Writing Task 1: Phrases and Collocations for Describing Tables, Graphs and Charts

July 12, 2021 by Andrea Castro

IELTS Academic measures the English language proficiency needed for an academic learning environment. To do so, Writing Task 1 presents candidates with a graph, table, chart or diagram. Candidates are asked to describe, summarize or explain the information using their own words, which not only requires a good understanding of different types of visual data, but also the ability to describe the information accurately, using a range of vocabulary. To help you achieve these goals, today’s post will look at a variety of phrases and collocations that you can use on your IELTS to describe tables, graphs and charts.

Table  Bar Chart
Table chart slide template. Business data. Graph, diagram, design. Creative concept for infographics, report. Can be used for topics like economics, analysis, planning bar graph columns blank
Pie Chart Line Graph
Pie Chart Line Graph

To begin with, let’s take a quick look at the main differences and similarities among tables, graphs and charts. While tables present information about different categories mainly in columns and rows, bar charts present the information in two axes: the values are given along one axis and each bar represents what is being measured along the other axis. It is often possible to turn tables into charts, but sometimes the categories are too different to do this. A pie chart is another way of presenting information, but here each segment is a percentage of a whole. Together they represent 100%. Last but not least, line graphs show how data change over time.

When approaching the Academic version of Writing Task 1, it’s important that you introduce the visual data by using one of the following phrases or collocations:

  • According to the table/ graph/chart…
  • The table/graph/chart shows…
  • The table/graph/chart illustrates…
  • Looking at the table/chart/graph, it can be seen that…
  • The table/graph/chart provides information about…

After introducing the visual data, you will be expected to describe the main trends presented in the table, graph and/or chart. Below are different phrases and collocations that you can use to describe a variety of trends:

 

upward arrow down arrow 2 up down arrows
  • a significant increase 
  • a considerable growth 
  • to increase dramatically 
  • to rise sharply 
  • to show an upward trend 
  • a sharp fall 
  • a significant drop 
  • to decline sharply 
  • to show a downward trend 
  • to hit the lowest point 
  • to reach a peak/high 
  • at its peak 
  • all-time peak 
  • to rise towards its peak 
  • past its peak 

 

up down up arrows right facing arrow squiggly arrow up
  • a considerable variation
  • a slight fluctuation
  • to vary considerably
  • to show some fluctuation
  • a period of stability
  • to remain stable
  • to remain constant
  • to reach a plateau
  • to level off
  • to flatten out

Now, let’s take a look at some collocations and phrases used more specifically to talk about percentages and values being compared with each other, both of which are common features of tables and charts:

Percentages Comparisons
  • a large/small percentage
  • an estimated percentage
  • a significant percentage
  • an average percentage
  • the highest/lowest percentage
  • just under/over __% (per cent)
  • a __% (per cent) increase/decrease in…
  • there are considerable differences in…
  • to be slightly higher/lower than…
  • to be significantly higher/lower than…
  • two/three/four times higher/lower than…
  • to be closely followed by…
  • to remain the highest/lowest

Other than tables, graphs and charts, in the Academic version of Writing Task 1 you may also be presented with a diagram or a map. Stay tuned for our next post on phrases and collocations for describing diagrams and maps!

(*collocation - a group of words that often go together or that are likely to occur together)



Andrea is an experienced English teacher who has worked since 2009 in Costa Rica, Dubai and now Canada. When not working for IELTS, she spends her time with her little girl and her two canine siblings.

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