Describing Visual Data (Part 2)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

In the previous part, we looked at some useful advice to produce a good report – adding data to descriptions and choosing data carefully.

Here are some more tips on report writing.

 

3. Use comparative language

As well as choosing the right kind of data, a report writing exercise tests the writer’s ability to compare information where relevant. In other words, for a report to be good, you need to be able to look at trends in the graph and identify both similarities and differences.

Naturally, use of language to compare things is a must here, so keep looking for opportunities to use comparative phrases such as greater than, a lot less than, and relatively unpopular. Superlative adjectives (e.g. the tallest, the fastest, the costliest, etc.) also come in handy when something is being compared to a group of objects.

 

4. Use appropriate vocabulary

There’s no doubt that the wider the range of vocabulary used, the clearer descriptions get. A powerful word like skyrocket or plummet can help the reader visualise the trend being described even without having to look at figures. Of course, range alone will not do the trick. What is equally important is that vocabulary gets used precisely.

A graph is usually full of trends, which means that skillful use of trend vocabulary can better the overall quality of a report. Learning such vocabulary can go a long way towards improving your descriptions.

 

5. Look at the big picture

An overload of statistics can possibly suck the writer in, meaning that they spend all their energies on details. When writing a report, if you can’t see the wood for the trees, then that definitely is a major handicap.  Always look for the big picture, that one overriding pattern or trend that captures the essence of the graph that you are interpreting.

 

Practise using these tips, and report writing should be manageable even if you aren’t mathematically inclined.

 

 

GLOSSARY

do the trick
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to mean that something achieved what you wanted it to
Example : Complaining to the manager did the trick, as we got a discount on the meal.

 

not see the wood for the trees
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to say that someone is so focused on details that they fail to notice the main point
Example : People who lack experience are often unable to see the wood for the trees.

 

handicap
Form : noun
Meaning : a disadvantage
Example : Playing in Canada was a handicap, as they were used to warmer conditions.

 

the big picture
Form : phrase
Meaning : an overview of a situation
Example : The article focuses on the big picture of how the internet influences what we buy. 

 

 

Describing Visual Data (Part 1)

Image courtesy of John Jones via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

Describing information that is presented in visual form can be a hard row to hoe, especially if Mathematics isn’t your thing. For a start, there could be so much data that you wouldn’t know where to begin. Identifying the overall trend that captures the essence of the graph isn’t easy either.

 

It then comes as no surprise that different types of tests commonly use graphs to assess the test taker’s ability to interpret and describe data with some degree of precision. In IELTS Academic, Task 1 is a report writing exercise that can be based on visual data – line graph, bar graph, pie chart, or a combination of them.

 

Here are some handy tips for writing a good report.

1. Add data to support descriptions

Sometimes we get so caught up in making any sense out of all the numbers that are plotted on a graph that we forget to get the basics right. A fundamental part of report writing is effective use of figures. Leave them out, and your descriptions could make little sense to the reader.

Imagine reading an automobile sales report that includes various trends but has absolutely no numerical data to support descriptions. The chances are you wouldn’t be able to make head or tail of the situation just by reading about trends. So, add figures wherever needed to support trends or patterns you describe.

 

2. Pick data wisely

Although it is important to include numerical data when describing trends, it doesn’t mean that every number plotted on a graph needs to find its way into your report. Too many figures can make a report less effective, just like one without any data.

One ability that report writing assesses is whether the writer can pick key figures out as well as leave those out which are non-essential to the task. While there are no shortcuts to making this decision, thinking about the purpose of the report should help you decide what numbers to include and what not to.

 

Remember, time spent analysing the graph is time well spent.

 

 

GLOSSARY

hard row to hoe
Form : phrase
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : With just four matches left this season, winning the championship will be a hard row to hoe.

 

isn’t your thing
Form : phrase
Meaning : used to explain that you are not interested in something
Example : Camping under the stars isn’t really my thing, so I think I’ll pass.

 

not make head or tail (of something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : unable to understand something
Example : All the dialogues were in Italian so I couldn’t make head or tail of the play.

 

Five Key Essay Writing Tips For Students


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Essay writing asks students to critically analyse arguments and write convincingly.   

Here we give you five tips to do this successfully…

 

  1. Understanding the question

If you don’t understand the question, then I’m afraid you have fallen at the first hurdle. Everything you do after this will be wide of the mark, so make sure you understand what the question is really asking.

The wording will give you the best indication of this. It may include words like ‘evaluate’, in which case you should be weighing up merits as well as shortcomings. Spend some time going over the question and thinking critically about what it is you’re going to do.

 

  1. Read widely

You need to know the key ideas and writings on the subject you’re arguing. This means you must read a lot. There is no escaping this.

Read from a variety of sources; historical essays, contemporary journals, newspaper articles, as well as primary sources. The greater the variety of reading material, the greater your understanding and your essay will be.

Tip: The balance of time spent reading versus writing should be heavily in favour of reading. Think long, work chop-chop.

 

  1. ‘Yes… No… But’

An essay is an argument. To know what you are arguing for, you must also know the arguments against your own position. This can be broken down (in a very simplistic form) to: ‘Yes, No, But’. This is the structure of your essay, sandwiched between an introduction and a conclusion.

‘Yes’ – in favour of your position; ‘No’ – you outline the key points against your position; ‘But’ – you criticise the shortcomings of the ‘no’ position and bring further points in favour of your argument.

This is your plan and structure all in one. It’s a tried and trusted formula.

 

  1. Key sentences

Every paragraph you write should start with a sentence that gets to the point. This indicates to the reader what the following paragraph will argue. It’s very easy to get side-tracked as a writer, so you need to keep focus and bring the reader along with you at every stage.

Get to the point quickly then you can expand on the idea. The key sentence helps to signpost to the reader what’s coming next. It may sound obvious, but it is effective.

 

 

  1. If you can speak, you can write

The tendency for university students is to think that they have to use lots of long, academic-sounding words to get a good grade. But, using clear language helps get your argument across best. Being wordy for the sake of it only papers over the cracks.

When writing, imagine you’re talking to a close friend (or pet cat) who knows a little bit about the subject. If you can get your arguments over to them in a clear, concise and convincing way, then you can write: it’s the same.

The best writers do – and so should you.

5 Tips to Ace IELTS Letter Writing (Part 2)


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In the first part, we spoke of two tips to score well in the IELTS letter writing task: following letter-writing rules and adding finer details.  Here are three more:

 

  1. Fully develop bullet points

The letter-writing task in IELTS requires test takers to include specific information, which is generally presented in the form of three bullet points. Here’s a sample task:

 

 

A friend has agreed to look after your house and pet while you are on holiday.

Write a letter to your friend. In your letter

 

·         give contact details for when you are away

·         give instructions about how to care for your pet

·         describe other household duties

 

 

 

Remember, each bullet point has to be fully developed, so a passing reference wouldn’t be enough. For example, to fully extend the first bullet point, you could provide alternative ways of contacting you.

 

Example text

I’ll be staying at The Grand Hotel in Krakow, so you can always call me there, or leave a message if I’m out. If it’s something urgent though, I’d like you to ring my colleague Jake’s mobile, as I don’t have international roaming. I’ve jotted down the numbers on a sheet of paper and stuck it on the kitchen door so that you don’t lose them – we both know your memory isn’t great!  

 

  1. Keep the writing style consistent

The writing style you employ mainly depends on two factors: how well you are supposed to know the person you are writing to and why you are writing. It’s important that the style you use is consistent across the letter. In the above example, a reference to your friend’s poor memory lends the letter an informal feel. Further, the use of the exclamation mark at the end, and informal words such as jot down, help maintain the friendly tone.

 

  1. Produce a full, connected text

Your letter should be a full, connected text, which means use of bullet points or note form will attract an immediate penalty. While most candidates are aware of the importance of linking sentences within a paragraph, few think of establishing a connection between paragraphs. See if you can achieve this.

Most importantly, no matter how well-written your letter is, all that hard work will go down the drain if you don’t meet the word limit, so be sure to write more than 150 words.

 

So, follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to doing well in the IELTS letter-writing task.

 

GLOSSARY

 

passing reference (to something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : brief mention (of something)
Example : The boss made a passing reference to lack of punctuality among staff.

 

employ
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something
Example : The police had to employ force to stop protesters from entering the mayor’s office.

 

lend
Form : verb
Meaning : to give a particular quality to something
Example : The minister’s presence will certainly lend the campaign some importance.

 

go down the drain
Form : phrase
Meaning : to be wasted
Example : If it rains, the sand castles will collapse, and all our hard work will go down the drain.

 

The Key to Study Success? Don’t Set Goals, Create Habits

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We’re always told that it’s good to dream big. That we should have our goals planned out: write a hit novel, become a surgeon, run a successful business.

 

But as we embark on making those dreams a reality at university and beyond, we can come unstuck. Most people have experienced those difficulties to some extent. The progress to achieving our goals is slow-moving. There are still a lot of blank pages that we’re trying to fill.

 

So, what’s the key to achieving the goals we set ourselves and realising our dreams?

 

Some Psychologists suggest that instead of setting goals, we should create habits.

 

They argue that a goal is too far off in the distance for it to have a significant effect on our daily lives.

A goal doesn’t help you get the thing done. In fact, until you reach the goal you exist in a sort of state of failure, e.g.  ‘I haven’t written a novel yet.’

 

Instead, we should create a habit that fits with the sort of person we are, or want to be.

 

For example, writing that thesis is a daunting prospect, with many thousands of words to compile.  But if you create a habit: ‘I’m the sort of person who writes for an hour every morning,’ the thesis takes care of itself.

 

In both cases (goal or habit), the end result is often the same (these completed). But crucially, our happiness, and therefore our ability to produce our best work, is far greater when we employ habits.

We’re creatures of habit after all.

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Chris Dlugosz via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

The first part looked at some information that is typically found in most dictionaries – meaning(s), part of speech, pronunciation, verb forms, and miscellaneous grammar points.

 

Here’s some more information you are likely to come across:

 

  1. Synonyms and antonyms

A synonym is a word that has the same meaning, or nearly the same, as another word. An antonym, on the other hand, is a word that means the opposite of another word.

Example:

honest

Synonyms – truthful, sincere, trustworthy, straightforward, reliable

Antonym – dishonest, corrupt, deceitful, insincere, untrustworthy, unreliable

 

  1. Collocations

The word collocation refers to a word combination that happens naturally in a language. Learning such typical combinations is important because it broadens the scope for expressing ideas clearly.

Example:

food

Verb collocations – consume / eat / have / cook / make / prepare food

Adjective collocations – fast / junk / takeaway / fresh / organic / canned food

 

  1. Example sentences

Example sentences are perhaps the best way to learn how to use a word or phrase accurately in a sentence. They show us the way various grammatical features work together to form a sentence. Some dictionaries print fixed expressions or phrases in bold to help users learn faster.

Example:

The change in policy will do serious harm to our business.

Though I’m not particularly fond of my mother-in-law, I don’t wish her any harm.

I know our neighbour’s dog looks ferocious, but he means no harm.

 

  1. Register

The term register means the degree of formality associated with a word. At times, dictionaries also highlight words that are old-fashioned or offensive.

Example:

ascertain (formal) = to find out

ripping (old-fashioned) = wonderful

gaffer (informal) = an individual who is in charge of a group of people

dude (slang) = a man

bird (sometimes offensive) = a way of referring to a young woman

 

  1. Spelling

A lot of words have alternative spellings, depending on the version used – British English (BrE) or North American English (NAmE).

Example:

theatre (BrE) / theater (NAmE)

doughnut / donut (NAmE)

colour (BrE) / color (NAmE)

 

So, the next time you use a dictionary, gather different types of information that can help you better your English.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

miscellaneous
Form : adjective
Meaning : consisting of different kinds of things
Example : Tom has a box of miscellaneous items from his childhood.

 

scope (for something)
Form : noun
Meaning : the opportunity to do something
Example : Sally’s new job offers plenty of scope for international travel.

 

offensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : rude or unpleasant
Example : Students who use offensive language in the classroom will be punished.

 

alternative
Form : adjective
Meaning : describes something that can be used instead of something else
Example : Swimming is a good alternative to running when recovering from an injury

 

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Place

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A preposition of place shows the location of someone or something. Three of the most commonly used ones in this category are at, on and in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to the specific position where someone or something is located.

 

Used to refer to Example
addresses at 39 Lake Road | at 221B Baker Street
a specific location at the bus stop | at the railway station | at the airport
a meeting point We decided to meet at the club. | Let’s meet at the mall.
a place of study She’s studying at Glasgow University.
someone’s shop or house I’m at the grocer’s. | I’m at the dentist’s. | I’m at Katie’s.
group activities at a conference | at a party | at a rock concert | at a wedding
a large place when we consider it to be a point in a journey Our plane stopped at Dubai for refuelling before landing in Zurich.

 

 

When to use on

Use on to indicate someone or something is located on a surface.

 

Used to refer to Example
travel via public transport on a bus | on a train | on the metro | on a plane | on a ship
travel using horses or two-wheelers on a cycle | on a motorbike | on a scooter | on a horse
pages in a book on the first page | on page 23
the number of the floor on the ground floor | on the eight floor
position by a lake, sea, road, street, etc. London is on the Thames. | They used to live on Orchard Street.
something that is in contact with a surface on the wall | on the table | on the floor | on the ceiling

 

When to use in

Use in to show that someone or something is in an enclosed space.

 

Used to refer to Example
large areas in Paris | in France | in Europe | in the desert | in the woods
three-dimensional space in the office | in a supermarket | in a flat | in a house
cars, small private aircrafts, boats, etc. in a car | in a taxi | in a boat | in a helicopter

 

Remember, you cannot do without prepositions of place if you wish to use English accurately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Quick Guide to Prepositions of Time

Image courtesy of Christopher Allen via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

A preposition is a relationship word which generally shows the location of something (in the hall), the time when something happens (at midnight), the way something is done (by train), and so on.

 

Learning them can be a little bit tricky, as there aren’t always rules to help you choose the correct one. To make matters worse, some prepositions can have many different uses. For example, according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, the preposition on has eighteen different functions.

 

In this article, we’ll consider how to use three common prepositions of time: at, on, in.

 

When to use at

Use at when referring to a specific time that is relatively short.

 

clock times at 7 o’clock | at 6:30 pm
holiday periods at Christmas | at Easter
specific times of the day at noon | at midnight
meal times  at lunchtime | at dinner time

 

Of course, there are situations when at is used to show longer periods of time ‒ for instance, we say at night, or at the weekend.

 

When to use on

Use on when referring to days and dates in general.

 

days of the week on Monday | on Thursday
dates on the 15th of July | on 22nd February
special days on New Year’s Day | on Republic Day | on her birthday
parts of specific days on Friday morning | on Sunday night

 

When to use in

Use in when referring to longer periods of time.

 

parts of a day in the morning | in the afternoon | in the evening
seasons in winter | in autumn
months in February | in July
years in 1977 | in 2015
decades in the seventies | in the 1980s
centuries in the fifteenth century | in the twenty first century

 

Remember, we do not use a preposition before certain expressions of time, such as last, next, every, each, or this. For example, we say:

I saw that film last Saturday. (NOT I saw that film on last Saturday.)

I play tennis every Sunday. (NOT I play tennis on every Sunday.)

 

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

tricky
Form : adjective
Meaning : difficult to do
Example : Some people can find operating smartphones a bit tricky.

 

 

Handy Tips for Using Bullet Points

Image courtesy of Danel Solabarrieta (CC 2.0 Flickr)

 

These days people are too busy to read long texts, so improving readability has become important. Make content uncomplicated and interesting to read, and you may have the reader’s attention.

 

Bullet points can be very handy in this context, as they help break up clunky text into tidy chunks that are easy to take in. Use a bulleted list, and your text begins to look organised, with all the important points highlighted.

 

Though there are no hard and fast rules about using them, here are some tips to help you.

 

Keep it uniform

A bulleted list should be uniform. For example, make the text following all bullet points fragments, complete sentences, or questions; do not combine different forms.

 

Punctuate if necessary

Broadly speaking, if a bullet point is a complete sentence, it should begin with a capital letter and end in a full stop. On the other hand, if each bullet point comprises a fragment, these things don’t matter.

 

Avoid linking words

It is best to avoid linking words (e.g. firstly, secondly, thirdly), as they are unnecessary; bullet points naturally introduce a sense of structure to the text. Linking expressions, if added, may slow down the reading process, so leave them out.

 

Keep it short

Brevity is the key to making bullet points noticeable, so avoid making them extremely long. Ideally, bullet points shouldn’t look like paragraphs. Remember, the longer the text following a bullet point, the lower its impact.

 

Create parallel lists

Try to have similar-looking words at the beginning of each bullet point – for instance, start with action verbs or nouns. That way, it is much easier for the reader to follow the text.

 

Use numbers if necessary

If you have a lot to include, say more than five points, it may be better to have a numbered list instead of a bulleted one.  The reader can then easily refer to each point by quoting the corresponding number.

 

Overall, there’s no doubt that bullet points can make content attractive and easy to read, but overuse will most certainly lessen their impact.  So, steer clear of too many bullet-pointed sections when you put together a text.

 

 

 

GLOSSARY                                                                                                              

 

clunky
Form : adjective
Meaning : heavy in a way that is awkward
Example : His house is full of clunky furniture.

 

take in
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to understand something that your read
Example : Irene felt sleepy while reading the manual, so she didn’t take in most of the details.

 

hard and fast
Form : phrase
Meaning : describes something that cannot be changed
Example : There are no hard and fast rules about who can use this car park.

 

fragment
Form : noun
Meaning : a smaller piece of something larger
Example : I overheard fragments of the conversation that my parents had in the kitchen.

 

 

brevity
Form : noun
Meaning : the use of few words while speaking or writing
Example : The brevity of her speech surprised us – it was over in less than a minute.

 

steer clear (of something)
Form : phrase
Meaning : to try to avoid something
Example : You are diabetic, so steer clear of desserts at the party.

 

 

 

How Punctuation Can Improve Your English Writing (Part 5)

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In this final part of the punctuation series, let’s consider ellipsis and two kinds of brackets: square and round.

 

Ellipsis

An ellipsis is a set of three dots (…) that are evenly spaced. It’s most commonly used to show omission, i.e. not including some words in a sentence, usually ones that aren’t important.

 

Used Example
to shorten quotations The rule book clearly states that “members must return any borrowed item ….”
to indicate hesitation See, the thing is … he’s broke.

 

Remember, if the ellipsis appears at the end of a sentence, it is placed along with the full stop, making it a series of four dots.

 

Square bracket

Square brackets can introduce an explanation that provides clarification, or may provide a short translation of a foreign word that appears in a quoted sentence. They may also be used to indicate that the writer feels something in the original material is a possible error.

 

Used Example
to provide clarification The year I got married [2007] was an important one in my life.
to provide short translations of words in quoted materials Diana says in the interview: “He whispered je t’aime [I love you] as I walked by.”
to indicate a possible error The book says he was born in Venice [Verona?].

 

Round bracket

Also known as parentheses, round brackets are mostly used to add extra information; this may be a single word, fragment or complete sentence.

 

Used Example
to provide additional information The governor (and his family) will attend today’s event.
to provide short translations of words He said cześć (hello) as soon as he saw me.
to expand abbreviations or acronyms that the reader may not be familiar with She became CTO (Chief Technical Officer) of the company in 2012.

 

It is worth remembering that the content between brackets should not be grammatical integral to the main sentence.

 

Punctuation is one of the simplest language features to learn, so use it appropriately; people will think you are being careless if you don’t!

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