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How to Plan & Write IELTS Advantages and Disadvantages Essays

Questions for IELTS advantages and disadvantages essays can be worded in several different ways. Here is some typical wording that might be used:


  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of….?

  • Do you think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?

  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages and give your opinion.



It is also common for synonyms of ‘advantages’ and ‘disadvantages’ to be used, such as ‘benefits’ and ‘drawbacks’, as can be seen in this sample question.


A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism in the modern world? Do you think that the benefits of tourism outweigh its drawbacks?


The Question

IELTS advantages and disadvantages essay questions fall into two main categories:

  • Questions that ask for your opinion.

  • Questions that do not require you to state your opinion.


The first part of the question will always be a statement. You will then be asked to write about both the advantages and disadvantages of the idea stated. You may also be required to state your opinion.


Here are two more sample questions for illustration. For the first one, you must give your opinion but in the second, you should not.


1. Small businesses are disappearing and being replaced by large multinational companies. Do the advantages of this outweigh the disadvantages? 2. Most career choices demand vocational skills or specialist knowledge. However, despite this, most schools still teach academic subjects such as history or social studies. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this?


Essay Structures

Now let’s look at two simple structures you can use to write IELTS advantages and disadvantages essays. They're not the only possible structures but are ones I recommend because they are easy to learn and will enable you to quickly plan and write a high-level essay.


I’ll explain later why I’m giving you two slightly different structures.




These structures will give you a well-balanced essay with 4 paragraphs.

One Advantage and Disadvantage or Two?

The question will state 'advantages' and 'disadvantages' in the plural, that is, more than one. However, it is acceptable to write about just one.

This should give you an essay of just over the minimum 250 words. To write about two advantages and disadvantages will require you to write nearer 400 words which are a lot to plan and write in the 40 minutes allowed.

It is better to fully develop one advantage and one disadvantage than ending up with your second idea missing an explanation or an example because you run out of time, but you can write about two if you feel able to or more comfortable doing so.

Having said that, using essay structure 2, where you start with the examples, will enable you to easily add more than one advantage and disadvantage without having to write many more words.

It will be more suitable for some questions than others so bear this in mind when you're writing practice essays and try out both structures.


How To Plan IELTS Advantages and Disadvantages Essays

The planning process only takes around 5 minutes but it is essential as it will save you time overall and will result in a far better essay and thus, higher marks. There are the 3 things you need to do:


  • Analyse the question

  • Generate ideas

  • Identify vocabulary


# 1 Analyse the question

Analysing the question will ensure that you answer it fully. It’s quick and easy to do. You just need to identify 3 different types of words:


  • Topic words

  • Other keywords

  • Instruction words



Topics words are the ones that identify the general subject of the question and will be found in the statement part of the question.

Here is the question we’re going to be working on. I’ve highlighted the topic words in blue.

A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism in the modern world? Do you think that the benefits of tourism outweigh its drawbacks?


So, this question is about ‘tourism’.

Many people do this first step of the process and then write about the topic in general. This is a serious mistake and leads to low marks for task achievement.

What we need to do now that we know the general topic, is to understand exactly what aspect of tourism we're being asked to write about.

The other keywords in the question tell you the specific topic your essay must be about.

A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism in the modern world? Do you think that the benefits of tourism outweigh its drawbacks?


By highlighting these words, it’s easy to see that you are being asked to write about the conflicting issues of tourism being ‘a main source of income’ in many places, yet also being ‘a source of problems’.

Your essay must only include ideas relevant to this aspect of tourism.

The instruction words are the question itself. They tell you exactly what to include in your essay.

A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism in the modern world? Do you think that the benefits of tourism outweigh its drawbacks?


Here, we are required to write about:



  • The advantages of tourism in relation to income generation.

  • The disadvantage of tourism in relation to problems it can cause.

  • Our opinion as to whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.



Note the use of the synonyms ‘benefits’ and ‘drawback’ in the second sentence of the question.


# 2 Generate ideas

The next task is to generate some ideas to write about.


I’m going to demonstrate two of them for you here – the ‘friends technique’, which is suitable for most IELTS essays, and the ‘example method’, which perfectly fits essay structure 2.


The ‘friends technique’ is the method I generally prefer as it allows you to take a step back from the stress of the exam situation and think more calmly.

Here’s how it works. Imagine that you are chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee and they ask you this question. What are the first thoughts to come into your head? Plan your essay around these ideas.

Doing this will help you to come up with simple answers in everyday language rather than straining your brain to think of amazing ideas using high-level language, which isn’t necessary.

Here are my ideas using the friends technique:


There are far too many ideas here to include in an essay of just over 250 words. Think up a few then pick one advantage and one disadvantage that you think you can develop well.


With the 'example method', on the other hand, you start by thinking of specific examples related to the question. They can come from your own experience or be something you’ve read or heard about. These examples will generate ideas that will become the main points of your essay.

It works particularly well for the model question I’ve selected for this lesson which is why I’ve included the second essay structure.


Here are my ideas using the examples technique:


Now that we have some ideas, we’re almost ready to start writing our IELTS advantages and disadvantages essay, but first, we have one more task to do.


# 3 Vocabulary

During the planning stage, quickly jot down some vocabulary that comes to mind as you decide what you're going to write about, especially synonyms of key words. This will save you having to stop and think of the right language while you’re writing.


Writing an IELTS Advantages and Disadvantages Essay

We’re ready to begin writing our essay. For the first model answer, I’m going to take you step-by-step through essay structure 2. I’ll then give you a model answer for essay structure 1.


Here’s a reminder of the question and the essay structure.


A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed. What are the advantages and disadvantages of tourism in the modern world? Do you think that the benefits of tourism outweigh its drawbacks?



How To Write an Introduction

The introduction to an IELTS advantages and disadvantages essay should have a simple 2 or 3 part structure:


  • Paraphrase the question

  • Outline the main ideas

  • State your opinion (if required)



Our tourism question asks for our opinion so our introduction will have 3 parts.

1) Paraphrase the question

Start your introduction by paraphrasing the question statement.

Question: A lot of places in the world rely on tourism as a main source of income. Unfortunately, tourism can also be a source of problems if it is not well-managed.

Paraphrased question: Although holidaymakers contribute hugely to the economies of many popular destinations, the influx of tourists can also cause serious issues.

Note my use of synonyms for some of the key words. It’s fine to repeat one or two words if you can't think of suitable synonyms. Above all, your language must sound natural.


2) Outline statement

Now we need to add a statement where we outline the main points that we’ll be covering in the rest of the essay, that is, an advantage of tourism and a disadvantage of tourism.

Here are the two main ideas I’ve chosen to write about:


  • Advantage – Poor areas are now prosperous tourist resorts

  • Disadvantage – Displacement of local people


Outline statement: This essay will demonstrate how tourism can transform the economy of poor areas but will also show that this can lead to such problems as the displacement of local people.

3) Opinion statement


The question also asks for our opinion and it’s essential that we include it in the introduction.

Opinion statement: Whilst acknowledging that there are drawbacks, the essay will argue that the advantages of the tourist industry outweigh the disadvantages.

So, let’s bring the three elements of our introduction together.


Introduction


This introduction achieves three important functions:

  • It shows the examiner that you understand the question.

  • It acts as a guide to the examiner as to what your essay is about.

  • It also helps to keep you focused and on track as you write.


The two ideas in your introduction will become your two main body paragraphs. Main body paragraph 1 – Poor areas are now prosperous tourist resorts Main body paragraph 2 – Displacement of local people

How To Write Main Body Paragraphs

Main body paragraphs in IELTS advantages and disadvantages essays written using structure 2, should contain 3 things:


  • Topic sentence – give an example

  • Explanation – explain the benefits/advantages

  • Consequence – state the result


Main Body Paragraph 1


The topic sentence summarises the main idea of the paragraph. It plays an important role in ensuring that your ideas flow logically from one to another. It does this by acting as a signpost for what is to come next, that is, what the paragraph will be about.

If you maintain a clear development of ideas throughout your essay, you will get high marks for task achievement and cohesion and coherence.

In this instance, the topic sentence will introduce our first example, for which I’ve chosen Thailand.



  • Main idea – Poor areas are now prosperous tourist resorts

  • Example – Thailand


Topic sentence: One country that has experienced a significant economic boost from tourism is Thailand.

Next, we must write an explanation sentence that states the main point of our example.

Explanation sentence: Over the past 50 years, many of its small fishing villages, where people often struggled to make a living, have been developed into thriving holiday destinations.

Finally, we explain the consequence or result of the situation. This is where we give an example of one specific advantage. It is better to pick one and develop it than to just add a long list.

Consequence: With all the hotels, restaurants, shops and other tourist facilities that have been developed, there are now enough jobs for everyone and the general standard of living has greatly increased. Many local people have spotted new business opportunities and become entrepreneurs which has further diversified the economy.

That’s the 3 parts of our first main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.



Main Body Paragraph 2

Main idea – Displacement of local people Example – Venice


First, we write the topic sentence to summarise the main idea.

Topic sentence: In Venice, on the other hand, the huge popularity of the beautiful canals and stunning architecture with visitors from around the world has had a negative impact on local residents.

Now for the explanation sentence that states the main point of our example.

Explanation sentence: The growing need for tourist accommodation, places to eat and shops has forced many people from their homes to make way for this new development.

Finally, a specific example to explain the consequence.

Consequence: Not only have these people suffered by having to move away from their family and friends but the situation has also resulted in a lost sense of community in the worst affected areas.

That’s the 3 parts of our second main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.



How To Write a Conclusion

The conclusion is a summary of the main points in your essay and can generally be done in a single sentence. It should never introduce new ideas.

If you're below the minimum 250 words after you’ve written your conclusion, you can add a prediction or recommendation statement.


The conclusion is the easiest sentence in the essay to write but one of the most important.

A good conclusion will:


  • Neatly end the essay

  • Link all your ideas together

  • Sum up your argument or opinion

  • Answer the question



If you achieve this, you’ll improve your score for both task achievement and cohesion and coherence which together make up 50% of the overall marks. Without a conclusion, you’ll score below band 6 for task achievement.


You can start almost any final paragraph of an IELTS advantages and disadvantages essay with the words:


  • In conclusion

or

  • To conclude


Now all you need to do is briefly summarise the main ideas into one sentence.

Here’s a top tip. Go back and read the introduction to the essay because this is also a summary of the essay. It outlines what you are going to write about.

To create a great conclusion, you simply have to paraphrase the introduction.


Introduction:


Here's the same information formed into a conclusion:


Example IELTS Advantages and Disadvantages Essay for Structure 1

Now, here’s a model answer for essay structure 1. First, a reminder of the structure and the ideas I generated using the friends technique.


Ideas generation - Friends technique

I’ve underline the ideas I’ve chosen to write about in this second essay:

Advantages of tourism – source of income:

  • Provides jobs for local people

  • Opportunities for local entrepreneurs

  • Tourist spending boosts both national & local economy

  • Brings improvement in local infrastructure & facilities which benefit whole community

  • Helps maintain traditions & culture

Disadvantages of tourism – the problems:

  • Money goes to wealthy business owners not local people

  • Increased crime

  • Illegal activities, e.g. drugs

  • More pubs & clubs – changes the local culture

  • Increase in property values

  • Destruction of the natural environment to build hotels, airports & other facilities

  • Displacement of indigenous people

The essay

See if you can identify the different parts of the essay and how I have developed them.



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