In our previous article on how to score a band 7 and higher in Writing Task 1, we explained the importance of writing an overview. We also explained that you will lose marks if you omit an overview, or if the overview is unclear for the reader.

A clear overview needs to be presented to reach a band 7 and higher. Let’s look again at the Task Achievement band descriptors to see how important a clear overview is in IELTS Academic Writing Task 1.

Task AchievementPublic Band Descriptors
5Recounts detail mechanically with no clear overview
6Presents an overview with information appropriately selected
7Presents a clear overview of main trends, differences or stages

What is an overview?

In simple terms, an overview is a summary of what you see. In Academic Task 1 you will see a visual that you have to describe. There might be one visual (one graph), or you might get more than one visual (a chart and a graph).

The overview in your response should summarise what you see in the visual diagram. It should summarise the main:

  • Trends  

  • Changes 

  • Developments 

  • Stages 

  • Noticeable features 

If you have more than one diagram, your overview needs to summarise both diagrams and not just one of them. You have to present the whole picture and not just part of it.

Remember that you are writing an overview, so you do not need to present data (E.g., numbers, statistics).

Where should the overview appear?

The overview describes the overall picture of what you see, so it often appears after the introduction.

The introduction tells the examiner what you are going to write about. It is basically the Writing question paraphrased. For example, you will say what the visual diagram is, the data source and when the data was collected - WHAT, WHERE, WHEN 

The first sentence contains the introduction. If there are two diagrams in your task, you need to introduce both. This can be done in one or two sentences.

The second sentence contains the overview. If there are two diagrams in your task, your overview should summarise both diagrams if you can see a relationship between them. If you can't, simply present an overview before you describe each diagram in detail.

The overview could also appear at the end of your response as the last sentence acting like a summary of what you have written. IELTS teachers will often tell you to put the overview at the end like a 'conclusion', however, an IELTS Task 1 response, does not need a conclusion.

Our expert advice to you is to write an overview in your second sentence, just to make sure if you run out of time, that your overview is included in your response.

How do I write an overview?

It's easy to write an overview if you follow these two steps:

  1. Use linking words or phrases to introduce a summary of what you see. (E.g., Overall, To summarise, In summary, In brief, It can be clearly seen that...).

  2. Write the main trend(s) or overall picture of what you see in the diagram(s). Depending on the type of visual, ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you see an overall increase, decrease or fluctuation in the visual diagram?

  • Can you see very high or very low points?

  • Can you see more or less of something (E.g. more males, less females, more employed, less employed)?

  • Has the map or plan changed over time?

  • Have features been added or taken away?

  • What is the main relationship between the diagrams?

  • Is there a predicted change that will happen in the future?

What do overviews look like?

Look at the following overview examples for a range of different visuals. These overviews will appear in the sentence following the introduction.

These overviews do NOT include data or figures, only a summary of what you see - the most noticeable features.

Visual typeOverview example
TableOverall, it can be clearly seen that the total numbers of people employed have increased over the period, whereas the number of women employed has decreased.
ChartIn brief, Germany was the major producer of vehicles over this period followed by France and then Norway.
DiagramIt can be seen that there are four main stages to car manufacturing. To be specific, these stages are moulding, machining, joining and shearing.
ProcessIt can clearly be seen that there are six steps involved in the production of cloth starting with the raw materials and ending with the final product.
MapIn summary, in one hundred years, the village has experienced major changes transforming it from a small farming village into a tourist destination.
PlanOverall, though the area size remains the same, there are significant changes planned for this company as it moves from single offices to an open-plan design.
GraphTo summarise, it can be seen that the younger age groups visit the cinema the most, whereas older people rarely attend.
Two visualsOverall, by looking at the charts it can be seen that oil is used the most as an energy source in this town and that most power is required for domestic cooling.
Three visualsOf the three meals consumed, breakfast contains the lowest amount of sodium, saturated fats, and sugar, while dinner contains more saturated fats and sodium than lunch.

So, remember to include an overview in your IELTS Academic Writing Task 1. Make it clear to the examiner that you are describing an overall trend or an overall picture of what you see. Use a linking word or phrase to signal to the examiner that this is your overview.

This IELTS Writing tip will help you to perform at your best in the IELTS Writing test.

If you feel you are now ready to practice a Writing test, why not try an official IELTS practice test, IELTS Progress Check. If you do not include an overview, or if it is unclear, our expert IELTS markers will give you feedback on your performance.