Using Lists to Improve the Length and Vocabulary of your IELTS Essay

Among the requirements in your IELTS essay or IELTS Writing Task is the word length and among the criteria for its assessment is vocabulary. We know that sometimes we can find ourselves just short for words, and in an exam, we often don’t get much opportunity to present a better range of vocabulary. Well, here is one way to hit two birds with one stone. You can help improve your essay in both counts by simply using … lists.

Now lists can help a lot with your IELTS writing task but you need to take note that it should be used to extend not the introduction nor the conclusion part of your essay, but to extend the length of the body of your essay. Introductions should present a clear idea of your discussion so this should be brief. Putting lists there would make it too long and it could make it appear vague or unclear. Conclusions, on the other hand, should bring a clear-cut closing of the idea of the whole essay and should not be too long either, which may cause the point to be lost instead. It is in the body of the essay that the lists should be applied because it is what needs to be expanded to provide support on the main idea of your essay.

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There are four ways to present lists that are outlined here. They are through the use of certain punctuation marks, symbols, and ordinals which we often see and use in our everyday documents:

1) Use of commas
We often use commas, to create a pause in between our speech or thought in oral and written communication. However, commas are also very useful in presenting lists. Below are some examples:
· Traffic congestion charges are becoming increasingly common due to their effectiveness, other measures have had less impact.
In the second sentence a list is added which will boost your lexical resource score by including topic specific vocabulary.
· Traffic congestion charges are becoming increasingly common due to their effectiveness, other measures have had less impact, such as cycle lanes, pedestrianised zones, and time zone limits.· A home gym should have a lot of specific equipment to work and develop each muscle group.
In the second sentence a list is added which will boost your lexical resource score by including topic specific vocabulary.
· In order to work and develop each muscle group a home gym should include a stretch band, dumbbells, a stability ball, an elliptical machine and a treadmill.

By including a list with topic specific vocabulary terms you will also be boosting your lexical resource score considerably.

Try to orientate your answer to a topic you know very well, for example, if you have a question about climate change and you are a doctor then structure your essay around the health dangers of climate change.
Likewise, if you are a software engineer, you may structure your essay around computational technology currently being used to identify erratic weather patterns.
This way you can use all YOUR topic specific vocabulary from your OWN profession.
For a whole pdf of IELTS Materials and bonus tips for improving your writing, then check out this free download.

2) Use of semi-colons
Semi-colons are used in place of commas, in lists where the items listed already have commas in them. Let’s look at the following examples:
· The department heads who received recognition were: Dr. Guillen, Immunology; Dr. Hill, Neurology; Dr. Moreau, Opthlamology; Dr. Ricci, Pediatrics; and Dr. Garcia, Cardiology.
· According to recent surveys, the best places to visit for vacation are Paris, France; Rome, Italy; New York, U.S.A.; Queensland, Australia and London, England.
· Among the top 100 best-selling books in Amazon today are Night by Wiesel, 3rd; Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, 27th; and Love You Forever by Munsch, 84th.

3) The use of ordinal numbers
The use of ordinals helps a lot in giving the reader an idea where you are exactly in your presentation of items in your list. It clearly gives the picture on what part of the list the item being given is positioned. This is also very useful when the items in the list must follow a certain order. See the examples below:
· Follow these steps in preparing a crepe:
First, combine flour, milk, eggs, butter sugar and salt in a blender.
Second, puree until the mixture becomes smooth.
Third, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat.
and so on.

· Things to remember to have a proper tennis serve: First, assume the platform stance or the pinpoint stance; Second, hold the racquet with a continental grip; Third, remember these words, “loose drop, swing up and pronation”; and so on.
· Among the most worthwhile activities that could be done on the internet these days are:
First, be able to research about almost anything in the world;
Second, be able to create blogs and podcasts and share your gifts to the world; and
Third, be able to connect to old friends and loved ones even from the farthest ends of the globe.

NB: This final method is less for IELTS essays, however, it’s valid for improving your general written communication skills, and more suited for work and everyday environments.

So now you know how to present lists in your essay. But how exactly can this help your performance for the IELTS writing task?

Again there are two benefits that you can derive from creating lists. First is it provides the opportunity to make your essay longer. When you provide a list, as you add to the items in the list, then the better chances you have of increasing your word count.

Second is it provides the opportunity to present a wider range of vocabulary. In a list, you may have items that are words that are commonly used. These words can be expressed using another word that may be more complex or less often used but with a similar meaning. All you need to do is replace the common ones with their more complex synonym. A bit of advice, though, it would help a lot to read many documents in English so that you can be introduced to new words and understand well how they are correctly used in a sentence. And also keep a dictionary handy, a new word encountered will be useless, if you don’t look up its meaning.

So, practise using lists in your essays. Practise each type of developing lists as mentioned above. Practise using uncommon words. Read more documents (in English) to enhance your vocabulary and make sure you look up the meaning of unfamiliar words. Just do this over and over and as many times as you can, and it will surely better your chances of improving your performance and getting a higher band score for your IELTS Writing Tasks.

For sample essays for General Task 1 click here.

For more info on IELTS Vocabulary, click here.