Coherence and Cohesion in IELTS Task 1 Letters

January 13, 2021 by Angela Rutherford Angela Rutherford

If you are writing the IELTS General Training exam, you will have about 20 minutes to complete a letter in the writing section. Composing a letter isn’t that difficult for most of you, but doing so under timed conditions puts the pressure on.

To avoid feeling the stress of a time crunch or going blank at this crucial moment, wouldn’t it be smart to have some writing techniques in your tool belt? These tips about how to make your letter more coherent will not only help you finish on time but score higher too.

Coherence and Cohesion (C&C) are one of four categories that will be rated in your writing. To see a complete list, check out the Task 1 band descriptors here. You will need to achieve an average of 7 across all 4 areas to get to this higher score.

Let’s look at how C&C errors impact fluency and what to do to make sure your letter is logically organized and easy to follow so you can reach that 7 or above.

You bought a new cell phone, but when you got it home, you found it had some problems.

Write a letter to the manager of the store where you bought the phone. In the letter:

  • Give details about your purchase
  • Explain the problems that you are having
  • Say what action you would like him or her to do

We will work with this example of a Task 1 test prompt:

Here is a response that takes some effort to read because it’s NOT very coherent and the cohesion is faulty. Can you spot the problems?

Dear Sir or Madam,

I need a phone that has a long battery life and a good camera, and I charged the battery all night and the battery died in one hour. Actually, the phone I bought is a Samsung phone and I was told that the phone had a great camera but when I got home, I discovered that neither the battery nor the camera performed very well. On the other hand, the camera only operates on automatic settings so I can’t make manual adjustments to the lighting of pictures. I bought this phone at your store yesterday at Starlight mall for $700. Therefore, I am returning this phone and hope that you will be able to exchange this phone for a superior model.

Sincerely,

Jorge Gonzales

Confused woman on purple background

What makes the response hard to follow?

Disorganized information

One obvious problem is the order of information isn’t completely logical. We read about a phone camera and battery that isn’t performing well, but we have no idea of the context. Why is the person writing this letter? When and where was the phone purchased? Sequence the information carefully so that others don’t have put the pieces together on their own.

No paragraphing

Another standout issue is that there is only one paragraph. Paragraphs help signal the progression of ideas or information. When a new one begins, the reader knows that the letter is moving on, making it easier to follow.

Misuse of linking devices

Linking words help the reader understand what is coming next (an addition, a contrast, a clarification or restatement, etc.) but, when misused, they break up the flow of writing and cause confusion. Look at the errors:

Actually – not necessary and too informal for this kind of letter

The comma between “night” and “it” is incorrect – but works better to show contrast.

On the other hand, is wrong because what follows is not a contrasting idea – In addition would work better.

Therefore is misplaced because the previous statement does not logically lead to this conclusion.

Repetition of key nouns

Repetition of the same words over and over (see phone and battery) makes your writing monotonous and boring. To avoid this, use substitution (synonyms) and referencing (pronouns) when possible.

All of these errors work together to confuse the reader. Let’s look at three ways to write with more coherence and cohesion.

1. Use a logical structure and paragraphing

A letter is not just a list of sentences in any order. The paragraphs and the sentences within them should be related to each other in meaningful ways, and it is your job to make it clear to the reader how the different parts are connected.

To sequence your letter properly, use a form that readers expect. A typical letter begins with an opening and is followed by a body and closing. Look at this example. Can you see the purpose of each paragraph?

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing because I hope that you can help me solve the issues that I am having with the phone I purchased at your store yesterday. I believe that I need to exchange it for another model.

I purchased a Samsung S10 at your store in Toronto on Sunday for $700. I was told that it had a great camera and a long battery life but when I got it home, I was sorry to discover that neither of these features worked well.

To be more specific about the problems, I charged the device all night, as advised, however, after only one hour of use, the battery was already drained. Furthermore, I was surprised that the camera only operates on automatic settings, so I am unable to make manual adjustments to the lighting of shots. As a result, the photos that I printed were grainy, dark and far from the quality I require.

As a solution, I am hoping that I will be able to change this Samsung for a superior model. I am a freelance journalist, so I need a high performing device that I can rely on for my work. Therefore, I would like to return the one I purchased to you and try out other phones before exchanging for another. Please let me know how to proceed in this matter and if you have any other suggestions.

Looking forward to resolving this issue as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Jorge Gonzales

This diagram will help you understand how the letter was laid out.

An effective structure for a letter

Every paragraph covers some requirement of the task and the information is in an order that makes sense. The first one sets up the reason for writing, each of the three body paragraphs provides background information and details to cover each one of the bullets from the prompt, and the final paragraph restates what is expected next in this situation.

1. Use appropriate links to signal the progression of information and ideas 

Notice how the linking phrases and conjunctions, highlighted in the same letter below, lead the reader along by showing how the next clause or paragraph relates to the one before. 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing because I hope that you can help me solve the issues that I am having with the phone I purchased at your store yesterday. I believe that I need to exchange it for another model.

I purchased a Samsung S10 at your store in Toronto on Sunday for $700. I was told that it had a great camera and a long battery life but when I got it home, I was sorry to discover that neither of these features worked well.

To be more specific about the problems, I charged the device all night, as advised, however, after only one hour of use, the battery was already drained. Furthermore, I was surprised that the camera only operates on automatic settings, so I am unable make manual adjustments to the lighting of shots. As a result, the photos that I printed were grainy, dark and far from the quality I require.

As a solution, I am hoping that I will be able to change this Samsung for a superior model. I am a freelance journalist, so I need a high performing device that I can rely on for my work. Therefore, I would like to return the one I purchased to you and try out other phones before exchanging for another. Please let me know how to proceed in this matter and if you have any other suggestions.

Looking forward to resolving this as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Jorge Gonzales

2. Use reference words and substitution to avoid repetition 

Words like "it", "this", "the one" and “another” “other” refer back to other parts of the text. They work well to connect ideas without repeating them.

In addition, finding other words or expressions to substitute for nouns assists in a similar way. Look at how the referencing and substitution highlighted work to achieve this cohesion in the letter above.

I hope you now understand more about how coherence and cohesion make your writing flow and what you can do to make sure your next IELTS test is a success. Have some fun trying a few practice tests using these techniques, and good luck on your exam.



Angela Rutherford

Angela Rutherford is an experienced English teacher and exam preparation coach who lives and works in Toronto, Canada. After a career teaching in Ontario public and international private schools, she established her own tutoring business and enjoys working exclusively with IELTS candidates who want to do their best on the exam.

Blog posts via email

Enter your email address to subscribe to posts from ieltscanadatest.com as they happen!

Email *


FOLLOWERS