Task Achievement by Expressing Ideas

Your Writing Task 2 essay is assessed on how effectively you present your arguments, ideas and evidence. In this section, we will look at how you can express your arguments and ideas effectively by using:

  • modal verbs to express ideas:
    • with certainty
    • tentatively.
  • quantifiers (words and phrases showing quantity) to:
    • avoid generalisations
    • add further information.

The following pages will increase your awareness of the importance of these aspects of language in academic writing, and give examples of how this language can be used.

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb and include verbs such as: can, could, may, might, will, would, should, ought to, must.

In this section we will look at how:

  • can, could, may, might, would, will are used to express possibility
  • could, should, ought to, must are used to give suggestions or make recommendations.

We will also look at how these modal verbs express possibility, give suggestions and make recommendations

  • with certainty
  • tentatively.

Using modal verbs in this way will help you to express your ideas in your Task 2 essay more effectively.

Let’s start by looking at how to express ideas with certainty.

Expressing ideas with certainty

If you express your ideas with certainty, then you are expressing your ideas strongly.

Expressing ideas strongly is common in an Argument essay. This is because an Argument essay requires you to present a strong argument for or against a particular viewpoint. In other words, you are trying to persuade the reader to agree with your viewpoint.

Modal verbs to express ideas with certainty

The modal verb will is often used to express an idea or situation the writer thinks is certain.

Let’s look at a sample paragraph from an Argument essay. Look at how the writer’s argument is expressed with certainty.

Sample paragraph

Tropical logging in developing countries brings many long-term environmental risks. If logging is uncontrolled, deforestation, soil erosion and even climatic changes will occur. Until the governments realise the important role forests play in maintaining our natural environment, they will continue to exploit and destroy these forests.

In this paragraph, the modal verb will is used to:

  • express the writer’s ideas with certainty – the writer is certain that (a) deforestation, soil erosion and climatic changes are a result of logging, and (b) governments will exploit and destroy forests
  • persuade the reader to agree with the writer’s ideas – this is the purpose of an Argument essay.

The modal verb can is also used to express an idea or situation the writer thinks is certain, and is commonly used in Argument essays. However, it is not as strong as the modal verb will.

Now let’s look at the following Task 2 Argument essay to see how the modal verbs will and can have been used to express ideas with certainty.

First read the Task 2 question for this essay.

Due to the influence of world-wide media such as television and computers, the gap between cultures is narrowing. The introduction of this global culture is of great benefit to the world. To what extent do you agree with this viewpoint?

This Argument essay question asks you to argue for or against the viewpoint that global culture benefits the world. 

Sample Argument essay
The majority of people today share more information than they used to due to the internationalisation of the mass media. Some people believe this is closing the gap between cultures and is bringing many benefits worldwide. I agree with this statement for the following reasons.
One advantage of world-wide media is that films, plays, music and sports events can be enjoyed and celebrated around the world. Many people believe that sharing these aspects will create a global culture that brings people closer together. Another advantage of world-wide media is that issues such as human rights abuses become internationally recognised. Countries that try to keep these atrocities hidden are made public by the media. As a result, the globalisation of the media can help to raise people’s awareness of these issues and this may help to reduce or even eliminate the problem in the future.
In addition, the international media has provided a valuable educational tool for children and adults alike. Foreign television teams keep the public up-to-date with news and images of different cultures and ways of life. Thus, people can educate themselves about these cultures not just by reading books but by watching news programs and documentaries. In this way, global culture will bring valuable educational benefits worldwide.  

In conclusion, the international media serves to educate and involve people in cultural and political issues. I therefore believe that the global culture created by this media has brought and will continue to bring many benefits worldwide.

Because this essay question asks you to argue for or against a particular viewpoint, the writer’s aim is to persuade the reader to agree with his/her side of the argument. Therefore, the writer has used the modal verbs can and will more frequently than other types of modal verbs, to express ideas with certainty.

Expressing ideas tentatively

The word tentatively means ‘carefully’ or ‘with caution’. Therefore, if you express your ideas tentatively, you are showing that something is possible, but not definite.

Writers often present their ideas tentatively:

  • if they want to avoid making a definite statement – a definite statement can sometimes sound too strong, especially in a Discussion essay
  • because it shows that the writer’s ideas are not the only ideas about the topic – other writers may have different ideas.

Modal verbs to express ideas tentatively

Modal verbs such as maymightcancould are often used to express ideas tentatively.

Expressing ideas tentatively is common in Discussion essay types. This is because a Discussion essay requires you to write about a topic from different viewpoints. Therefore, you should present your ideas tentatively to show that there are different viewpoints to the topic, not just your viewpoint.

Let’s look at a sample paragraph from a Discussion essay. Look at how the writer has expressed their viewpoint tentatively.

Sample paragraph

However, it is important that the disadvantages of tourism are not overlooked. One serious risk of international travel is that it might spread contagious diseases. A foreign tourist, who has become infected with a disease, could start an epidemic when they return home or travel to other countries. The HIV virus is one example of a disease that has now become a worldwide epidemic.

In this paragraph, the modal verbs might and could are used to:

  • introduce the possibility that these two disadvantages of tourism could happen
  • express the writer’s ideas tentatively – the writer is not 100% definite that international travel (a) spreads contagious diseases or (b) causes epidemics.

Expressing ideas tentatively about the future

Some IELTS Task 2 questions ask you to write about the future.

When writers express their ideas about the future, they often express them tentatively. This is because nobody can be 100% certain about what will happen in the future.

The modal verbs may, might, could, would are often used to express ideas tentatively about the future.

Look at how some of these modal verbs have been used in the following paragraph.

Sample paragraph

There are also some advantages to cloning. Many couples are desperate to have children but are unable to have children naturally. Cloning may solve this problem. Cloning could also be used to create spare organs for surgery. Therefore, if you needed a heart transplant, you could be given a spare heart which has been cloned in an organ bank.

In this paragraph, the writer has used the modal verbs may and could to:

  • present the possibility of these two advantages happening in the future
  • show that these ideas are tentative – the writer cannot be 100% definite that these ideas are possible in the future.

Using if-clauses to express ideas tentatively about the future

The modal verbs could, may, might are often used with if-clauses to express ideas tentatively about the future.

Look at the following examples.

Example sentences

  1. Ifyou needed a heart transplant, you could be given a spare heart which has been cloned in an organ bank.
  2. Ifscientists spent more time studying new species of rainforest plants, they might find a cure for cancer.
  3. Ifgovernments spent extra money on space research, it may one day be possible to live on another planet.

Using if-clauses to express ideas about the future which are more certain

The modal verbs would and will are often used with if-clauses to express ideas about the future which are more certain.

Example sentences

  1. If people lived for two hundred years, their body organs would start to deteriorate.
  2. If governments cannot control logging, the result will be deforestation, soil erosion and even climatic changes.

Let’s look at the sentence structure for these sentences. Sentences (a), (b), (c) and (d) have the same structure. They all use an if-clause with past tense, and a modal verb.

Sentences (a), (b) and (c) express tentative ideas about the future because they use the modal verbs could, may, might.

Sentences (d) and (e) express certain ideas about the future. They use the modal verbs will and would.

However, sentence (e) has a different structure. It uses an if-clause with present tense, and a modal verb.

Note that will is used to express an idea that the writer believes is certain in the future, while would is often used in situations that are not real or are imaginary.

For example, we do not know if:

  • human cloning
  • finding a cure for cancer
  • living on another planet
  • living for 200 years

are possible in the future. Therefore, we use past tense and would.

However, we know that:

  • deforestation
  • soil erosion
  • climatic changes

Modal verbs to give suggestions or make recommendations tentatively

Giving suggestions or making recommendations is a requirement in Task 2 Problem-Solution essays.

Problem-Solution essays require you to explain a problem and then offer some solutions or suggestions to this problem. You may also give a recommendation in the conclusion of your essay. You can express your solutions, suggestions and recommendations tentatively or with certainty.

Modal verbs such as could, ought to, should are often used to give suggestions or make recommendations tentatively.

Look at how the modal verbs could and should have been used in the following paragraph.

Sample paragraph

One of the major problems today is that natural resources such as coal and oil are not renewable and are running out extremely quickly. It is therefore important to reduce the quantity of natural resources used. The most obvious way of doing this is to be more economical. For example, the government should encourage people to drive smaller cars, and cars could be adapted to use petrol more efficiently. Moreover, people should use public transport whenever possible. This could be done by taxing cars heavily and using this money to improve the quality of public transport.

In this paragraph, the writer has used the modal verbs should and could:

  • to give tentative suggestions and recommendations on how to reduce the quantity of natural resources currently used
  • to show that there are other possible suggestions and recommendations that the writer has not included – other writers may have different suggestions and recommendations.

Note that should is less tentative than could when giving suggestions or making recommendations.

Modal verbs to give a strong suggestion or recommendation

The modal verb must is used to give a strong suggestion or recommendation.
Look at how must is used in the following sentence.

Encouraging people to save energy is only a very small step towards saving our resources. In the long term the government must find alternative sources of power.

In this sentence, the writer has used the modal verb must:

  • to give a strong recommendation (must find alternative sources of power)
  • to show that this recommendation is very important and perhaps the most important recommendation in the essay.

Now let’s look at a sample Task 2 Problem-Solution essay to see how modal verbs have been used to give suggestions or make recommendations.

First read the Task 2 question for this essay.

During the last century, the phenomenal popularity of cars has meant that the world’s environment is now at risk. Some scientists, for example, claim that motor vehicles have been responsible for the temperature of the world rising by several degrees during the last few decades. What motivates people to buy cars and what can we do to stop people from buying them?

This Problem-Solution essay question asks you to explain why people buy cars, and suggest ways to stop people from buying cars.

Sample Problem-Solution essay
Most people now use cars as their main form of transport. However, scientists claim that the pollution from cars is causing environmental problems. This essay will examine why cars are so popular and what can be done to discourage people from buying them.
People choose to buy cars because they are a convenient method of transport. For example, while on holiday, people who own a car can easily travel to destinations that are not accessible by public transport. Thus, there are no limitations on where and when to travel, and they do not have to worry about bookings and timetables. People also buy cars because using them can be more economical than paying for public transport. For instance, it is often cheaper for families or couples to travel in the same car than to pay bus or train fares for each adult or child. In order to stop people from buying cars, they should be encouraged to use public transport.

One way to do this is to improve existing transport systems by making services cheaper and more frequent. Another way is to introduce or extend existing underground transport systems so commuters can avoid traffic problems. In addition, councils could enforce higher parking fees or charge people to drive into city areas. This is being done in some cities in England where drivers display a special sticker to show that they have paid to enter a city area.  

To sum up, cars are popular because they are a convenient and economical method of transport. In order to reduce the problems this may cause to the environment, governments must give serious consideration to ways in which citizens can be encouraged to use alternative transport that is less damaging to the environment. (289 words)

In this Problem-Solution essay, the writer has used the modal verbs should and could to give tentative suggestions, and has used the modal verb must to give a strong recommendation in the conclusion.

Quantifiers

As we have seen, modal verbs can be used in academic writing to help you express your ideas and arguments effectively. As well, using quantifiers helps to express ideas in an effective way. Quantifiers are words and phrases that indicate quantity. Examples of these include a few, some, many and most.

In academic writing quantifiers are often used to:

  • avoid generalisations
  • add further information.

Avoiding generalisations

Generalisations are statements that are too general. They are usually incorrect because they do not apply to all situations or all people.

Look at the following examples.

  1. Internet sites provide reliable and current information to the public.
  2. Some Internet sites provide reliable and current information to the public.

Statement (a) is a generalisation. It does not use a quantifier and therefore indicates that:

(all) Internet sites provide reliable and current information to the public.

Of course, this statement is incorrect.

Statement (b) is not a generalisation because it uses the quantifier some. Therefore, this statement is true – we know that some Internet sites are reliable and current.

Below are some other examples of quantifiers which will help you avoid generalisations in your Task 2 essay.

Very large quantitiesinnumerable countless
Large quantitiesmuch (of) many (of) a great deal of a large number of a large proportion of
Small quantitiesa few some several
Very small quantitiesfew little not many a small number of a small proportion of

Let’s now look more closely at how you can avoid generalisations in academic writing.

Generalisations:-

Let’s look at a paragraph that contains generalisations.

Countries encourage consumer spending and consumption as it stimulates economic growth and provides people with jobs. However, the products purchased are thrown away after a few months’ use. This is a problem because our natural resources are finite.

Were you able to identify the generalisations in the paragraph above?

Now let’s look at how quantifiers (words and phrases showing quantity) can be used to avoid generalisations.

Some countries encourage consumer spending and consumption as it stimulates economic growth and provides a large number of people with jobs. However, many of the products purchased are thrown away after a few months’ use. This is a problem because our natural resources are finite.

This paragraph is effective because it avoids generalisations by using quantifiers.

Note that quantifiers are like adjectives and come before the noun.

Adding further information:-

As we have seen, using quantifiers in academic writing helps us to avoid making generalisations. Another advantage of using quantifiers is that they add further information which indicates quantity, therefore making your writing more effective.

Look at the following recommendations and decide which one is more effective.

  1. Money should be allocated to discovering alternative ways of treating people addicted to drugs.
  2. A large amount of money should be allocated to discovering alternative ways of treating people addicted to drugs.

The second recommendation is more effective because it uses a quantifier a large amount of which adds further information to the noun money.

Look at the following paragraph. Note how the quantifiers add further information and therefore present each idea more effectively.

There have been innumerable cases throughout history where a change in technology has not lead to a change in traditional culture. For example, when farmers all around the world started using machines instead of animals to plough their fields, much of their productivity and lifestyle improved, but there was little change in their behaviour, beliefs and customs. The technology was incorporated into their traditional culture without changing it.

Using modal verbs and quantifiers

Now let’s look at the following Task 2 Argument essay to see how ideas have been expressed effectively using modal verbs and quantifiers.

First read the Task 2 question for this essay.

In the future, it may be possible for people to live for 150 years. This is a largely negative development with dangerous effects on our society. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

This Argument essay question asks you to argue for or against the viewpoint that living for 150 years will have a dangerous effect on our society.

Sample Argument essay
To live a longer life has been a dream for countless years. Yet if science delivers this development to humankind, it could be a disaster for life on earth. This essay will argue that living a longer life is a negative development for both individuals and for society as a whole.
People who believe in living a longer life argue that there are many advantages such as more time for a quality lifestyle and to achieve more personal goals. However, some people argue that other more important issues such as poor quality of life due to ill health and limited world resources need to be considered. For individual quality of life, living for one hundred and fifty years might be more of a liability than an advantage. If people lived to an extreme age their body organs could start to deteriorate and they may feel unhealthy for many years. They may also have to live with long periods of illnesses such as arthritis that are common among elderly people.
From a more practical point of view, problems could occur when increasing numbers of elderly people begin to rely on the welfare system. We have already seen a similar situation in Japan, where a small number of young people have to pay large amounts of tax to support an increasing elderly population. In addition, there could be a serious decline in world resources if people lived longer. As it is, there is barely enough water for the present population of the world.
Therefore, I strongly agree with the statement that living for two hundred years is a negative and dangerous development for both individuals and for our planet.

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