WRITING GUIDE

WRITING GUIDE

INTRODUCTION
We sincerely hope that this TOEFL iBT essay writing guide will be a really helpful tool for the improvement of your TOEFL iBT essay score. We have tried to include in this guide many critical points requiring your particular attention. It is not really difficult to succeed in essay writing. By reading this guide and several other guides that we have at the Center, try to understand what the ETS guys want from you in terms of the structure, logic, organization, contents, vocabulary, grammar, style, etc. of your essay. If you do this now, you can be sure that on your TOEFL iBT you will astound the ETS raters with your brilliant piece of writing.

UNDERSTANDING THE TOPIC
There are different types of TOEFL topics. You never know which topic you will receive, so you must be prepared to write on ALL the types of topics. It is very important that you completely understand the topic BEFORE you begin to write. Possible essay topic types are:

1. Choose a point of view and support that view.
TOPIC:
Some people believe that university students should be required to attend classes. Others believe that going to classes should be optional for students. Which point of view do you agree with? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer.

This type of topic asks you to look at only ONE side of the issue - the side you agree with. DON'T write about both sides. You tell which side you agree with and support your ideas with details and examples.

SAMPLE ESSAY FOR THIS TOPIC:
Some people believe that university students should be required to attend classes while others believe that the classes should be optional. I believe that students should absolutely be required to attend classes and I will explain my reasons below.

To attain a university degree, it is necessary to prove oneself in many areas. You must read countless books and attend lectures, labs and discussions. If a student only had to read books to attain a degree, I don't think that degree would be worth very much. Of course, we all gain much knowledge from books and articles, but to really have the university experience, we must also gain valuable knowledge from the professors and instructors that help guide us through these readings. The professor chooses the readings for his or her course with the intention of discussing and lecturing about the topics in the books. If you only read the books, you are missing half of the education. We can learn how to interpret ideas from the professors who have more education and experience than we do. A professor can stress for us the important educational points in the assigned readings and share his or her knowledge and experience.

People go to a university to learn. The experience of a lecture given by a good professor is absolutely a necessary part of learning. Professors can be role models, mentors, teachers of life and education. To say that their lectures and lessons should be optional seems incredible to me. People have been learning from each other at universities for ages. One cannot have a complete education without professors guiding him or her though the educational process. Valuable learning comes though discussions with instructors and professors.

It is my opinion that university students should be required to attend classes and discussions. Professors are valuable resources in a person's educational experience and to miss the opportunity of learning one's knowledge directly from the source would be a missed opportunity indeed.


2. Describe something.
TOPIC:
If you could invent something NEW, what product would you develop? Use specific details to explain why this invention is needed?

In answering this type of topic, you must use a number of adjectives in order to effectively describe something. The reader should be able to really "see" what you are describing. In this particular topic, you must also be creative as they are asking you about something that doesn't even exist.

SAMPLE ESSAY FOR THIS TOPIC:
If I could invent something new, I would develop a chemical germ detector with an attached protection kit that could be worn on the body. This invention is needed because there is a real danger of chemical terrorism in the world. We are not medically equipped to handle such a disaster. Such a device might help to save thousands of lives.

We have seen the use of chemical and biological warfare in conflicts between nations such as the U.S. and Iraq in the Gulf War. Also, there was a case of social terrorism on the Tokyo subway system in the 1990s when someone released deadly Sarin gas in a passenger train car. An attack of this nature on a much wider scale could happen at any time. It is not a question of whether such a disaster will happen, but when it will occur. If there were an invention that could detect the immediate presence of a chemical or biological molecule, then a person could protect himself both in military and civilian life.

It has been reported that when a disaster of this kind occurs, the hospitals will not be prepared to handle the situation. If someone released a deadly bacterium in Moscow or New York City, for example, the hospitals would not have enough antibiotics available to treat the thousands or even millions of people that would be coming in for help. My invention would reduce the need for medicines and medical equipment.

It is also possible that medical personnel would not be well trained to deal with such a catastrophic event. If people were able to help themselves with my invention, then the number of casualties would be greatly reduced.

In conclusion, it is not a question of if, but when a chemical or biological catastrophe will happen. Our hospitals are not equipped with enough medicines and properly trained personnel to handle a disaster of this type. Therefore, we need to have the option of equipping ourselves with protective devices in order to help ourselves in the event of a catastrophe like the one described above. If I could invent such a device, I would.


3. Compare two points of view and tell which one you agree with.
TOPIC:
Some people think that children should begin their formal education at a very early age and should spend most of their time on school studies. Others believe that young children should spend most of their time playing. Compare these two views. Which view do you agree with? Why?

In this type of topic, you must write about BOTH sides of this issue and then tell which side you agree with. You may NOT say that you agree with both sides. You MUST make a choice. First, give support, details and examples of both sides of the issue. Then, tell which side you agree with and why.

4. Agree or disagree with something.
TOPIC:
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ONLY people who earn a lot of money are successful. Do you agree or disagree with this definition of success? Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

In this type of topic, you MUST agree or disagree. You cannot be unsure or indecisive. After you have said whether you agree or disagree, you must give convincing reasons and examples for your choice.

5. Explain why something is true.
TOPIC:
People remember special gifts or presents that they have received. Why? Give specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

In this topic, you should use lots of examples. (For this topic, you could use examples of gifts one might receive and tell why those gifts are memorable). Do not write in the first person, "I." Write in more general terms.

6. Support an idea or plan.
TOPIC:
It has recently been announced that a new restaurant may be built in your neighborhood. Do you support or oppose this plan? Why? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.

In this topic, first tell whether you support or oppose the plan and then tell why. Since this question is somewhat personal, it is OK to use personal pronouns and determiners such as: "I, me, mine, my" in your answer.

ESSAY PARTS
In every essay, there should be an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

A. The introduction:
The introductory paragraph tells your reader what the essay is about. The purpose of the introduction is to let the readers know what to expect in the body of the essay. It restates the question in your own words using different vocabulary and / or sentence structure and states your main idea. The main idea of your essay is called a thesis statement. The thesis statement is the most important sentence of your essay because it expresses your opinion about the topic. The thesis is usually stated in the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. The thesis statement may preview the points you will make in the body of your essay, in the order in which they will be discussed. Previewing your supporting points will help the readers know how your essay will be organized. On the essay test, a good introduction contains three or four sentences.

B. The body:
Each body paragraph contains a supporting point (reason or argument) to develop your thesis and specific details and examples to strengthen the supporting point. Each supporting point should be a new paragraph. On the TOEFL, your essay will probably contain two or three body paragraphs.

C. The conclusion:
The conclusion will be your final paragraph. It will summarize all the main ideas in your essay and it may also include your opinion.

HOW TO WRITE A GOOD INTRODUCTION
Read the following essay topic and introductory paragraph.

TOPIC:
Some people think that government should spend as much money as possible on developing space technology for the exploration of the moon and other planets. Others think that this money should be spent on solving the problems of society on Earth. Which view do you agree with? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
Society is often divided on major issues involving government spending. While some people believe that as much money as possible should be spent on space exploration, others think we have an obligation to try to solve social problems on Earth. Both views are compelling; however, I believe there are stronger reasons for seeking knowledge beyond our world. If we invest in developing technology for the exploration of space, we may discover knowledge that will benefit society on Earth.

Think about each sentence in the paragraph. What does each sentence do?

The first sentence introduces the general topic of how government should spend money.
Society is often divided on major issues involving government spending.

The next sentence focuses on the two ways of spending money mentioned in the topic.
While some people believe that as much money as possible should be spent on space exploration, others think we have an obligation to try to solve social problems on Earth.

The next sentence focuses even more on the topic and takes a side.
Both views are compelling; however, I believe there are stronger reasons for seeking knowledge beyond our world.

The last sentence states the writer's opinion.
If we invest in developing technology for the exploration of space, we may discover knowledge that will benefit society on Earth.

The last sentence is the thesis statement, the idea that must be supported in the rest of the essay.

Read the following essay topic and introductory paragraph.

TOPIC:
Living in an apartment instead of a university dormitory has advantages and disadvantages. Discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of apartment living and then defend your preference.

INTRODUCTION:
When a person decides to enter a university away from home, he or she must also consider living accommodations. Although most universities offer student dormitories, students frequently opt to live in an apartment. While there are many advantages to apartment living, there are also many disadvantages. Before a student decides to live in an apartment, all the aspects of that kind of accommodation should be reviewed.

The first sentence introduces the general topic of university living accommodations.
When a person decides to enter a university away from home, he or she must also consider living accommodations.

The second sentence narrows the topic down to apartment living.
Although most universities offer student dormitories, students frequently opt to live in an apartment.

The third sentence restates the specific question of the topic.
While there are many advantages to apartment living, there are also many disadvantages.

The fourth sentence is the thesis statement. It gives the controlling idea of the essay.
Before a student decides to live in an apartment, all the aspects of that kind of accommodation should be reviewed.

Look at the following examples of introductory paragraphs:

TOPIC:
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? You should not believe everything you read in the newspaper. Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

INTRODUCTION:
Newspapers are an important source of information, and for some people this is their main source of news every day. However, some people think that you should not believe everything you read in a newspaper. There are many reasons why this statement is true. A lot of newspapers have propaganda, focus on scandal, or are not as up to date as the news on television.

TOPIC:
Some people believe that in high school science classes, girls should be in classes with only girls, and boys should be in classes with only boys. Others believe that all high school students should be in science classes that are coeducational, with students of both genders learning together. Which view do you agree with? Use specific reasons and examples to support your opinion.

INTRODUCTION:
The issue of coeducational science classes is controversial. Some people think that girls should be in science classes with only girls. On the other hand, some people believe that girls and boys should study science in the same class. I believe that girls should have the opportunity to learn science in the best way possible. If girls learn better in an all-girl class, they should be allowed to do so.

TOPIC:
What is the most important product or resource in your country? Why is it important? Use specific reasons and details to explain your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
Many countries are famous for a certain product or resource. The most important product in my country is information technology. The several related industries involved in the production of information technology have transformed my country by modernizing it and making it an economic power.

TOPIC:
Compare and contrast two cities or regions in your country. Use specific details and examples to support your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
Rural areas are different from urban areas in most countries. In Moldova there are a lot of differences between the capital city and the small villages. In this essay, I will discuss the similarities and differences between Chişinău, the capital city, and the village of Ciuciuleni, where most of my relatives live.

TOPIC:
Some people prefer to eat at food stands or restaurants. Other people prefer to prepare and eat food at home. Which do you prefer? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
People have two options when deciding where to eat. They can prepare meals and eat at home or they can go out to stands or restaurants. I prefer to go out to eat because the food is more varied and interesting, it is less work for me and it saves time.

TOPIC:
Is it better for children to participate in team sports or individual sports? Why? Use specific reasons and examples to support your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
Many children nowadays participate in different kinds of sports. In my opinion, it is better for children to participate in team sports rather than individual sports. In team sports, children learn how to cooperate. They learn good sportsmanship and how to rely on their teammates. These are important lessons that will benefit children throughout their lives.

TOPIC:
Some people prefer to live in a small town. Others prefer to live in a big city. Which place would you prefer to live in? Use specific reasons and details to support your answer.

INTRODUCTION:
There are many good reasons to live in a big city and an equal number of good reasons to live in a small town. I, myself, prefer to live in a small town because it is more personal and homey; it is easier to get around in and it is safer than a big city.

HOW TO WRITE GOOD BODY PARAGRAPHS
These paragraphs develop the idea expressed in the thesis statement. Each body paragraph should have a topic sentence which expresses the main point of that paragraph. The topic sentence of each body paragraph is developed with specific examples, details, facts, reasons, or personal experiences. Be sure to use details, examples, etc. if you are asked. The topic sentence of each body paragraph should be a point that supports the controlling idea mentioned in the thesis statement of the essay's introduction. All the ideas in each paragraph should support their topic sentence. When all of the points in the body support the thesis, the essay has unity. Within and between paragraphs be sure to use transition words such as on the other hand, however, though, for example, in contrast, likewise, in addition, first, finally. Check your handout on transition words for more information.

Study the following body paragraphs of the essay about apartment living:

TOPIC:
Living in an apartment instead of a university dormitory has advantages and disadvantages. Discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of apartment living and then defend your preference.

BODY:
On the one hand, living in an apartment has many advantages. First, students can choose to live in a quiet neighborhood. a quiet neighborhood is conducive to studying. Away from the distractions of campus life, students can be more serious about their studies. Second, apartment life allows students to be more independent. For example, they can cook whatever they want to eat and have their meals whenever they want them. Third, students can often find apartments that are cheaper than the fee for room and board in a dormitory.

On the other hand, apartment living also has disadvantages. Being away from campus life can make students feel isolated. Another disadvantage is that apartments close to campus are usually expensive, and those farther away are not within walking distance. Therefore, transportation must be considered. Finally, students who live in apartments must cook their own meals, shop for food, perhaps carry their laundry to a Laundromat, and clean their entire apartment - not just their room.


ANALYSIS:
The first developmental paragraph in the body of the essay addresses the question of advantages. The second developmental paragraph addresses the question of disadvantages. Both paragraphs consider aspects of apartment living, which is the controlling idea or the thesis statement.

HOW TO WRITE A GOOD CONCLUSION
A good concluding paragraph should include a summary of your main points. It may also include the author's opinion. The concluding paragraph should leave your readers with a feeling of completion. It should NOT introduce any new ideas. It may make the reader think more deeply about the topic. The conclusion can do one or more of the following:

a) restate the thesis statement in different words (paraphrase)
b) restate the topic sentences from the body paragraphs (summarize the supporting points)
c) state your opinion or preference
d) make a recommendation
e) give a solution
f) draw a conclusion
g) make a prediction

Read the following concluding paragraph from an essay. What does the writer do in the conclusion?

In summary, a new theater would enrich our school in ways that a new computer lab would not. A theater would enable us to expand our music and drama programs, explore our rich cultural heritage, and strengthen our bonds with the community. For these reasons, I recommend that our prize money be used to build a new theater. Investing in the performing arts is a celebration of our humanity.

The above paragraph states an opinion, which may also restate the thesis.
In summary, a new theater would enrich our school in ways that a new computer lab would not.

It summarizes the important points.
A theater would enable us to expand our music and drama programs, explore our rich cultural heritage, and strengthen our bonds with the community.

It also makes a recommendation.
For these reasons, I recommend that our prize money be used to build a new theater.

Finally, the last sentence completes the essay.
Investing in the performing arts is a celebration of our humanity.

Study the following concluding paragraph of the essay about apartment living:

TOPIC:
Living in an apartment instead of a university dormitory has advantages and disadvantages. Discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of apartment living and then defend your preference.

CONCLUSION:
Even though there are many advantages to apartment living, I would prefer to live in the university dormitory for the following reasons. First, I will be new at the university and meeting people will be easier in a dormitory setting. Second, I won't have to worry about purchasing and cooking food or cleaning up afterwards. Consequently, I will have more time for my studies. Finally, I will be within walking distance of my classes and the university library. In conclusion, living on campus is more advantageous for me than living in an apartment.

Notice that this conclusion restates the topic and gives a personal preference. The writer lists the reasons for the preference and concludes with a summary statement.

TIME MANAGEMENT
Use your 30 minutes wisely. Spend your time approximately like this: prewriting - 6 minutes, writing - 20 minutes, checking - 4 minutes.

During the prewriting phase, read the topic carefully and make sure you understand everything it asks you to do (1 minute). Organize your thoughts through brainstorming by making a short outline of the introduction, body and conclusion (5 minutes). Brainstorming is quickly generating ideas-examples, details, reasons-in the form of a list or diagram. Brainstorming is thinking on paper. It is coming up with as many ideas as possible in a short amount of time. Outlining is organizing your ideas into a logical structure for your essay. The outline is the plan for writing your essay. Before you write your outline, decide what your thesis is going to be. Then, choose ideas from your brainstorming that will support this main idea. Choose two or three of your best examples or reasons and discard the rest. Decide the most effective order for arranging these ideas, and write your outline.

During the writing phase, follow the structure of your outline. Write only about the given topic. Remember to restate the topic in your introduction. In the body of your essay, support all of your points with evidence: details, examples, facts, reasons, and personal experiences. Use sentence structures and vocabulary that you are familiar with. Finally, summarize the main ideas in the concluding paragraph of your essay.

During the checking phase, make sure all of your points are clearly stated and well supported. Check for errors in spelling, verb tense, sentence structure, and word choice. If you handwrite your essay, the readers will not mind if errors are crossed out neatly and corrections are written above them.

SCORING CRITERIA
Do not be concerned about whether the essay readers agree with your opinion. Be concerned about whether your essay:

a) addresses the writing task
b) shows organization and development
c) supports a thesis statement or main idea
d) clearly communicates your ideas
e) has good sentence structure
f) uses appropriate vocabulary

A SAMPLE TOEFL ESSAY OUTLINE
TOPIC:
In some countries, teenagers have jobs while they are still students. Do you think this is a good idea? Support your opinion by using specific reasons and details.

OUTLINE:
I. Introduction
In some countries, teenagers study and work at the same time. It is a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they can learn about responsibility; they can learn the value of money and they can learn how to work as a member of a team.

II. Students can learn responsibility

a. They have to come to work on time every day
b. They must serve customers in a friendly manner
c. They have to maintain the store shelves with inventory

III. Students can learn the value of money

a. Students will learn that it takes a lot of time and effort to make money
b. Students will make wiser choices when buying things with their own money

IV. Students will learn how to work as a member of a team

a. Students will learn to compromise with other employees (e.g., helping out when someone is sick)
b. Students will learn about the friendship that comes from teamwork (feeling like you can trust others)

V. Conclusion
It is a valuable experience for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they will learn to be responsible adults. They will have an appreciation for money and they will learn about working with others. All of these traits will benefit them throughout their lives.


A SAMPLE TOEFL ESSAY BASED ON THE OUTLINE ABOVE
In some countries, teenagers study and work at the same time. It is a good idea for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they can learn about responsibility; they can learn the value of money and they can learn how to work as a member of a team.

When teenagers have jobs while they are students, they can learn how to be responsible. As an employee, you must follow a weekly schedule. This means, you have to come to work on time. If you are scheduled to begin work at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, you have to be there at 8 a.m. It doesn't matter if you went to a party the night before and do not want to get up. You have to get up. Your boss is relying on you to do your job. As an employee, you also learn that you must serve the customer in a friendly manner. If you are not friendly, the store may lose business and you may lose your job. Finally, an employee is responsible for maintaining the store shelves with inventory. If you work in a department store, you have to keep the shelves filled with merchandise. The products have to be priced and placed on the shelves. If the shelves look empty, customers may get a bad impression of the store and may not continue to shop there. It is good for students to learn responsibility when they are young because it will benefit them as they get older.

Another benefit to teenagers working is that they will learn the value of money. Often students get money from their parents, but they do not realize how hard their parents work for that money. When students work, they begin to appreciate how difficult it can be to make money. They also realize that "money doesn't grow on trees" as some students seem to believe when asking their parents for money. Another reason it is good for students to work is that they will make wiser choices when they use their own money to buy things. For example, if students work 20 hours per week at $7.00 per hour, they will make $140 per week. In one month, that is about $540. Perhaps a student will think twice about spending $120 for a pair of tennis shoes or $350 for a stereo system when s/he has had to work very hard for that money. On the other hand, when students do spend money for personal objects, they will appreciate them more than if they had gotten the money from their parents.

Finally, working teenagers learn from being members of a team. As employees, students learn to work with others and help one another. For example, if someone is sick, you may be asked to help out. In addition, other employees will depend on you to do your share of the work. If one person does not do his/her job, other employees may have to do extra work to compensate. Students will learn very quickly that it is not good teamwork to expect others to do your work. Finally, students will develop friendships with other employees because they have learned to count on each other. Working as a member of a team will build strong character in students.

To conclude, it is a valuable experience for teenagers to have jobs while they are students because they will learn to be responsible adults. They will have an appreciation for money and they will learn about working with others. These experiences will help them grow into adulthood and benefit them throughout their lives.