How to construct complex sentences in IELTS Writing

It is quite tempting for a candidate, in their bid to meet the IELTS Writing word limit as well as in their attempt to create complexity in their sentences, to try to ‘fill up’ spaces on their blank pages with as many words as possible. This inevitably leads to one simple problem: confusion. Remember that your primary aim is to communicate with your audience/reader/examiner. If that one key purpose fails, then your writing falls apart. If you, and only you, can understand the meaning of what you are trying to convey, then you are just writing for yourself, not for a reader. Bear in mind that candidates do not have the opportunity to explain themselves to the reader in person. You only get one chance on paper and if you are unable to express your meaning clearly in your sentences, then you will have lost that chance.

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One way to make your writing clearer is to be efficient in your writing, and this also includes being economical with your words. If you can say something clearly with fewer words, do so. If you are not adept at making complex structures, then the longer your sentences are, the more errors you tend to invite. Remember that your IELTS assessor is looking for a mix of simple and complex sentences for you to achieve at least a Band 6. So, throw in a good mix in your writing.

But back to the issue of ‘filling up spaces’, here is a student example of an introduction in IELTS Writing Task 1.

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Introduction:

The bar graph depicts the changing pattern of rentals and sales which work in different formats of films from a store during the time period from 2002 to 2011.

From the example, the IELTS candidate is trying to include all of this information at once:

  • changing pattern
  • rentals and sales
  • films
  • different formats
  • store
  • time period
  • 2002 to 2011

It can be quite a challenge for those who are not used to writing complex structures accurately to try and squeeze all of these in one sentence. The good news is, you do not have to mention everything in your introduction. You can talk about the details later. For example, the fact that the films are in different formats can be discussed in your overview or in the body of the writing. There is no rule anywhere in the IELTS Writing assessment criteria that says you HAVE to include everything in your introduction! At the same time, if you look carefully at the above sentence again, you can also see that some words are just simply not necessary. For instance, your reader can understand that 2002 to 2011 is a time period – so, why mention time period at all?

The bar graph depicts the changing pattern of rentals and sales of films from a particular store between 2002 to 2011.

This second sentence is much clearer as it is less “wordy” and appropriately describes what is shown in the graph. The expressions that have been removed are different formats and time period. If you insist on including different formats, here is a variation of the introduction:

The bar chart shows how many films, in different formats, were rented and sold annually from a store over a period of ten years.

However, you must be careful to punctuate this clearly because otherwise, the whole structure would appear awkward and difficult to understand. The only rule to remember in grammar here is:

Complex sentences should contain only two clauses. No more. Any longer than that would only attract mistakes and confusion. If you have to express more ideas, start a new sentence.

See what I did there? 😉

I hope this has helped you approach your sentences a bit more efficiently.

Until next time!

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