One of the four marking criteria of Writing tasks 1 and 2 is “Coherence and cohesion”. This can be broken into two parts:
- Coherence, which means how much logical sense your writing makes; how comfortably the ideas flow from one sentence or paragraph to the next. It pertains to the logical ordering of the paragraphs within a text or the sentences within a paragraph, or the clauses within a sentence. It is often referred to as ‘structure’.
- Cohesion, which means how clearly and smoothly those ideas are connected in words. It pertains to the use of ‘language’ such as cohesive devices (or “linking words”) and grammar (including punctuation).
For example, consider the following three sentences:
I have a headache. I didn’t sleep well last night. I was worried about an important exam I have tonight.
It uses no cohesive devices but it is coherent. The reason for the headache is presumably poor sleep; the reason for poor sleep is anxiety about the pending exam.
Adding cohesive devices may improve the readability, but it is not necessary:
I have a headache. I’d say it’s because I didn’t sleep well last night due to worrying about an important exam I have tonight.
Other cohesive devices include: As a consequence, because, Even though, However, In contrast, On the other hand, Whereas, While, etc.
Compare it with the following three sentences which have much less coherence:
I have a headache. I normally fall asleep before midnight. My exam tonight starts at 7pm.
Adding cohesive devices will not improve the coherence. In fact, they will probably confuse the reader more (by forcing him/her to try to find a non-existent relationship between ideas).
- Cohesive devices will only improve your IELTS writing score if it already has coherence
- Adding cohesive devices without coherence will often worsen your score
Requirements and tips for band 8+ in coherence and cohesion
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- “uses a range of cohesive devices appropriately with no under-/over-use” (required for band 8 – tasks 1 & 2)
- TIP #1: use cohesive devices accurately and when necessary
- TIP #2: do not overuse conjunctive adverbs at the beginning of sentences (However, / On the other hand, / Moreover, etc) as it will sound ‘mechanical’
- “sequences information and ideas logically” (required for band 8 – tasks 1 & 2)
- TIP #3: arrange sentences logically as demonstrated above with the 3 logically-related sentences about the headache
- “uses paragraphing sufficiently and appropriately” (required for band 8 – tasks 1 & 2)
- TIP #4a: Task 1 (academic) “information transfers” typically include these paragraphs: introduction, overview, 2 body paragraphs (note: the overview may go in the introduction paragraph, in a separate paragraph after the introduction, or at the end of the text)
- TIP #4b: Task 1 (general) “letters” can have very short opening and/or closing paragraphs (1 or 2 sentences) with body paragraphs of several sentences
- TIP #5: Task 2 essays typically contain these paragraphs: introduction, 2 (or sometimes 3) body paragraphs, conclusion
- TIP #6: Task 2 essay body paragraphs each focus on a separate main idea
- “presents a clear central topic within each paragraph” (required for band 7, task 2)
- TIP #7: Indicate the body paragraph’s main idea by its “topic sentence” (typically its first sentence)
- Official IELTS Writing Task 1 Band Descriptors (public version): https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/writing-band-descriptors-task-1.ashx?la=en
- Official IELTS Writing Task 2 Band Descriptors (public version): https://www.ielts.org/-/media/pdfs/writing-band-descriptors-task-2.ashx?la=en
- More advice and examples of cohesive devices for IELTS candidates: https://www.ieltsadvantage.com/2015/08/12/cohesive-devices/