays you have written in the past, but you need to make certain they apply to the question in front of you. That means thinking: thinking not just about what to include but what not to include. Your ideas must link together to form a whole – that requires more thought.

Common mistakes

  • The ideas and examples are fine, they don’t relate to the question as it is asked
  • You start writing and then half way through you realise that your essay doesn’t make sense – it’s too late to start over

 

The writing process

I think it can help to divide the writing process into 3 to reflect the 3 parts of your essay. Each part of your essay does a different job to do, so why not treat each part of the essay as a different stage in the process?

Stage 3 – write an introduction – look both backwards and forwards

The intro matters for various reasons. Not the least of these is that it is the first thing the examiner reads. Get it wrong and you have made an immediate bad impression. That’s not good. Another point to focus on in this part of the process is that the intro is the link between the question and your answer. In this stage of the process, I suggest you need to ensure that you are looking back at the question (to make sure that you are writing about the right thing) and forwards towards your answer (that anyone reading knows what you are talking about).

Common problem to be avoided

  • You don’t identify the question correctly
  • It’s not clear what your position to the question is

Stage 4 – develop your ideas in the main body – be clear about what you think and explain it

To me, this stage of the process is slightly different and it requires you to think in a different way. The idea is that you don’t just need to give an answer to the question: the answer needs to be coherent. This largely means two things. Firstly, you need to make sure that your ideas are clear – one main idea per paragraph. You also need to be able to explain those ideas and show why/how they relate to the question.

Common problems

  • There’s too much detail and it isn’t clear what the main idea is
  • The ideas aren’t supported with reasons and examples
  • The ideas are good but they don’t relate to the question

Stage 5 – summarise the ideas in your conclusion – make sure your essay is a whole

No essay would be complete without a conclusion of course. The writing skill is slightly different here too. I would suggest that it is different because it is a reading then writing skill – you can’t very well write a conclusion until/unless you have read your essay. This is because your conclusion makes your essay complete by going back to the introduction and reflecting the question there and also looking back to the main body and picking out your main points there. It’sa different writing skill because you are trying to say as much as possible in only a few words – that is what a summary is!

Common mistakes

  • sometimes the conclusion doesn’t get written – that means you haven’t written an essay
  • sometimes the conclusion doesn’t match the content of the essay – or, even worse, it doesn’t answer the question

Stage 6 – go over what you wrote

The reality of exam essays is that you only have one chance to get it right. You don’t have time to write it once and then improve it – as you would with a piece of real academic writing. That said, it is important to check what you write. My personal suggestion is that this stage of the process gets repeated during the entire writing stage – do not leave it to the end. That’s almost certainly too late.

A practice exercise – you can learn more from rewriting an old essay than writing a new essay

This is boring perhaps but it is a real learning exercise. Find an essay you have already written. Write it again. The idea is not so much to correct mistakes in your old essay, it’s to be aware of the process of writing. It works to take an old essay because you already have ideas and words for it. You don’t have to worry so much about content (the what) more about the process (the how).

  • Concentrate on each phase of the process – ask yourself the question “what I am trying to do now?”
  • Don’t worry about timing too much – it may even make sense to have a cup of tea between each stage

Try the next lesson in this series

Reading and understanding IELTS essay questions

Introduction

In Part 1 of the IELTS Writing test you might be asked to describe a process. IELTS Task 1 process questions are not as common as charts or graphs, but they do come up occasionally. They are much easier to answer than the other Task 1 questions, but many people do not prepare for them at all. This is a big risk to take because it does not take long to familiarise yourself with these questions and learn how to answer the properly.

This post will show you:

  • the different types of process question
  • a 5 step plan for answering any process question
  • how to write an introduction
  • how to pick out the main features and write an overview
  • how to write about each stage in detail
  • how to sequence your language

Different Types of Process Question

There are generally two different types of process question: natural and man-made.

Natural processes include things like the life cycle of a butterfly or frog, pregnancy, the water cycle or how cows produce milk.

Below is the process is photosynthesis:

You might also be asked to describe a man-made process like how coffee, tea, beer or wine are made, how cement or bricks are produced or how an ATM or the internet works. Below is the man-made process of nuclear power generation:

It does not matter if it is man-made or a natural process. The same skills and system we use to answer process questions is the same for both.

Writing Task 1 Process Questions: 5 Step Plan

To understand the task and quickly make a plan to answer process questions you should follow the 7 steps below:

  1. Understand the process. Find the start and the end of the process. Count how many stages there are and understand what each stage does and the relationship it has with the stage before and after it.
  2. Paraphrase the question.
  3. Describe what is happening generally in 2 sentences. This is your overview paragraph and I will show you how to write this in more detail below.
  4. Divide the process in two and write two separate paragraphs detailing each stage of the process.
  5. Check your work.

Understand the Process

One of the most challenging things about these questions is having to write about something you have never seen or heard of before.

Don’t worry, try to remember two things.

First, the examiner knows that you have probably never seen this process before and you have only 20 minutes to write about it. They do not expect a perfect answer. Just pick out the main features and report them accurately.

Second, you can quickly understand any process by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Where does the process start and where does it end?
  2. How many stages are there?
  3. Is it a man-made process or natural process?
  4. Is it a cyclical (in a circle) or linear (one start point and one end point) process?
  5. Are there any materials that need to be added to the process?
  6. What is produced?
  7. What does each stage of the process do?
  8. What are the relationships between each stage?

The processes you will be asked to write about in the IELTS test will not be very complicated and you should be able to easily answer all of the questions above. When you do this you will completely understand what is happening and you will be able to start writing your answer.

Paraphrase the Question

Every process question follows the same format. First it tells you some general information about the process and then it instructs you to ‘Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features.’

For example, the question above states:

The diagram below shows the process of photosynthesis. (General information)

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features. (Instructions)

The first thing we need to do in every question is to paraphrase the general information. Paraphrasing is one of the most important IELTS skills to master. We paraphrase a sentence by rewriting it so that the words are different but the meaning stays the same. There are a few different ways we can do this but the easiest way is to use synonyms and change the word order of the sentence. Synonyms are different words that have the same meaning, for example, woman and female.

Let’s look at the questions above and paraphrase them.

 

Question 1: The diagram below shows the process of photosynthesis.

Paraphrased: The illustration demonstrates how plants produce energy from sunlight.

 

Question 2: The diagram below shows how electricity is produced in a nuclear power station.

Paraphrased: The illustration below shows the process of how nuclear power plants make electricity.

 

Every time you see an Academic Task 1 question rewrite the question and this should be your first paragraph. We can no move on and write our next paragraph; the overview.

Overview of Process

The overview is probably the most important paragraph in the whole essay. If you do not write an overview it is extremely difficult to get a high mark in IELTS Task 1, however, if you learn how to write a good one, you are far more likely to get the score you deserve.

Overviews for process questions can be done quite easily by asking yourself a few questions. The answers to these questions will allow you to form 2 overview sentences.

  1. Is it a man-made or natural process?
  2. How many stages are there?
  3. What is produced?
  4. Where does it start and where does it end?
  5. Is it cyclical or linear?
  6. Are any materials added?

You might not be able to answer all of these for each process question, but you will always be able to answer enough of them to be be able to write a good overview.

Let’s look at one of the previous examples:

  1. Is it a man-made or natural process? Natural 
  2. How many stages are there? Five 
  3. What is produced? Sugar, oxygen and starch. 
  4. Where does it start and where does it end? Starts with sun and end with production sugar, oxygen and starch. 
  5. Is it cyclical or linear? Linear. 
  6. Are any materials added? Sunlight, CO2 and water. 

We can then use this information to make two sentences:

Photosynthesis is a natural linear process that starts with sunshine and carbon dioxide being absorbed and ends with the production of sugar, oxygen and starch. There are five main stages to this process and it allows plants to convert light energy to chemical energy in the form of sugar. 

Let’s look at the other example:

  1. Is it a man-made or natural process? Man-made
  2. How many stages are there? Six
  3. What is produced? Electricity
  4. Where does it start and where does it end? Starts with uranium fuel and ends with electricity being sent to the grid.
  5. Is it cyclical or linear? Linear
  6. Are any materials added? Water and uranium

This is a man-made linear process that starts with the uranium fuel and water creating steam and ends with electricity being sent to the grid. There are 6 main stages including steam production, turbines driving a generator and a transformer creating electricity. 

This system can be used for any process question and allows you to produce clear overviews each time. We can now move on to detailing each stage of the process in our next paragraphs.

Detail Each Stage of the Process

Now that we have paraphrased the question and provided an overview we need to tell the examiner about each stage in more detail.

You can:

  • say what each stage does
  • what it produces
  • if any materials are added
  • and/or discuss the relationship with the previous or subsequent stages.

Sequencing the Process

Try to sequence your language and make your details easier to read by using language like:

  • Firstly
  • First of all
  • Secondly
  • After that
  • From this
  • Where
  • Following that
  • Subsequently
  • Before that
  • In turn
  • Then

Make sure you know the meaning and grammar of the words and phrases above before you use them. Do not use them if you are not 100% sure about how they should be used in a sentence.

Examples

Let’s detail each stage for the first process:

First of all, chlorophyll allows the plant to take in sunlight along the green spectrum and the leaves also absorb carbon dioxide through openings in their surface. At the same time, water is sucked up through the roots and this is combined with CO2 and the sun’s rays to produce sugar that can be utilised by the plant for food.

Oxygen and water are the byproducts of this chemical reaction and it is extracted through a process called transpiration. Water evaporates from the leaves and O2 is released. Any extra sugar is deposited in the roots as starch.

You will notice that there are 2 separate paragraphs. I advise students to try and split the process in two and then write two paragraphs. Separating the process into 2 parts makes it easier to understand and easier to write about. Not all processes have two distinct parts but most of the IELTS questions I have seen can be treated in this way.

We will now detail each stage of the next question:

First of all, uranium fuel creates heat in the steam generator and this water vapor flows through pipes to a turbine. The steam causes the turbine to spin and in turn powers a generator which subsequently creates electricity.

After that, electricity from the generator is transferred to a transformer where the electric can be changed to a form that is ready to be sent to the grid to power homes and industry. Hot water makes its way to a cooling tower, condenses and then returns to the turbine or can flow into the cold water source.

Check Your Essay

You should try to leave 3-4 minutes at the end to check and improve your work. Many students do not do this because they feel they do not have enough time, however, it is better to try and get everything done in 15 minutes and then check and refine your work, than do everything in 20 minutes.

Things that you should check are:

  1. Are there any spelling or punctuation mistakes?
  2. Are the verbs the correct tense?
  3. Does the process I describe make sense? Does it match the diagram?
  4. Is there any vocabulary repetition we could remove with synonyms?
  5. Do I have 4 clear paragraphs.
  6. Did I write over 150 words?
  7. Have I included things only obvious from the diagram?
  8. Have I included the main features in the overview?

Sample Answers

Look at both of the first drafts and comment below with any improvements you would make.

First Draft of Process Question 1

The illustration demonstrates how plants produce energy from sunlight.

Photosynthesis is a natural linear process that starts with sunshine and carbon dioxide being absorbed and ends with the production of sugar, oxygen and starch. There are five main stages to this process and it allows plants to convert light energy to chemical energy in the form of sugar. 

First of all, chlorophyll allows the plant to take in sunlight along the green spectrum and the leaves also absorb carbon dioxide through openings in their surface. At the same time, water is sucked up through the roots and this is combined with CO2 and the sun’s rays to produce sugar that can be utilised by the plant for food.

Oxygen and water are the byproducts of this chemical reaction and it is extracted through a process called transpiration. Water evaporates from the leaves and O2 is released. Any extra sugar is deposited in the roots as starch.

First Draft of Process Question 2

The illustration below show the process of how nuclear power plants make electricity.

This is a man-made linear process that starts with the uranium fuel and water creating steam and ends with electricity being sent to the grid. There are 6 main stages including steam production, turbines driving a generator and a transformer creating electricity. 

First of all, uranium fuel creates heat in the steam generator and this water vapor flows through pipes to a turbine. The steam causes the turbine to spin and in turn powers a generator which subsequently creates electricity.

After that, electricity from the generator is transferred to a transformer where the electric can be changed to a form that is ready to be sent to the grid to power homes and industry. Hot water makes its way to a cooling tower, condenses and then returns to the turbine or can flow into the cold water source.

Summary

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