Task 1. Process Diagram

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IELTS Writing. Part 1.Process Diagram

In the IELTS writing exam, you may be required to describe a process diagram. This will be part of writing task 1. In this task, you normally describe a line graph, bar chart, or table.

To begin, look at this question:

You should spend about 20 minutes on this task.

The diagram below shows the recycling process of aluminium cans.

Summarise the information by selecting and reporting the main features, and make comparisons where relevant.

Write at least 150 words.

A process will have a number of stages that are in time order.  You should start from the beginning, and describe each stage through to the last one. In the example above, this is fairly clear. It begins with throwing away the used cans, and ends with their reuse.

Processes are not always this clear. You may have to look more carefully to spot the beginning. And there may also be two things happening at the same time.

Understanding the process

​Answering the questions below will give you the information you need to write your answer. You need to use the right vocabulary and a range of grammar to get an acceptable band score. And of course, write 150 words).

  • Is it a cyclical or linear process?

Linear process

A linear process starts and finishes at different places. It will often involve the manufacture or creation of something, starting with the raw materials, going in at one end and the finished product coming out the other end.

Cyclical process

A cyclical process goes back to the beginning and repeats over and over again, such as the life cycle of a frog or a butterfly.

  • What is the beginning and what is the end of the process? For a linear process this will usually be obvious. It may be harder to determine for a cyclical process. So it’s important that you examine the graphic carefully to find out.
  • How many stages are there? If there are a lot, it can be helpful to number them from 1 to whatever number the final stage is.
  • Is it a man-made process or natural process?
  • Are there any materials/resources that need to be added to the process?
  • What is produced? These questions obviously apply only to manufacturing processes. For other types of process, it might be more appropriate to ask the following question.
  • What does each stage of the process do?
  • Describe the relationships between each stage.
  • What is the end result of the process?

Kinds of process?

​We can generally divide all processes into two categories: man-made or natural.

If a process is man-made we generally use the passive voice to describe it. If it is a naturally occurring process, we generally use the active voice.

Refined steel is then shipped to the customer.
After this, the baby salmon 
swim downstream to the ocean.

Introduce the diagram

As with any task 1, you can begin by paraphrasing the rubric:

The diagram illustrates how aluminium cans are recycled.

As you can see, this has been taken from the question, but it has not been copied. You need to write it in your own words.

Overview

An IELTS process diagram is different to a line, bar, pie chart or table in that there are not usually key changes or trends to identify.  However, you should still give an overview of what is taking place.

To achieve a band 6 or more you must provide an overview in a task 1. As there are no trends to comment on, you can make a comment on, for example, the number of stages in the process and how it begins and ends:

Overall, there are seven stages in the process, beginning with throwing away the used cans and culminating in their reuse.

Give the detail

After the introduction it is time to move onto detailed analysis of the process. You need to discuss the stages in order. Here you will use your answers to the questions from the section Understanding the process.

Now you need to explain the IELTS process diagram. There are two key aspects of language associated with this.

Time Connectors

A process is a series of events, one taking place after the other.  Therefore, to connect your stages, you should use time connectors

Here is the rest of the answer with the time connectors highlighted. Notice that you simply go from the beginning to the end of the process:

To begin, the cans need to be taken to special collection centres instead of being thrown away with the normal refuse. The cans are collected from here and taken to a factory where they are first sorted and then cleaned. Following this, the cans are shredded and crushed in a special machine.

In the subsequent stage, the metal is heated to a high enough temperature to allow the aluminium to melt. It is then rolled out flat to a thickness of between 2.5 mm and 6 mm, depending on what it is going to be used for. The aluminium is now ready to be recycled into new packaging, such as drink containers. Finally, the new cans are delivered to a soft drinks factory where they are filled. The cans can now be sold to the public and reused. In the UK, 74 per cent of all aluminium cans that are sold are recycled.

These are some common IELTS process diagram connectors:

  • To begin
  • Following this
  • Next
  • Then
  • After
  • After that
  • Before**
  • Subsequently
  • Finally

The Passive

When we describe an IELTS process that involves humans, the focus is on the activities, NOT the person doing them. 

When this is the case, we use the passive voice, not the active. For a natural process, such as the life-cycle of a frog, we use active as there is not a person doing the activity in the diagram.

Most sentences use this structure:

  • Subject + Verb + Object
  • People recycle cans.

When we use the passive voice, we make the object (cans) the subject, and make the subject (people) the object. We also add in the verb ‘to be’ and the past participle (or Verb 3).

  • (S) Cans are recycled by people.

It is more usual to to comment on who or what is doing the action so the ‘by….” phrase is excluded.

Here is the same example description with uses of the passive highlighted:

To begin, the cans need to be taken to special collection centres instead of being thrown away with the normal refuse. The cans are collected from here and taken to a factory where they are first sorted and then cleaned. Following this, the cans are shredded and crushed in a special machine.

In the subsequent stage, the metal is heated to a high enough temperature to allow the aluminium to melt. It is then rolled out flat to a thickness of between 2.5 mm and 6 mm, depending on what it is going to be used for. The aluminium is now ready to be recycled into new packaging, such as drink containers. Finally, the new cans are delivered to a soft drinks factory where they are filled. The cans can now be sold to the public and reused. In the UK, 74 per cent of all aluminium cans that are sold are recycled.

What to do

  1. Start by understanding the diagram.
  2. Next, plan your answer by deciding what are the important features of the process.
  3. Paraphrase the information from the question to start your introduction.
  4. Give an overview of the process.
  5. Use the vocabulary from the diagram to help you write your answer.
  6. Write 2 body paragraphs to describe the process.
  7. Don’t write a conclusion.

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