IELTS Task 1: The graph/table ILLUSTRATES?

ScottsEnglishScottsEnglish Administrator Posts: 1,030 admin ✭✭✭✭✭✭✭
edited January 2017 in IELTS Test
A lot of students seem to want to use the word 'illustrate' in connection with their IELTS Task 1 introduction.  I think this is often a mistake.  Here's why:

To illustrate means 'to show the meaning or truth of something more clearly especially by giving examples'. For example: The current rising cost of groceries illustrates the need for greater local competition. In other words, the need for competition is shown through the 'illustration' of rising grocery costs.

Consider the word 'illustration'. This is a word that describes a picture. We use illustrations (pictures) in children's story books and magazines.

Now, have a look at the following IELTS Task 1 question and a student's introductory sentence:

The table illustrates the percentage of water pollution in Taipei, Sao Paulo, Tokyo and New York in 2015. 
The word 'illustrates' in this context is being used inappropriately. Re-read the definition above. There has been nothing made 'more clear' through these numbers - this is the only information given.

I encourage my students to simply use the word 'shows' because, in most cases, this is what graphs and tables do.

There is one exception however, and that is diagrams. Consider these diagrams:

In the above case, these diagrams illustrate what houses look like in cool and warm climates. It's like a picture, an illustration that we can see.  This is different from a graph or a table, this is an illustration.

For the above-mentioned reasons, I always recommend that my students use 'show' when writing about a graph or table and 'illustrate' only when writing about a diagram.

Click here for 'The graph describes'.
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