Many IELTS essays are repetitive. Many IELTS essays are repetitive.

Ha! Did you notice that I just repeated myself? Of course, IELTS students don’t repeat entire sentences like I just did, but they do repeat words and phrases throughout their essays.

Why is repetition a problem?

Well, if you keep repeating the same words and phrases throughout your essay, the examiner can’t see how much vocabulary you actually have. This will  affect your score for Lexical Resource (vocabulary). But it will also mean that you lose marks in Coherence and Cohesion, which is related to the way your ideas are linked together through your essay. (To understand more about Coherence and Cohesion, read this article.)

How can I avoid repetition?

Well, you can use substitution and referencing. What? I hear you say. What are substitution and referencing? Don’t panic. Let me explain.

What is substitution?

Substitution basically means substituting, or replacing, words and phrases with synonyms. Some people call this paraphrasing.

Let’s look at some examples:

Here’s something my student wrote in answer to a question about whether written exams are a good method of evaluating students:

Many people believe that written tests are not the best way of evaluation in the field of education. In my opinion, although formal examinations are a good way to evaluate students, it is very important to combine these types of exams with others.

Instead of repeating the phrase ‘written tests’, he used the phrase ‘formal examinations’, which has a similar meaning. Thus, he was able to avoid repetition. And his writing sounded more impressive to the reader.

In fact, he did very well in Coherence and Cohesion, because he continued to use substitution throughout the essay, using phrases like ‘written assessment’ and ‘formal evaluation methods’ later on.

What is referencing?

Referencing is when you refer back to something you have mentioned earlier, using words like he, she, it, they, this and these. It’s very similar to substitution, which (as we have seen above) uses different words and phrases to refer to previously-mentioned ideas.

Let’s look at an example:

If you look at the paragraph I wrote above, you will see that I replaced the word ‘referencing’ with the pronoun ‘it:

‘Referencing is when you refer back to something you have mentioned earlier. It‘s very similar to substitution…’

Imagine if I hadn’t done this:

Referencing is when you refer back to something you have mentioned earlier. Referencing is very similar to substitution…

Do you see how boring the writing sounds without the use of the pronoun to replace the noun?

Let’s look at another example:

Remember my student from the beginning of this article? Let’s look again at the paragraph he wrote:

Many people believe that written tests are not the best way of evaluation in the field of education. In my opinion, although formal examinations are a good way to evaluate students, it is very important to combine these types of exams with others.

Can you see that at the end of the paragraph, he used the phrase ‘these types of exams’ to refer back to ‘written tests’ and ‘formal examinations’. The word ‘these’ is a reference word which refers back to a previously-mentioned plural noun (formal examinations and written tests). He combined the word ‘these’ with the phrase ‘types of exams’, to replace ‘written tests’ and ‘formal examinations’. So really, he was using both referencing and substitution.

Other ways of referencing:

There are various reference words that native speakers use to make their writing sound less repetitive. Here are some examples:

‘this’ for a whole idea

Instead of playing outside with their friends, many children these days spend hours staring at screens. This is having a negative effect on their health. 

The word ‘this’ refers to the whole idea in the previous sentence (the fact that children spend hours staring at screens and not playing outside).

‘such’ + noun

Instead of playing outside with their friends, many children these days spend hours staring at screens. Such activities are having a negative effect on their health. 

‘Such’ means ‘these kinds of’ and is followed by the noun ‘activities’. The whole phrase refers to the idea of spending hours staring at screens.

‘these’ + plural noun

Instead of playing outside with their friends, many children these days spend hours staring at screens. These activities are having a negative effect on their health. 

The phrase ‘these activities’ is very similar in meaning to ‘such activities’ above.

‘this’ + singular noun

Many people are choosing to move to cities in search of a better life. This phenomenon is creating various problems for city dwellers.

Here, ‘this’ is used with a singular noun, ‘phenomenon’ to refer to the fact that people are moving to cities. As we have seen above, we can also use ‘this’ on its own, with very little change in meaning:

Many people are choosing to move to cities in search of a better life. This is creating various problems for city dwellers.

Again, there is very little change in meaning between ‘this phenomenon’ and ‘this’.

In conclusion…

As we have seen, using referencing and substitution in your essays will help to keep your writing interesting. And it will help to make sure the examiner stays awake when she is reading your essay, and that she gives you the score you need.

Of course, the way to really improve is to ask a professional to check your writing for you, so you can understand your mistakes and what you need to do to improve. Check out my writing correction service below to find out how I can help you to do this.

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