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Writing and Speaking: The Importance of Linking Words [IELTS TIPS]

Bridges, links, ties, bonds, joiners, connectors and ligaments – what do all these things have in common? They all connect things! They all bring things together. They take two or more things, join them in some way, and make them one. Now, imagine a world with no bridges. Imagine not having laces in your shoes. Imagine a human body without ligaments joining the bones together. Without important links, things fall apart, and things become isolated. So what does this have to do with IELTS? As you prepare for test day, a key point to writing and speaking is your ability to use linkers. Linkers are words and phrases that connect your writing and speaking. They help the reader form logical relationships between ideas. And in terms of speaking, they help the listener more clearly understand responses.

Red and green rope knotted IELTS linking words

In addition to the above, linking words are important for your IELTS score. As you might already know, part of your writing mark includes organizing your writing clearly. As for speaking, the public band descriptors ask you to connect your ideas in a fluent and coherent way. So basically, if you want to be clearly understood, and improve your IELTS scores, you should have good linking-word skills.

By now you should know that linking words are important. But what are they? How do they work? Why are they part of a grade for the English language ability?

Group of people holding colorful speech bubbles in front of a blackboard.

Let’s start with speaking. Linking words have two functions in speaking. They help guide the direction of your ideas and they give you time to think. For example, if you use the transition words “On the one hand,… On the other hand” you signal to the listener that you are discussing two sides. These transition words tell the listener to be alert for two opposite ideas. The other function is giving you time to think. For instance, if you say “If I were to give my honest opinion about this…”, it gives you time to speak. While you are bridging the ideas with the linker phrase, it gives you time to think of what to say.

The big difference you’ll find in writing is that linking words are usually more formal and don’t have the function. As you may know, any basic paragraphing skills or essay skills course will task you with linking word exercises. To give a few examples, in problem  solution essay, you might use the transition phrases “as a result”, “due to the fact that”, and “because of this”. You might also see linkers recommended for the ends of an essay such as “In conclusion”, “to sum up”, and “all in all”.

There are hundreds of linker words, phrases, and writing techniques out there, so I won’t go into detail. I will, however, pass on some tips to help you focus on this skill.

Tip #1 - Don’t overuse transitions
I talk to a lot of teachers that always complain about this. Their English language students learn a few transition words, then use them in every sentence. The grammar is correct, but the writing seemed robotic. Every paragraph used “first”, “second”, “third”, and “finally”. Try and read lots of examples and don’t use them if you don’t need to.

Tip #2 - Be accurate
As mentioned, there are thousands of ways to connect your ideas. Make sure you do it correctly. Do your homework and know the difference between phrases like “results of” and “results in”.

Tip #3 - Mix it up
I once had a friend who said “Actually” about 100/hour. It was really annoying! Remember that a variety of effectively used phrases will give you the highest points.

Tip #4 - Stop the ahhhs and umms
One way to get a low mark on the speaking exam is to say “ummmm” and “ahhhh” a lot. This shows you aren’t very fluent in English. Try and replace these with linker words and other discourse markers.

Young men and women in the coffee shop
Although transitions don’t have meaning when they're all alone, they are an important part of communication. That said, find some time to highlight, practice, test, and make use of linking language. If you do an online search for the keywords linker words, discourse markers, transition words, you will find a lot of material to study. Improving in this area will help you become a better speaker, a better writer, and might just improve your IELTS score! Best of luck on test day.

By Tony Rusinak, IELTS Expert

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