Text only  Print this page | E-mail this page| Add to favourites
British Council arnEnglish Professionals British Council LearnEnglish Professionals
LearnEnglish Professionals - IELTS
IELTS academic writing
Lesson 1a
Lesson 1b
Lesson 2a
Lesson 2b
Lesson 3a
Lesson 3b
Lesson 4a
Lesson 4b
Lesson 5a
Lesson 5b
ielts academic writing module > lesson 5


In this last IELTS lesson we’ll take at look at one more type of Part 1 academic writing task: describing a diagram.  You will:

practise ‘reading’ and understanding diagrams
learn language for expressing purpose, cause and result
review and practise relative clauses
review and practise passive voice

In the second half of the lesson, we will take a final look at writing discursive essays. In particular, you will

review sentence relationships that we have covered in previous lessons.
learn how to organise a good academic style paragraph.
practise writing more complex sentences.
practice checking your work for mistakes.
learn what makes a good conclusion to your composition.


Activity 1 > Understanding diagrams > 15 minutes

Sometimes the part 1 writing task asks you to describe a diagram. The diagram will usually show a process or how something works.  You can see an example below. Just as for charts and tables, it is important that you spend some time carefully looking at the diagram until you understand what it shows. Look for the following:

  • the main parts or sections of the diagram.
  • the relationship between parts in the diagram.
  • the order of any stages shown in the diagram.
  • any key that accompanies the diagram and helps to explain it

Before you write, try to imagine in your mind how the object works or the process develops. Keep in mind what the result of each stage will be or what the purpose of each component is.

a) Look at this example question and click here to match the letters in the diagram with the components.

Writing Task 1

The diagram below shows the basic operation of a hydraulic lift.

Write a report for a university lecturer describing the information in the diagram.

Write at least 150 words

Diagram of a hydraulic lift

b) Now click here to complete this example answer with the words from a) above.

Activity 2 > Showing purpose > 5 minutes

Often you will need to explain what a component or a stage in a process is for. In other words, you need to explain the purpose of something. Here are some examples from the description of the lift:

to + infinitive:
When the passenger presses the ‘up’ control button to raise the lift…
so that + full  clause:
...an electrical signal is sent so that the pump is switched off.
in order to + infinitive:
...a signal is sent to a valve in order to shut off the flow of fluid…
so as to + infinitive:
...move fluid from the tank into the bottom of the piston housing so as to force the piston up.

Click here to choose the best way to complete each sentence. There may be more than one correct answer.

Activity 3 > Cause and result >  10 minutes

In Lesson 1 we looked at phrases and words for expressing cause and result relationships. The same phrases are useful for describing diagrams.

a) Look at the diagram below. What cause and result relationships are shown? How stalactites are formed

Now click here to complete this description of the process by using words and phrases from the box.

Activity 4 > Relative clauses > 5 minutes

Relative clauses are clauses in sentences which add information about the subject of the sentence. Sometimes this is extra information, and the sentence would be correct without the clause. In this case, we call the clause ‘non-defining’. Look at this example from the description of the lift in Activity 1:

  • The lift carriage is also forced up.
  • The lift carriage, which is attached to the top of the piston, is also forced up.

You can see that the clause adds extra information about the carriage, but the sentence is still grammatical without the clause. Notice that we use commas (,) to separate a non-defining clause from the main clause. Also, remember that you cannot use ‘that’ as a relative pronoun with non-defining clauses.

Other clauses add important information which describe or ‘define’ the subject of the sentence. Here’s an example:

  • Only the straws that get blocked will eventually become stalactites.

This time, the sentence would not make sense without the relative clause. There are no commas to separate the clause, and we can use that, where, who, which etc as the relative pronoun.

Click here to connect the information to make sentences with relative clauses (non-defining or defining).  Please note more than one answer may be possible.

Activity 5 > Passive voice > 5 minutes

Using the passive voice can add a more formal tone to your descriptions. Often, it is not even necessary to say who or what is responsible for certain actions in the process. Compare these two sentences, for example:

  • (Active voice): A worker collects the materials from the recycling bins.
  • (Passive voice): The materials are collected from the recycling bins.

Now click here to rewrite these sentences using the passive voice.

Activity 6 > Putting it all together > 10 minutes

Now it’s your turn. Look at the example IELTS question below:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

The diagram shows how the Global Positioning System (GPS) works in order to help people find their location anywhere on Earth.

Write a report for a university lecturer describing the information shown below.

You should write at least 150 words.

How a GPS works

a)  Look at the diagram and answer the following questions.

  • How many segments are there in the system?
  • What are the main components of each segment?
  • What part does each segment play in the whole system?

b)  Now write a description following this plan:

  1. - Describe briefly what a GPS is and what the three segments of the system are.
  2. - Describe the space segment: what it consists of and what it does.
  3. - Describe the control segment: what it consists of and what it does.
  4. - Describe the user segment: what it consists of and what it does.

Remember not to spend more than 20 minutes writing.

c)  Now click here to look at the example answer in the key. Can you find examples of the language we’ve looked at in this e-mail lesson?

For IELTS Task 2, click here.

The United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.
A registered charity: 209131 (England and Wales) SC037733 (Scotland)
Our privacy and copyright statements.
Our commitment to freedom of information. Double-click for pop-up dictionary.

 Positive About Disabled People