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This content is taken from the University of Reading's online course, An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 8 seconds Many international students are required to provide proof of their level of English before they are accepted onto degree programmes in the UK and other countries. And one way to do this is to achieve the required level on an exam called I-E-L-T-S, or IELTS, which many of you may be familiar with. In the writing section of the exam, candidates are asked to write an essay of about 250 words in 40 minutes, and this extract is characteristic of this type of essay, although it is significantly longer. The essay is a response to an exam question, in which the student is expected to write about three things; the causes of food waste, its impacts, and possible solutions to the problem.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 seconds To provide a satisfactory response the student is expected to write about all three issues. The essay has an introductory paragraph that needs to be fairly short in this type of essay, which is written under pressure of time. Notice that the focus of the essay moves from a fairly general issue, the growth of the world’s population, to the specific issue of food waste. This move from the general to the specific is characteristic of much academic writing. The introductory paragraph also includes an overview of the structure of the essay, and this is also typical of many types of academic writing. This student has used the “I” form; “In this essay I will”, “in my opinion”.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds There has always been some discussion among teachers and students about whether these personal forms, “I, “you”, “we”, are acceptable in academic writing. The answer is that their acceptability varies from one discipline to another discipline, or even from assignment to assignment. So for a university student the best strategy is to ask for clarification on this issue at the start of their degree programme. A good writer can express their own opinion without having to use “I” or “we”. One of the most significant differences between this essay and the more academic essay which you will look at next, is that in this essay there are no references to other sources.

Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds In an essay written during an exam, one might not expect references to other sources, however in a real academic essay submitted as part of coursework, you would normally be expected to include information from other suitable sources, and these would have to be cited according to the appropriate academic conventions.

IELTS exam essay

You will now look at an example characteristic of an answer to an exam question in an IELTS test. As you watch this video, again think about how the audience, content, and style and tone of the writing differs from the newspaper article in the previous Step.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Intermediate Guide to Writing in English for University Study

University of Reading