Should I paraphrase the question in IELTS Writing Task 2?
Many IELTS teachers believe that you should start your Writing Task 2 essay by paraphrasing (rewriting) the question. Although this has some benefits because it is very easy to do, I believe that it will not help you get a Band 7+ score and I will outline my reasons below.
The ‘template’ option (Band 6)
Here is what I see many teachers recommend as a magic formula for writing the introduction:
1) Neutral background statement:
[Any topic] is a controversial issue.
2) Paraphrase/rewrite the question.
[Some people think X while others think Y].
3) Say what the essay will do:
‘This essay will…’
- [discuss both sides]
- [examine the advantages and disadvantages]
- [explain the causes]
- [provide solutions]
Problems with the ‘template’ option
While this ‘template’ is a useful guide for people who are just starting to develop their IELTS writing skills, it may not be the best option if you are aiming for a higher score (Band 7+).
The 3-sentence template introduction is a clear and safe way to start an essay.
But it has some drawbacks.
Look at the question below.
‘Some people say that cars are the best way of travelling around cities while others think that bicycles are better’. Discuss both sides and give your opinion.
Now look at a student’s response. Can you see what the problem is?
‘Cars and buses a topic of heated discussion. Some individuals argue that motor vehicles are the best way of getting around cities, but others believe that travelling by bus is better. This essay will discuss both sides and give my opinion.’
It simply repeats the question, uses mostly memorised language, tells the examiner what they already know and does not show the writer’s opinion.
It tells the examiner that you rely on templates because you don’t have enough of your own language.
Of course, if you then go on to write some excellent main body paragraphs, the introduction is not the most important part of the essay.
But the introduction IS important for making a good first impression.
The problem with paraphrasing
Look at the student’s example below. What is the problem here?
‘The optimum method of meandering in a metropolis is a debatable issue. Some people promote four-wheeled automobiles, but other people utilise two-wheelers. This essay will discuss both sides.’
The language here is very unnatural.
Synonyms are rarely exact synonyms, so if you simply replace words with similar words, your language will sound unnatural.
Paraphrasing is a skill which many high-level writers struggle with, even at University.
Unless you are very good at paraphrasing, I would not recommend this strategy.
Your job is to ANSWER the question, not to repeat it.
Examiners mark large quantities of the same essay – they do not need to read the question over and over again. They want to see what you can do with language.
How to write a Band 7 Introduction
The best way to write an outstanding introduction is to address the question very specifically.
Look at the example below (in favour of cars) – what do you notice?
‘Modern cities suffer from several problems related to car use, and recently many people have suggested that bicycles are a better option for travelling around congested town centres. However, getting around by bike has some drawbacks. This essay will argue that despite the many health and environmental benefits to cycling, cars are far more practical and convenient for most situations.’
In this example, the student
- examines/refers specifically to the issue behind the question
- gives specific examples
- gives a clear opinion
It still follows the 3-sentence system:
- Background statement = what’s the issue?
- Analysis = what’s the question?
- What’s your opinion?
- there is no band criteria for paraphrasing – it is not a skill that is assessed in IELTS Task 2
- There is a BAND 7 criteria for your opinion. It must be ‘clear throughout’, so you MUST include it in the introduction, no matter what the question is.
This 3-sentence structure can be used to address any question, and it relates more closely to what you will argue in the main body paragraphs.
The example below shows how you can still use the 3-sentence structure to answer any question (this example is in favour of bicycles).
Modern cities suffer from several problems related to car use, because many people choose cars over bicycles as the most practical and convenient means of transport. However, people are beginning to realise that bicycles are a far better option for travelling around congested town centres, for both environmental and financial reasons. This essay will argue that more should be done to encourage this positive development.
Still not convinced?
Most of the IELTS experts that I consider to be trustworthy agree with me.
Here you can see what David Willis of TED IELTS saying exactly the same thing in his article Paraphrasing in IELTS.
David states the main disadvantages as:
- Paraphrasing causes grammatical flaws
- Paraphrasing causes unnatural language.
To see more examples of how to paraphrase the question effectively, I would strongly recommend this video from Oxford Online English (watch from 09.13).
- You CAN use a 3-sentence introduction, but make sure you address the question specifically and give your opinion.
- You CAN paraphrase the question, but don’t just replace words with similar meanings.
Learn more – in this live lesson we looked at some of your first lines.