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The key thing IELTS Examiners want you to do is present main ideas and then develop them by ‘extending and supporting’ them.

By developing an idea, you are giving the reader a clearer understanding of why the main idea is a good or bad idea.

What are supporting ideas?

Supporting ideas are a combination of explanation and examples (both general and specific).

This may include talking about the result or effect of something, or how a situation is made better or worse by something.

Let’s look at an example question:

In some countries the average weight of people is increasing and their levels of health and fitness are decreasing.

What do you think are the causes of these problems and what measures could be taken to solve them?  

For the first body paragraph you should discuss the causes.

Below is a breakdown of the main and supporting ideas for this paragraph:

Main idea: One of the main causes of obesity is unhealthy diets

General example: processed food has become very common

Explanation 1: high levels of sugar and salt

Explanation 2: lots of marketing – especially aimed at children

Result: kids have bad habits – continue when adults

Specific examples: soft drinks e.g. coke, fast food e.g. burgers, pizza

How do I link my supporting ideas?

One way to make your paragraph clearer is to your link ideas using vocabulary phrases, which help the reader follow your idea development.

Phrases include the following:

The main causes of _______ is…

This situation is made worse because…

This results in…

Good examples include…

This has been confirmed by….

Good linking phrases are like landmarks on a map when you’re finding your way around a new city.

They really help the reader to know exactly what kind of idea they are reading and where they are in your discussion.

With practice they will help you to logically organise your supporting ideas into clear, cohesive body paragraphs.

Here is the sample paragraph with the ideas and linking phrases all together:

One of the main causes of obesity and poor health is unhealthy diets. In many parts of the world, processed food, which contains high levels of sugar and salt is readily available. This situation is made worse because this food is supported by large advertising campaigns, which are increasingly aimed at children. This results in young people developing bad habits at an early age, which continue into adulthood. Good examples include soft drinks such as Coke, as well as fast food e.g. pizza and burgers. This has been confirmed by a recent study in the USA which showed that the majority of obese people had a poor diet containing high levels of junk food.  

Should I include fake evidence?

You can see from the above paragraph, that the final supporting idea includes scientific evidence.

Many IELTS teachers suggest including this kind of supporting idea as it makes your argument really clear and strong.

However, you should be careful not to be too specific as some examiners might mark you down if it’s really obvious that you’re just making it up.

Compare the following two examples:

General (good!):

This has been confirmed by a recent study in the USA which showed that the majority of obese people had a poor diet containing high levels of junk food.  

Too specific (bad!):

This has been confirmed by a recent study from the University of Michigan which showed that 87% of obese people ate junk food more than four times a week.  

Therefore keep your evidence as general as possible. Don’t include any data, just general conclusions.

The IELTS examiner has to be able to accept that you are writing this from memory.

If it’s too specific then the examiner will find it difficult to believe that you were able to remember all this data even though you didn’t know what the question would be.

Now it’s your turn! Put your answers in the comments.

In some countries the average weight of people is increasing and their levels of health and fitness are decreasing.

What do you think are the causes of these problems and what measures could be taken to solve them?  

For the above question, plan a body paragraph focussing on the main of a lack of exercise due to people being too busy. Think of examples and explanation.

Main idea: One of the main causes of obesity is a lack of exercise.

Supporting idea 1: People are too busy to exercise.

Supporting idea 2:

Supporting idea 3:

Supporting idea 4:

Supporting idea 5:

Now put it together in a paragraph and put it in the comments.

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