Monthly Archives: October 2016

Can I use personal pronouns in #IELTS writing task 2?

Can I use personal pronouns in #IELTS writing task 2?

Many people are taught that you must not use personal pronouns, such as I, you, we etc., in IELTS writing.  This advice comes from the belief that academic writing must be impersonal, which is generally true (although there is a recent move away from this idea and towards more direct and accessible language).  Nevertheless, IELTS writing task 2 is NOT an academic writing task.  You are not being asked to write a report on a research study, instead you are being asked to write a formal essay giving your own views and opinions.  In the IELTS test, you must make your own position clear in your essay if you want to score well. In fact, it is essential if you want to score band 7 or above. 

Band 7 candidates ‘present a clear position throughout’ their essay, while for Band 6 candidates, their position is sometimes ‘unclear’. 

Why is the advice to avoid personal pronouns a problem?

The reason this is such an important issue is that, in trying to avoid the use of personal pronouns at all costs, many candidates resort to using the passive. So, instead of saying ‘I believe…’ or  ‘I feel…..’ they write ‘It is believed // It is felt….’  etc. But this does not tell the reader anything about your own position. In fact, it is very unnatural to use the passive in this way.  A native speaker would never write this.  We only use the passive when the person (the subject of the verb) is unimportant or unknown.  Look at these examples:

Examples of the correct use of the passive:

  1. At the factory, the different parts of the car are manufactured and checked before being assembled. (NB This is done in a factory and we don’t know which individual person is doing this)
  2. It has been decided that the test will be postponed until next term. (NB Using the passive tells us this has been a group decision, not made by one person).

What can I do to show my position?

There are many ways you can make your position clear, including through your choice of positive or negative vocabulary, and through using conditional tenses and modals ( to show if you think something is likely or unlikely). You can also show your position by using personal pronouns, which can be very effective if this is something you feel very strongly about. ‘I firmly believe..’ is much stronger than ‘In my view..’ for example.  What is important is understanding that phrases such as ‘It is felt..’ or ‘It is agreed…’ do not give any information about your views and are an unnatural use of language and so should be avoided. 

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