This article will focus on giving advice and exercises to help you understand and use referencing, which is important must do to get at least a band 6 in the coherence and cohesion section, and to get a higher band you need to be using it accurately. Below are some examples of how to use referencing correctly and some activities to help you practice.
Here is a recent example of a paragraph written by a student:
The internet has always been associated with a number of threats. One of the main problems of internet is a users’ personal data vulnerability. Every day, thousands of emails, passwords and bank accounts are illegally violated. They target careless individuals, yet, sometimes, victims might be big companies or even banks. Moreover, there is the “Dark Web”; a term referring to a huge number of websites dedicated to selling drugs, weapons, smuggling services, and other criminal activities. Also, for many people, especially teenagers, this powerful tool is nothing but a way to waste time online. Teenagers spend hours living in this virtual reality leaving the teenager’s real life and family behind.
There are different issues happening here that affect the reader’s understanding. But before we work out what they are, let’s have a look at what we actually mean by ‘referencing’.
So, what is it?
Well, it is the relationship between a unit of grammar, most likely a pronoun that refers to another unit of grammar, which will probably be a noun or a noun phrase. So in the sentence “ After finishing her homework, she sent it to the teacher”, ‘it’ is the pronoun referring to ‘her homework’.
A pronoun can link back to other items in the text (She checked her homework before submitting it) or point ahead (Before submitting it, she checked her homework). It changes to suit the noun or noun phrase it replaces (and by ‘it’, I, of course, mean the noun, ‘pronoun’ – The pronoun changes to suit the noun or noun phrase the pronoun replaces).
What problems do candidates have?
The first issue is that often candidates don’t use referencing at all. Candidates repeat the noun or noun phrase which makes the candidate’s writing unnatural. Candidates need to be able to use referencing if candidates want to achieve a higher band score.
Do you see the problem? How many times is the word ‘candidate’ used in the above sentences? Far too many. There is no referencing which makes these sentences difficult to read. Have a look at how this could be improved.
The first issue is that often candidates don’t use referencing at all and they repeat the noun or noun phrase which makes their writing unnatural. They need to be able to use references if they want to achieve a higher band score.
This is better, but there is a repetition in the use of ‘they’ so perhaps removing some of the problem might help.
The first issue is that often candidates don’t use referencing at all and they repeat the noun or noun phrase which makes their writing unnatural. Referencing will help them achieve a higher band score.
Confusing the reader.
Another common problem in this area is that the noun or noun phrase is unclear and in a piece of writing, we can’t confirm what you, the writer, might be talking about. You confuse the reader, who can’t get a clear picture in their head, about what you might be talking about. And you don’t want to confuse your examiner!
Look at this example:
Jemma had just set down the slice of pizza when she spotted a huge spider. She squashed it with her hand before she ate.
So, what did Jemma squash? For some, she must have squashed the spider, after all, it’s a spider!!! But for others, perhaps those who love spiders, Jemma squashed her slice of pizza to make it smaller, before she ate. The exact idea is unclear because we aren’t sure what ‘it’ is. We would need to make this sentence clearer so the meaning is known. For example:
Jemma had just set down the slice of pizza when she spotted a huge spider. She squashed the disgusting creature with her hand before she ate.
Jemma had just set down the slice of pizza when she spotted a huge spider. She squashed the delicious food with her hand before she ate quickly and left.
Now there is no confusion as to what Jemma did.
Another example where students tend to make mistakes is with the use of they, as who ‘they’ are is often up for debate and more than often, not clear. Who/what you are referring to needs to be clear for the reader – the person marking your paper!
Look at the following sentence, taken from a student’s task 2:
On the leaflet, they say that the accommodation is free.
Who is they? Aliens? The government? The travel agent? The hotel? Who knows? Not me.
On the leaflet, the travel agent says that the accommodation is free.
Ah, that’s clearer. It was the travel agent!
Here is another confusing sentence that follows the same pattern as above, but with the pronoun it, instead of they.
In my IELTS textbook, it claims that being able to use referencing will help me get a better score.
Who claims? What claims? Again, it, and I do mean ‘it’ is not clear.
The IELTS textbook claims that being able to use referencing will help me get a better score.
No reference problem here as we removed the pronoun all together. Much clearer!
Another area which causes lack of clarity here is when we try and sum up complicated situations. If too many things are happening, your reader will again be puzzled and confused.
After not planning before she started writing, Jemma forgot to check her work for mistakes and walked out of the exam before it had finished. That was silly.
What was silly? Not planning? Not checking for mistakes? Leaving the room? All of them? We can’t be sure what was actually silly, though we know something was. Again, you need to be clear.
Jemma was silly to not plan before she started writing OR Jemma was silly to forget to check for mistakes OR Jemma was silly to leave the room.
Now, we are clear just where we think Jemma was silly.
As you can see, there are several areas where mistakes with referencing make understanding your thoughts and ideas difficult for your reader.
Now look again at the paragraph we started with and identify which mistakes are happening.
The internet has always been associated with a number of serious threats. One of the main problems of the internet (repetition of the noun phrase) is a users’ personal data vulnerability. Every day, thousands of emails, passwords and bank accounts are illegally violated. They (who is they?) target careless individuals, yet, sometimes victims might be big companies or even banks. Moreover, there is the “Dark Web”; a term referring to a huge number of websites dedicated to selling drugs, weapons, smuggling services, and other criminal activities. Also, for many people, especially teenagers, this powerful tool (is this powerful tool the internet or the dark web?) is nothing but a way to waste time online. Teenagers spend hours living in this virtual reality (again – the internet or the dark web?) leaving the teenager’s (repetition of noun) real life and family behind.
Have a look at the following sentences which all have mistakes with referencing. Correct them and post your answers below!
1. When the girl gently picked up her puppy, her ears stood up and her tail started wagging.
2. My mother is a bus driver, but they wouldn’t hire me.
3. After drying your pet with a towel, be sure to drop it into the washing machine.
4. After removing the roast beef from the roasting dish, allow it to soak in soapy water.
5. Coffee in one hand and handbag in the other, Jemma raised it to her lips and swallowed it in one mighty gulp.
6. A few moments after the Queen had broken the traditional bottle of champagne on the new ship, she slid slowly and gracefully into the water with scarcely a splash.
7. When he set the vase on the table, it broke.
8. Take the radio out the car and fix it.
If you are serious about taking your IELTS writing to the next level, sign up for your FREE 3 part IELTS writing video course that takes you through both task 1 and task 2. The video lessons are led by our highly experienced UK native IELTS teacher, Katherine. We also provide you with exercises to test your understanding!
Sign up your FREE IELTS writing video course by clicking here: https://swoosh-english.thinkific.com/courses/ielts-writing-video-course
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