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Referencing in IELTS writing

Published on August 26, 2019

If you’ve been following our blog, chances are you’re already familiar with the different sections of the IELTS, including the Writing section. But in case you’re just getting started with your IELTS preparation and still don’t know much about the test, let’s take a minute to quickly look at how the Writing section is assessed.

The Writing section of IELTS consists of two tasks based on topics of general interest: Writing Task 1 and Writing Task 2. Each task is assessed by an IELTS examiner using four criteria:

  • Task Achievement (for Task 1) or Task Response (Task 2)
  • Coherence and Cohesion
  • Lexical Resource
  • Grammatical Range and Accuracy

Today, we’ll be focusing on an important aspect of coherence and cohesion known as referencing.

A quick overview on coherence and cohesion

Coherence and cohesion refers to the way in which your text is put together. If your text is coherent, it means that it is logical, consistent and easy to understand. Cohesion, on the other hand, refers to how your information is organized. To achieve a cohesive text, you need to not only use paragraphing and linkers effectively, but you should also use referencing to avoid repetition.

A closer look at referencing

Referencing is when you refer back to something mentioned earlier in your text without having to repeat the same words or phrases. To better illustrate this concept, take a look at the text below. As you read, focus on the underlined words and decide what they refer to.

Obesity is a real problem in modern society, not just for adults, but also for children. There are many reasons for this. For many families, it has to do with money: healthier foods tend to be more expensive than unhealthy ones. Also, getting children to be active can be difficult, too, especially when they don’t have easy access to safe play areas.

As you may have noticed, the writer avoided repetition by using pronouns (this refers to the problem of obesity, and they refers to children), as well as substitution (the word ones is used instead of food). In case you were wondering, substitution is when we replace a word or phrase with ‘filler’ words such as one(s) and doso (e.g. My teacher advised me to do so.).

In addition to pronouns and substitution, synonyms are also commonly used as a form of referencing:

Many parents don’t believe it’s a problem if their child is overweight. They think it’s normal for children to be bulky because they will slim down as they grow.

Referencing practice

Now that you’re familiar with the different aspects of referencing, take a moment to read the following paragraph and decide whether to use pronouns, substitution or synonyms to avoid repetition and improve the text. Once you’ve finished, you may check your answers with the answer key provided below.

In my opinion, both mothers and fathers are responsible for helping their children get to and maintain a healthy weight. To achieve a healthy weight, mothers and fathers should make fruits and vegetables readily available at home, and only offer sweets or other processed foods occasionally. Mothers and fathers should also encourage their children to be active and exercise, and praise their children when they are active and exercise.

Answer key

In my opinion, both mothers and fathers are responsible for helping their children get to and maintain a healthy weight. To achieve this, parents must make fruits and vegetables readily available at home, and only offer sweets or other processed foods occasionally. They should also encourage their children to be active and exercise, and praise them when they do so.

It’s important that you use referencing and vary your vocabulary wherever possible. However, there might be times when you need to repeat words, and that’s fine, as long as it doesn’t happen too often.