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Planning your writing

One common mistake that students make when writing in English is that they put pen to paper before they have really thought about what they are going to write. They read the question and start writing. This is really not a very good strategy. Even the shortest piece of writing should be planned. The problem is, lots of students really don’t know how to plan.

How to plan your writing

The first thing to do is read the question carefully. Identify keywords and underline them.

Make sure that you have identified exactly what you are being asked to write. This task identification stage applies to all types of writing. You should do it even when you are writing a letter or an email in your own language, especially when you want to make a good impression.

Look at this question:

You are advised to spend no more than 20 minutes on this task.

You tried to book a course at City of Bristol College. You received confirmation of your booking but the course listed in the confirmation was the wrong course. Money has been deducted from your bank account.

Write a letter to City of Bristol College and explain the situation and why it worries you. The course starts in one month. Find out whether you need to reapply for your course and how to pay for it. Also, request information about term start and end dates.

You should write at least 150 words.
You do NOT need to write your address or the college address.
Start the letter as follows:

Dear _________________________

Can you answer these questions? Try to answer them without looking back at the question.

1 What are you writing?
2 How long have you got?
3 How many words should you write?
4 What are your concerns?
5 What other information would you like?

If you can answer these questions easily, you have started to plan the content of the writing task. If you can’t answer the questions, perhaps you haven’t read the writing task carefully enough. It is very important that you practise understanding writing tasks and make sure that you can quickly identify what the task type and the core content needed to answer the task correctly.

1 What are you writing?
A formal letter. Do you know what this is and how to structure it?

2 How long have you got?
You shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes on a task one writing task. If you take longer than 20 minutes, you might find that you do not have enough time to answer writing task two properly. You need to write answers to both tasks to get a good IELTS band score for your writing.

3 How many words should you write?
The minimum number of words needed to answer this question properly is 150. If you write fewer than this, you may score badly as you need to write at least 150 words to answer the question properly.

4 What are your concerns?
They seem to have booked you on the wrong course and debited your bank account for it. The course starts soon (in one month) and you need to know what to do next.

5 What other information would you like?
You would like to know the course term dates.

Now you must think about the structure of the letter. All pieces of writing can be divided into three clear parts.


Do you know what to write in each of the writing parts listed above? Why not think about it for a minute before reading the next part. It is very important that you can identify which parts of your writing go where.

This should explain why you are writing your letter.

Read this post to find out about starting and ending your pieces of writing.

This should express your concerns and worries about your enrolment.
You should also ask about the course term start and end dates.

You should say what you expect to happen and thank the college for their time.

The above procedure may seem very simple and obvious but it is incredible the number of IELTS candidates and English language students there are who do not plan their answers to writing tasks at all. A lack of planning can lead to a disorganised answer that does not contain all of the information required to answer the question effectively. If you don’t answer the question effectively, your IELTS writing band score won’t be as high as you need.

Planning can be as simple as reading the question, understanding the question and then identifying which parts of your answer go where in the written task. The most important thing is to delay putting pen to paper for a few minutes so that you know what you are going to write and where you are going to write it. Make notes of your ideas and thoughts. Write down language you could use in your answer.

The most important thing is to practise. Find examples of writing tasks and plan your answers to them. Never spend more than 25% of available time planning but always make sure you do it.

Coming soon. A model answer to the writing task above.


  1. […] Make sure that you write in paragraphs. A good basic model is to write one paragraph for each point or idea. If you don’t write in paragraphs, your writing will be difficult to follow and you will lose marks. You can make this much easier by planning your writing : Read this. […]

  2. […] Read more about planning your writing here […]

  3. Vasco says:

    Haelalujlh! I needed this-you’re my savior.

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