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What ideas would you include in an essay?

One of the first steps you can take in academic writing is to brainstorm some ideas for your essay.

Look at the essay title below:

“Discuss the differences between the way of life in your country now and the way of life in the past”

The essay title asks you to describe some of the differences between life nowadays and life in the past in your country.

Example ideas you can use

NowadaysIn the Past
– More car
– Worse air quality
– More internet companies
– More and better electronic equipment in normal people’s home
– Such as computers, smartphones, easier internet connection, etc..
– Information booming on the internet
– More shopping malls, shops and restaurants.
– Fewer cars
– Better air
– Internet companies are just started
– Almost no computers and cellphones in normal families
– It was complex to access the internet for most people
– Only fewer, smaller shops.


Developing essay ideas

Well, if I were planning to write this essay, I would generate ideas in this way. I would write two columns with different headings. One heading saying, nowadays, one heading saying, in the past. And I would write– in terms of the UK– nowadays, there are more cars, people want to make money and have busier lives. There are more supermarkets, and there’s a wide use of technology– TVs, mobile phones, internet. And women often work outside the home. In the past, though, there were fewer cars, people had more time to spend with each other, there are more individual shops with personal service, and people’s lives were simpler. Women often stayed at home and didn’t have paid jobs.

One of my students from South Korea had these ideas. Nowadays, there is a strong IT industry and Korea is independent with a strong economy. South Korea also gives help to other countries. In the past, though, the economy was mainly based on agriculture. And South Korea wasn’t independent because other countries invaded. Also, South Korea had to have help from richer countries. Of course, your ideas may have been different. You and I and the student from South Korea are from different countries, and we have different background knowledge.


Sample Essay

The life in my country have been changing day by day in different aspects. I will describe the one which I found most interesting is the way that people communicate nowadays.

During 80’s and 90’s it was common for people to use land line to communicate in the country or to conect them to a different countries. Besides, it was possible to arrange everything using this device. However, with the adventure of technologies people’s live have changed considerable. The smartphones, ipad, tablet and others devices have been making great changes.

People can communicate in real time, can access to their bank account and buy things, can access at events and information that are happening at the other side. In spite of this positives things, people have became anti-social. They find someone in trouble instead of helping they first take a picture.

Despite this, we can’t live without this devices.


Another Sample Essay

This essay is writen by Xiao, a student froom China

China is interesting country with a long history. China is developing very fast nowadays through the government and people’s hard work. Many aspect of life have changed in the last fifty years, some change are good and some are bad. China better than before. This essay will explain changes in the country.

Firstly, people’s standard of living is higher than before. People’s lives very bad after the Second World War. People were poor because the country was poor. There was no food, no electricity and it was hard to buy anything in shops. Because of no food, government had to make a rule, each person could only buy five kilos of rice per month. In people’s homes, there was no television or telephone. Since those days, China has industrialised. It has created jobs and opportunities for people in cities such as Shanghai and Beijing and increased building work, exports and profits. China opened its doors to the world. The Olympic Games came to China in 2008. Nowadays, there is enough food for everyone, and families had comfortable homes, televisions, internet access, personal computers and mobile phones. People can buy anything they want in the shops.

Other improvements happen in education and everyday behaviour. In school, students are now learning English and modern ideas which come from other countries whereas in the past they spend time learning how to speak the old Chinese language. Teachers did not teach Science subjects in those days. There are new customs too. For example, in the past, couples usually got married at home and wore red clothes but now they can marry in church and wear western-style clothes. Wives not usually had jobs, they worked at home, they always obeyed their husbands. They never said: ‘no’ when the man said: ‘yes’. But, nowadays, Chinese women can have important job and hold own opinion.

There are some negative changes, such as the number of cigarette smokers has increased and children do not work as hard as before because their live are easy. Both parents now work to have a good standard of living and they have no time to spend with family.

It is clear that China change greatly over the last fifty years, and it will continue to improve.


Comments on Xiao’s essay

Xiao’s been able to support his ideas by using evidence from his background knowledge. This is really important as it shows that academic writing is possible even for a beginner. Again, we’re going to look at content, organisation, and language.

Content first. In this essay Xiao’s analysed the title carefully and he answers the question what are the differences between the way of life in your country now in the past. He’s thought critically. He’s used logic in developing his ideas. He hasn’t just praised modern life and written all the good things about it, he’s begun to think more deeply about the negative side of modern life too.

Organisation. Xiao has planned and organised his writing into logical sections so I can follow his ideas more easily. He now has one main focus for each paragraph. He develops and explains the focus by giving further ideas, details, and examples. For example, if we take the paragraph which begins, firstly, people’s standard of living is higher than before, we have an idea and details of how life was in the past and we can compare this with the ideas and details of how life is now, jobs, food, the internet. He could have written more in his conclusion, it’s still rather short. He should’ve summarised, perhaps, his key points or made suggestions for improving modern life even further.

In terms of his language, he’s got a much wider variety of sentence structure and he uses punctuation more accurately. He’s got a better understanding of how to construct and use past and present tenses, and he’s improved his vocabulary and spelling. He’s probably used a dictionary for this and he’s got used to using spell check on his computer. So he’s done really well.




Previous lessons:

  1. The key features of academic writing
Next lessons
  1. Main ideas and supporting evidence in an essay
  2. How to organize an essay
  3. Analysing the organisation of an example essay
  4. How to link the ideas within an essay
  5. Sample structure of an IELTS essay

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