Writing styles

Writing styles Descriptive Opinion-based Creative Email communication

There are a number of different writing styles and conventions, ranging from fictional to factual; very informal (e.g. a casual email to a friend) to highly formal (e.g. a legal document). For academic purposes, we can define two broad categories:

Descriptive reports Opinion-based essays
1.  Bar graphs & Pie charts
2.  Diagrams, Maps & Processes
3.  Line graphs
4.  Tables
1.  Agree/Disagree
2.  Cause/Effect
3.  Problem/Solution
4.  Advantage/Disadvantage

There is no official IELTS list of subjects (“themes” or “topics”), but the following themes serve to act as a general guide:

  Employment and money
  Environmental issues
  Gender, Family & Parenting

  Governmental issues
  Health issues
  Language and culture
  Law and order
  Media and advertising

  Science and technology
  Sport and pastimes
  Travel and transport

In addition to style (e.g. “Agree/Disagree”) and subject area (e.g. “Education”) it is important to note that IELTS writing prompts (exam questions) are always very specific. IELTS examiners do not want you to learn an essay — memorising a general answer to a general topic — they want to test your understanding of the exam prompt by seeing how well you can answer a specific question.



Cohesive devices

Linking words and phrases (“cohesive devises”) help to guide your reader through your writing, and to link sentences, paragraphs and sections both forwards and backwards.

Good use of cohesive devices will make what you have written easy to follow. If you do not use then, your style is disjointed and consequently difficult to follow. Your mark could be affected either way.

The best way to “get a feel” for these words is through your reading. Most textbooks and articles are well-written and will probably include a lot of these cohesive devices. Note how they are used and try to emulate what you have read. Do make sure though that you fully understand their meaning: incorrect use could change completely what you’re trying to say. Try to use a variety of expressions, particularly in longer pieces of writing.

Remember also, that the word “and” can be used to connect two short sentences together.

There follows a list of words and phrases that can be used. The list is not exhaustive, and BE CAREFUL: although grouped together, none is totally synonymous. Their position in the sentence can also vary.

Listing Giving examples Generalising
first, second, third for example in general
first, furthermore, finally for instance generally
to begin, to conclude as follows: on the whole
next that is as a rule
Reinforcement in this case for the most part
also namely in most cases
furthermore in other words usually
moreover Result/consequence Highlighting
what is more so in particular
in addition therefore particularly
besides as a result/consequence especially
above all accordingly mainly
as well (as) consequently Reformulation
in the same way because of this/that in other words
not only … but also thus rather
Similarity hence to put it more simply
equally for this/that reason Expressing an alternative
likewise so that alternatively
similarly in that case rather
correspondingly under these circumstances on the other hand
in the same way Deduction the alternative is
to new point
then another possibility would be
now, in other words Contrast
as far as x is concerned in that case instead
with regard/reference to otherwise conversely
as for … this implies that … on the contrary
it follows that if so/not in contrast
turning to Stating the obvious in comparison
Summary obviously Concession (something unexpected)
in conclusion clearly however
to conclude naturally even though
in brief of course however much
to summarise as can be expected nevertheless
overall surely still
therefore after all yet


It was a very expensive holiday, the weather was bad and the people were not very friendly. Nevertheless, we would probably go back to the same place.

The South East of the UK often has the coldest weather in the winter. Conversely, the North West of Scotland frequently has the mildest temperatures.

On the whole, his speech was well received, despite some complaints from new members.

Desktop computers are cheaper and more reliable than laptops; furthermore, they are more flexible.

Prices fell by more than 20% last year. As a result, sales increased by 15 per cent.


The importance of Creative Writing

As writing is a creative skill, it is important to practice writing “creatively” at the same time as learning how to write “academically”. Creative writing expresses feelings, emotions, personal thoughts and ideas, in an imaginative way rather than just as a means of conveying information. It is argued that by practicing creative writing in the target language will improve your English proficiency in many respects: grammar, vocabulary, phonology and discourse. This is because when you write creatively you have to manipulate the language in interesting and demanding ways in order to express uniquely personal sentiments.