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IELTS Academic Writing: how to describe a pie-chart


Navigating the complexities of the IELTS Academic Writing task can be daunting, particularly when confronted with visual data like pie charts. Whether you're aiming for a high score or simply seeking to improve your descriptive skills, effectively conveying information from a pie chart is a crucial skill. In this article, we'll delve into the art of describing pie charts in the IELTS Academic Writing exam.

And these are what we are going to discuss:

  • Writing strategies
  • Sample task and answer
  • Structure and tips

Writing strategies

A pie chart can be also called a pie diagram and it is a circle (or a “pie”) divided into sections which are called shares. Pie charts are useful for comparing categories or shares. You can receive one or several pie charts or a combination of a pie chart with other charts, graphs or tables.

Before you start writing:

  1. Pay attention to whether you have percentages (5%%, 10%) or numbers (hundreds, thousands, etc.)
  2. Look at the time period. It can refer to the present, past or future. Your choice of tenses should depend on that.
  3. Select what you should highlight and compare and what you can skip.

Follow different writing strategies to describe different diagrams and their combinations:

A small pie chart (5-6 shares)
  • Describe all shares and compare them, otherwise you won’t get 150 words.
  • Use enough adjectives and adverbs to add details.
  • Use longer phrases, linkers and grammatical structures to make sure you have at least 150 words, for example use “...provides information about...” instead of “...illustrates...”.

A big pie chart (10+ shares)
Be selective. Focus on the:
  • 3 biggest shares.
  • 2-3 smallest shares.
  • Similar shares.
The rest of the shares you can summarise or list in 1-2 sentences using “respectively”.

Several pie charts
  • Decide how they relate to each other.
Usually several pie charts show similar things or even the same but in different years, places, age groups, etc, so you need to compare them.
  • Use comparative adjectives and grammatical structures
  • If they show changes over time, describe them (e.g. “there was a dramatic growth, ...increased significantly”)

A pie chart or several pie charts and a table/line graph/bar chart
  • Decide how they relate to each other.
Be selective. If there are a lot of figures, focus on the:
  • 3 biggest figures.
  • 2-3 smallest figures.
The rest of the numbers you can summarise or list in 1-2 sentences using “respectively”.

Sample task and answer

In this task you should:

  1. Summarise the information. That means describe the diagrams and table.
  2. Select and report the main features/trends and support them by data.
  3. Make comparisons where relevant.
  4. Write at least 150 words.
Model answer prepared by Cambridge:
The table gives information about the number of visitors to Ashdown Museum while the pie charts illustrate the level of visitor satisfaction. The statistics are taken from the years before and after the refurbishment of the museum.

It is noticeable that in the year following the improvements more people went to the museum and they generally felt more satisfied after their visit.

Looking at the figures in the table, visitor numbers went up from 74,000 to 92,000 after the renovations. This is a significant increase of 18,000, or just under 25%.

Turning to the pie charts, it is interesting to see that visitors who felt very satisfied or satisfied rose considerably from 45% before it was refurbished to 75% after. Conversely, the proportion of those who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied more than halved, from 50% before the changes to 20% after. Finally, the proportion of visitors who did not respond to the survey remained unchanged at just 5% in both years.

Score: 9.0
Pay attention to the blue – topic-specific vocabulary, green – linkers, brown – grammatical structures.
You should have at least 3 paragraphs in your response: an introduction, a body paragraph, and a summary. Instead of a summary you can have an overview in the second paragraph which goes after an introduction. The aim of a summary or an overview is the same – to highlight the main features and/or trends.

However, in the model answer there are 4 paragraphs where the 1st paragraph is an introduction, the 2nd paragraph is an overview, the 3rd paragraph is the analysis of the table and the 4th paragraph is a comparison of the pie charts. The number of paragraphs depends on the task and your analysis.

Structure and tips

Use this structure to get a high score for task achievement:

Paragraph 1. Introduction. (≈20 words)

  • Say what the diagram shows
  • Paraphrase the task
  • Don’t add any statistics

Paragraph 2. Body paragraph.* (≈110 words)

  • Analyse the information given
  • Highlight the main features/trends
  • Make comparisons where relevant
  • Add exact percentages/numbers/years. Be as precise as possible.

Add words such as “about/approximately” or “just over (under)/almost/nearly” before the numbers if you don’t give precise figures.

* Add more paragraphs in the main body if necessary.

Paragraph 3. Summary. (≈20 words)

  • Shortly paraphrase key ideas from the body paragraph(s)
  • Don’t add any statistics

Use at least 3-5 linkers, for example:

  • Adding information: moreover, furthermore, in addition, finally
  • Showing cause and effect: therefore, consequently, as a consequence, thus, as a result, in order to, hence
  • Comparing and contrasting things: however, whereas, while/whilst, on the other hand, despite, in spite of, nevertheless, similarly
  • Comparing time: while, meanwhile, at the same time Simultaneously, at this point, first, second, third, last
  • Summarising: overall, on the whole, to sum up, in summary, to summarise, in conclusion
  • Illustrating a point: for example, for instance, such as, including, namely

Use these phrases to introduce new paragraphs: turning to the …, looking at the …, according to the ..., regarding the ..., from the … it is clear that ..., it can be seen from … that …

Tips on vocabulary

Avoid repetition by using synonyms:

  • a share/ proportion/ percentage of …
  • data/statistics
  • numbers/figures
  • to show/illustrate
  • to provide/give information about
  • about/approximately
  • to account for/make up/comprise (5%)
  • a significant/considerable (number of...)
  • the main/top/dominant …

Replace some numbers by words:

  • 98% -> almost all
  • 90% -> a vast majority
  • 75% -> three-quarters
  • 50% -> a half
  • 33% -> a third
  • 25% -> a quarter
  • 20% -> a fifth
  • 10% -> a tenth
  • 5% -> a small minority

* 9 in (out of) 10 = 90%, 8 in (out of) 10 = 80%, etc.

Use adjectives and adverbs to make your vocabulary range wider:

  • a large/small number/share of...
  • a major/minor/clear (difference between/in terms of...)
  • a much/slightly lower/higher (figure for...)
  • a vast majority of...
  • a small minority of...
  • significantly/considerably (smaller)
  • slightly (higher)
  • to differ greatly

Use vocabulary to compare and order:

  • with a …% difference between ...
  • similarity with regard to...
  • to contrast with...
  • … came in second place after …
  • equal/similar numbers …
  • … followed in second place by …
If there are changes over time, describe them using such phrases as “there was a dramatic growth, ...increased significantly”.

Are you ready for your IELTS Writing exam?

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