Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Describing how things work


Describing how things work


In the Writing Module in Ielts (International English Language Testing System), candidates may be asked to write a report explaining a process or describing how something works.

The approach to writing these two types of reports is similar.

You first need to understand the information given in the diagram, such as: What's happening in each step of the process? Which steps can be grouped into a stage? In the case of an object, what are its main parts? and How is the machine or device used?

Each report starts with an introduction that states the diagram's aim. One sentence is enough: "The diagram illustrates how bricks are produced."

The second paragraph is the overview: a summary of the information in the diagram. It answers the questions: "What does this diagram tell me? What general point does it make about the subject?"

The overview for a process is fairly simple, so it can be stated in one sentence, for example, "Overall, there are two main stages in the manufacture of bricks."). However, the overview for how an object works is more complicated. It first describes what the object is used for and then lists its main components.

You'll need two or three sentences like: "A camera is a piece of equipment that is used for taking photographs. A traditional camera consists of a lens and an aperture, both of which are in front of a shutter and a roll of film."

Then orderly describe the process of how the object works. Find a logical place to begin, and work your way around the diagram. Include the key points in the diagram.

A process description usually contains one paragraph per stage. Start each paragraph with a brief statement of what the stage aims to do. For example: "In the first stage, raw bricks are prepared."

The rest of the paragraph details each step in that stage. Present the steps in sequence, and use appropriate linking words ("next", "then", etc.) and verb tenses (often present simple passive).

A report on how an object works also groups the various actions involved in using the object into several detail paragraphs.

Below is an example of a process report.

The diagram shows the process by which bricks are manufactured for the building industry.

Overall, there are two main stages in the manufacture of bricks.

In the first stage, raw bricks are prepared. Initially, the raw material - clay - is dug from the soil by a digger. Then, lumps of clay are placed on a metal grid and broken into smaller pieces, which fall through on to a roller. They are later mixed with sand and water to make a uniform mixture. Brick-shaped pieces are subsequently formed either by using a mould or by cutting the clay mix with a wire cutter.

In the second stage, the raw bricks are hardened. Hundreds of fresh bricks are stacked in a drying oven and left for one or two days. After that, the dried bricks are heated in a kiln, first to a moderate temperature (200 to 980C), and then to a high temperature (870 to 1,300C). They are finally transferred to a chamber to cool and harden slowly over two to three days before being transported to customers.

Now, here's a sample report on how cameras work.

The diagram shows the component parts of a camera and how it works.

A camera is a piece of equipment that is used for taking photographs. It consists of a lens and an aperture, both of which are in front of a shutter and a roll of film.

Initially, light rays from the object being photographed enter the lens and fall onto the aperture. The amount of light able to pass through the aperture is varied by widening or narrowing a hole in its centre, and the rays are focused by rotating the lens.

Following that, the shutter is manually opened by the operator to allow the rays to fall on the film, leaving a picture of the object. After an extremely brief period, the shutter closes automatically to prevent further light reaching the film.

The exposed portion of the film is subsequently wound on to a cylinder, allowing unexposed film to unroll from another cylinder. The process can then be repeated.

Write to david.park@idp.com for help preparing for Ielts.

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