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What are signposts?

Learn about using signposts for the IETLS speaking test. Improve your band score in Coherence and cohesion.
signposts pointing in different directions during a sunset
© Macquarie University

A key part of the criteria for Fluency and coherence is using signposts accurately.

Signposts are words which help organise ideas. They are critical in helping listeners understand ideas and avoid confusion. Without signposts, speech, especially long stretches of speech, can be difficult to follow and understand. Common signposts are words such as:

  • firstly and secondly, which show sequence of ideas;
  • however, which shows contrast;
  • because, which shows reason.

In Ari’s responses, he spoke quite fluently, but often failed to use sufficient signposts. This meant that it was difficult to understand the links between his ideas. There were a number of issues that Ari had due to his lack of signposting.

Confusing links between his ideas: Ari’s failure to properly use signposts means that sometimes his ideas seemed separate and unlinked. This was quite problematic when he tried to list reasons why students drop out of university. The links between these reasons were not clear. In his second attempt, he added signposts and this helped make the different reasons clearer.

Signposts

Signposts have different functions and can help you to clearly show that you are going to:

  • sequence your ideas
  • give an example
  • add another idea
  • introduce an idea that is different
  • summarise ideas
  • give a cause
  • give an effect
  • emphasise a point
  • generalise
  • clarify a point.

Below is a signpost handout with a list of signposts appropriate for each function.

The IELTS Public Band Descriptors considers the use of signposts as part of coherence in all bands. At a Band 6, a range of signposts (connectives and discourse markers) are used but this is not always appropriate. At a Band 7, they are used appropriately and at a Band 8 speech is coherent and appropriate.

Discussion

Choose a signpost from the list above and write a sentence using it.

© Macquarie University
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