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Writing the Overview

This lesson will revise what we have studied so far and give you practice writing complete introduction paragraphs. We will answer these questions:
  1. What is an overview?
  2. Why is an overview important?
  3. Where do I write the overview in my answer?
  4. What are the trends and main features in the data?

What is an overview

An academic task 1 test will ask you to:


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

We should start answering this with an overview


  • An overview provides a summary of the general trends and main features of the data.
  • There should be no specific data in the overview.
  • The overview should be short.

How important is an overview?
If you have a look at Task Achievement in the public band descriptors for IELTS Academic Writing Task 1, you will notice that you must write an overview to get a band 6 or higher.
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Where do I write the overview?

It is logical to include the overview in the introduction of the essay as the overview is general information rather than specific details. 

The first sentence of the introduction should paraphrase the information about the graph or data. The second sentence (and possibly third) should give an overview of the main trends in the data. If you follow this method, you will have a 2 or 3 sentence introduction which introduces the graph and gives the general trends in the data.

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How do I paraphrase the information about the graph?

To paraphrase, you must express the same meaning but use different words to those on the question paper.

Example description of graph

The graph below shows population figures for India and China since the year 2000 and predicted population growth up until 2050.’

Paraphrase

The graph illustrates how the populations of India and China have changed from 2000 and how they will change up to 2050.’

Notice:
  • Instead of ‘shows’, the verb ‘illustrates’ is used.
  • Instead of ‘population figures’, ‘population’ is used.
  • Instead of ‘since’, ‘from’ is used.
  • Instead of ‘predicted’, ‘will’ is used to show prediction.
  • Some phrases such as ‘India and China’ and the dates ‘2000’ and ‘2050’ cannot be changed. It is fine to keep these key words the same.

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 What are the trends or main features?
Some of you are accountants or scientists and so you are trained to understand data in graphs and tables. Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t accountants or scientists may struggle to understand what the trends are in data. Let’s look at a few ways to spot trends.
  • If you are looking at data over time (for example from 2000 to 2005) you can see which factors are increasing or decreasing in value.
         - If most are increasing, that is a positive trend.
         - If most are decreasing, that is a negative trend.
         - If some are increasing and some are decreasing, then you have two major trends.
  • On a chart or graph, similar values for a number of different things may represent a trend or main feature.
  • Main features could be the highest and lowest values on the table.
  • Main features could be the biggest similarities or differences between things.
  • Main features could also be unexpected data.

Before you write anything for your introduction or overview, make sure you understand the graph or table. 

Think about the following:
What does the x axis (horizontal) represent? What does the y-axis represent (vertical) represent?  Do numbers show percentages, fractions, numbers of people, degrees, money, etc. What is the time period

What are the trends and main features of the following graphs and charts? 
Look for big and small values. Changes over time. Values that are similar or different.

Time to write
Write an introduction sentence about the topic of each graph or chart. Next, write an overview of the trends and main features in the data. When you have finished, check with our examples. Good luck!

​1.
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introduction and overview 1.
​The chart illustrates the average high and low temperature in Winnipeg over a 12-month period. As you would expect, the average temperature reaches a peak in July and the lowest temperatures are experienced in January.
2.
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Introduction and overview 2.
​The three charts show how popular 6 different social media programs were from 2011 to 2013. Over the period, Facebook was consistently the most popular, however, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest all experienced an increase in popularity at the expense of Facebook.
3.
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Introduction and overview 3.
​The chart illustrates the percentage of people living in towns and cities in different areas of the world in 1950 and 2007 and makes projections as to how this will change by 2030. All areas of the world have become more urbanized since 1950 and it is predicted that this trend will continue to 2030 when well over 3 quarters of people in Europe, North America and Latin America will be living in urban areas and over half of Asians and Africans.
4.
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introduction and overview 4.
​The chart shows viewing figures for 4 different genres of film in India, Ireland and New Zealand. Action movies are by far the most popular genre, followed by romance and comedy, with horror being the least popular. India is the country with the highest film viewing figures and Japan the one with the lowest.
5.
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Introduction and overview 5.
The line graph illustrates viewing figures for 4 different news programmes on Channel One. Overall, Viewing figures fluctuated throughout the year, except for the 1 pm news, which had a steady number of viewers throughout.
So know you have had lots of practice writing the introduction paragraph, you are ready to study the body paragraphs of a task 1 tables answer.