In many ways, describing a natural cycle or process is easier than charts and graphs.
Here are 12 tips to help you describe an IELTS life cycle diagram.
1. Paraphrase the introduction
As with all Academic IELTS Writing Task 1 descriptions, write the question in your own words e.g.
- The diagram illustrates/ shows/ outlines/ depicts the key stages in the life cycle of a butterfly.
Write an overall sentence here (or at the end) too e.g.
- Overall, we can see that the cycle consists of/involves [a series of remarkable transformations].
2. Choose the Simple Present Tense
Life begins as an egg.
The caterpillar hatches.
It eats the shell.
It looks for leaves.
It finds a twig.
It makes a chrysalis.
It comes out.
It sits on the chrysalis.
A butterfly emerges.
The wings expand.
The life cycle begins again.
3. Remember to use Third Person ‘s’ if necessary
Look at all the examples above – they all need ‘s’ at the end of the verb (It grows, expands, hatches etc).
For variety, you could use ‘they’ – and then don’t put the ‘s’! (They grow, expand, hatch)
4. Choose Passive or Active tenses
There aren’t many examples here, but instead of saying:
‘The butterfly lays an egg’ (Active)
you could say
‘An egg is laid’ (Passive).
5. Use a variety of linking words
These are the simple sequencing ones:
- First of all/Firstly
- After that
6. Use advanced linking techniques
Try to make things link together between sentences by using:
- Reference words: it/they/them/one/this/these
- synonyms (the young caterpillars, the baby caterpillars)
- after which (links 2 sequence sentences)
- as/when (links 2 time sentences)
- if (links condition and result)
- ‘-ing’ participles (click to see my blog about this – it’s so important for IELTS Writing).
- so that e.g. The butterfly unfurls its wings so that they dry out.
- in order to e.g. The butterfly unfurls its wings in order to dry them out.
- in order for e.g The butterfly unfurls its wings in order for them to dry out.
7. Add some Band 7+ ‘magic’
If you’re aiming for Band 7+, adding descriptive words can make your writing more precise, and it helps increase your word count, which CAN be an issue in cycles.
Try to add a descriptive adjective wherever you can:
- a small egg,
- the baby caterpillar,
- milkweed leaves,
- the underside of a twig
I show you how you can also do this when Describing changes to a plan.
8. Use synonyms
This is probably the most difficult part – finding synonyms for quite technical words.
But doing this will make you stand out.
e.g. it hatches, emerges, wriggles free, comes out
9. Use adjectives
This is similar to point 6, but what I mean here is that you should try not to just use verbs to describe the steps.
There is one good example here of an alternative:
It does not move = It is motionless.
10. Use nouns and collocations
This is another example of how you can avoid using verbs mechanically and how to add some variety to the text. e.g.
- It transforms = it undergoes a transformation
- It looks for = it goes in search of
11. Don’t worry TOO much about factual details
OK this is a bit controversial, and I’m not suggesting you should go off-topic or make up random scientific facts to meet the word count, but you can add details without worrying TOO much about how scientifically accurate they are.
For example, from the picture, it’s not clear how long each stage takes. So it is absolutely fine to say
- ‘it waits for several hours/days/weeks before it emerges’
The examiner will not worry too much about how true this is.
12. Read examples of life cycle diagrams
Read about natural cycles (carbon, water, nitrogen etc). They all follow the same pattern.
Watch YouTube videos – they will really help you get familiar with describing a cycle.
I have put together a collection of them in the Members Academy Writing Task 1 Course.
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