IELTS Writing, Task 1 - Graph Description
Understanding and correctly interpreting graphs
Describing graphs using comparative forms
Describing graphs using noun phrases
1 IELTS Writing Task 1: Overview and Typical Problems
IELTS writing Task One requires you to describe a graph, chart, table or diagram.
You must write at least 150 words, and should allow about 20 minutes.
Usually some kind of statistical information is represented in graphic form, and you must translate this into a readable text.
Occasionally candidates will be asked to describe a process which is illustrated by a labelled diagram (such as the process of making cheese, or how a central-heating system works).
1.2 Typical Student Problems
Not Understanding the Data (I) - Not Reading the Labels: Students do not correctly understand the data in the charts: often they do not carefully read the labels (e.g. student writes ‘250 people were unemployed in London in 1982' , when they should write ‘250 thousand people were unemployed in London in 1982' )
Not Understanding the Data (II) - Not Applying Common Sense to your Interpretations: Students do not apply their common sense to the interpretation of data in the charts (e.g., in the example above, common sense should tell us that it was impossible that only 250 people were unemployed in London in 1982; we should then analyse the chart carefully to find a more satisfactory interpretation).
Just ‘Listing' the Data: Students simply ‘list' data from charts or graphs without trying to indicate what is more or less significant . You should look for the more important or interesting data, and present it first (for example large differences or changes).
Not ‘Translating' Note Form to Grammatical English: Students often write the labels or titles directly as they appear in the chart. However, these are usually in ‘note form', so need to be changed into grammatically correct English in your writing. For example, in a chart describing the life expectancy of smokers and non-smokers, one label may be ‘Non-Smoking' - meaning ‘non-smoking people '. It would therefore be ungrammatical to say ‘the average life-expectancy of non-smoking in the UK was 72' ; we need to change the label to a form such as ‘the average life-expectancy of non-smokers in the UK was 72' .
Incorrect Use of Noun Phrases: When we describe data in charts we have to use noun phrases, such as ‘the number of white unemployed people', or ‘the percentage of male non-smokers in the UK '. Correct use of such forms often presents difficulty for students.
2 Understanding and Correctly Interpreting Graphs
2.1 Task: Graph Interpretation
Look at Graphs A, B & C and then answer the questions which follow:
What was the main difference between Whites and other ethnic groups in terms of unemployment?
What was the general trend in female unemployment compared to male unemployment?
Is it significant that Black-non-Hispanics made up 11% of the total US population, but 40% of the homeless population? Why is / isn't this significant?
How does this compare to the position of White non-Hispanics in the US ?
Are there any similarities in the data in charts about the US (A and B) compared to the chart about the UK (C)?
3 Describing Graphs using Comparative Forms
IELTS Task 1 questions typically require candidates to compare data within, and/or between graphs and charts. Thus the use of comparative forms is required.
We will focus here on comparative and superlative adjectives , and on logical connectors of comparison and contrast .
3.1 Explanation: Comparative & Superlative Adjectives
richer than the richest more expensive than the most expensive
Rule 1: Add ‘er'/‘est' for one-syllable adjectives: longer, smaller, the highest
Rule 2: Add ‘more' / ‘less' or ‘the most' / ‘the least' for three syllable adjectives or longer: less expensive, the most dangerous
Rule 3: Most two-syllable adjectives require ‘more' / ‘less' / ‘the most' / ‘the least': more stressful
Rule 4: Two-syllable adjectives ending in ‘y' require ‘ier' / ‘iest' : noisier, noisy
Rule 5: Adjectives ending in a single vowel and a single consonant require the final consonant to be doubled: big , the biggest, fat, fatter
3.2 Explanation: Logical Connectors of Comparison & Contrast
Simple Comparison: while [difference is not seen as surprising / unusual]
- There was 10% unemployment in London , while in Manchester there was 9%.
Contrast: but, although, while, however [difference is seen as surprising / unusual]
- Although most cities had unemployment rates of 8-11%, in Liverpool it was 15%.
- Most cities had unemployment rates of 8-11%, although / while / but in Liverpool it was 15%.
- Most cities had unemployment rates of 8-11%. However in Liverpool it was 15%.
3.3 Task: Graph Description using Comparative Forms
Look at Graph D below, which illustrates data relating to education and homelessness in the USA.
Fill in the gaps in the text which follows, using the correct form (superlative or comparative) of these words:
successful (x1), good (x1), bad (x2), while (x2), high (x1), low (x2)
More than one answer may be possible in some cases.
The chart shows the educational achievements of homeless people in America (divided into those in families and single homeless people) compared to those of all US adults, for the year 1997. The (i) _ worst__ ___ educational attainment was for homeless people in families (53% with less than a high-school diploma), (ii) _________ the (iii) ________ results were for all US adults (45% or more with a high-school diploma). Single homeless people were (iv) ___________ than those in families: the percentage of single homeless without a high-school diploma was much (v) _________ than for homeless people in families (37% compared to 53%), (vi) ________ the percentage having only high-school diplomas was much (vii) _________ (36% compared to 21%). Having said this, similar percentages of homeless people in families and single homeless people had more than a high-school diploma: 27% and 28% respectively. In sum, it is clear that homeless people had (viii) _______ educational attainments than US adults as a whole, and that homeless people in families had (ix) ________ levels of achievement than single homeless.
4 Describing Graphs using Noun Phrases
Describing data in charts requires that we ‘translate' statistical information into grammatically correct sentences.
Students can have particular problems doing this when they are required to produce complex noun phrases .
Noun phrases perform the same grammatical function as nouns which are single words: for example they can be the subject or object of a verb, the object of a preposition, etc. However, noun phrases consist of a number of words, and in academic English can often be long and complex.
Noun phrases always have a ‘head noun', which is then modified by (further described by) other elements of the phrase (adjectives, relative clauses, prepositional phrases, etc).
Examples of noun phrases (head noun underlined):
the man who works in that shop
people who live in glass houses
the car in the picture
Asian-heritage children who live in the UK but who do not speak their heritage language
Examples of noun phrases used within sentences:
- The man who works in that shop used to live next door to me.
(noun phrase is subject of the verb)
- I saw a film last night about people who live in glass houses .
(noun phrase is object of a preposition)
- I don't like the car in the picture .
(noun phrase is object of the verb)
- The graph presents data about Asian-heritage children who live in the UK
but who do not speak their heritage language.
(noun phrase is object of a proposition)
4.2 Noun Phrases used in Chart Descriptions
4.2.1 Introducing the Description
Typical ways to introduce the description of a graph include:
The chart shows + noun phrase
The chart describes + noun phrase
For the chart above we could say:
The chart shows data about homelessness in the US in terms of race / ethnicity.
The chart describes the race / ethnicity of homeless people in the US.
TIP - The introductory sentence often contains a re-wording of the title of the graph.
4.2.2 Comparing Data
In order to effectively compare data within a graph or table, or between two graphs or tables, it is necessary to create noun phrases by transforming the labels in the graphic (which will usually be single words, or in ungrammatical note-form) into fully grammatical phrases which agree grammatically with the rest of your sentence.
For example, we see in the graph:
Black Non-Hispanic (39.6%)
Such a label needs to be transformed in order to fit into a grammatical sentence, e.g.:
The percentage of black non-Hispanic homeless people (39.6%) was almost
equal to the percentage of white non-Hispanic homeless (40.6%).
Equally, while the title of the graph is ‘US Homelessness by Race / Ethnicity', the term ‘homelessness' may need to be adapted to fit grammatically within a particular sentence, e.g.:
The percentage of homeless people was highest for the white non- Hispanic group.
Choose the best option to make the sentences grammatically accurate:
a) The largest percentage of ______________ were white non-Hispanics (40.6%).
i) homeless people
ii) homelessness people
b) The smallest percentage of homelessness was among ‘other' racial / ethnic groups, while the second smallest percentage was for ______________ - at 7.9%.
i) Native American
ii) Native Americans
iii) Native America
c) The largest ______________________was that of white non-Hispanics (40.6%). However black non-Hispanic homeless people accounted for virtually the same percentage: 39.6.
i) homelessness percent
ii) percent homeless
iii) percentage of homeless people
5 Final Task
Using graphs A and B above (data about homelessness and population in the USA, by race / ethnicity), write a description of the data. Compare information both within and between the graphs, indicating significant points (i.e. largest and smallest percentages, similarities and differences).
Write around 150 words.
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