Pie Chart English Essay

Describing charts in English

There are various types of charts. In the following example we show the numbers of pets in Year 7 of a school.

Types of charts

List with phrases to describe charts

  • The pie chart is about ...
  • The bar chart deals with ...
  • The line graph (clearly) shows ...
  • The slices of the pie chart compare the ...
  • The chart is divided into ... parts.
  • It highlights ...
  • ... has the largest (number of) ...
  • ... has the second largest (number of) ...
  • ... is as big as ...
  • ... is twice as big as ...
  • ... is bigger than ...
  • more than ... per cent ...
  • only one third ...
  • less than half ...
  • The number ... increases/goes up/grows by ...
  • The number ... decreases/goes down/sinks by ...
  • The number ... does not change/remains stable
  • I was really surprised/shocked by the ...
  • So we can say ...

Use of Tenses

Mind the correct use of tenses when describung a chart. If the charts deals with facts in the present (as in our example), use the Simple Present, if the facts are the past, then use the Simple Past. If there is a connection between the past and the present, use the Present Perfect.

How to describe a chart

With the following example we would like to show you how charts are described. Mind the three parts and do not repeat the global message in the conclusion.

A Pets in Year 7 at a school

We have chosen the pie chart because we think it shows the number of pets in Year 7 best.

1 Introduction

Here you say what the diagram is about. Mind the title of it and do not forget to include the source.

The pie chart is about the pets in Year 7. The chart is divided into 5 parts. It is taken from ...

2 Message of the diagram

The largest number of pets are in form 7GI. There are 16 pets.
The second largest number of pets are in form 7HK. There are 8 pets.
So there are more than twice as many pets in form 7GI.
The chart shows that there are only 2 pets in form 7CS and 3 in form 7VR.

3 Conclusion

So we can say that the most pets of Year 7 are in form 7GI and the least in form 7CS. There are more than 50 per cent of all the pets in one form - form 7GI.

B Population growth in Canada

This graph shows the growth of the population in Canada from 1978 to 2009. It is taken from the website about Statistics in Canada.

There are three graphs in the chart. The green graph shows the total growth of the population, the black one deals with the migrated people in Canada and the blue graph shows the natural increase of the population. In 1988/89 there was an enourmous growth. In the following years the total growth went down to about 250,000 in 1998/99. From that time on the Canadian population has been gradually growing again although the natural increase slows down. So we can say that the growth of the population in Canada is based on migration.


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This lesson gives you a step-by-step approach to dealing with pie charts in task 1. I talk you through how to identify the main points, select the supporting details and then structure your report. I then show you two model answers: one with standard vocabulary and then a much more advanced version with more vocabulary and grammar you can borrow.

The task

The following pie charts show the results of a survey into the most popular leisure activities in the United States of America in 1999 and 2009.

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

Step 1: seeing the big picture

The first step is to identify the main points of the two charts. This is not just an important part of the task and your band score, it will also help you write your description. The main points are normally obvious. Sometimes they are so obvious that candidates ignore them. Look at these questions:

  1. How many activities are there in each chart? – Just count
  2. Are the activities the same in each chart? – Read the key
  3. Are there any changes in popularity between the two years? – Look at the colours

You should get these answers:

  1. There are 8 activities for each year
  2. 7 of 8 activities are the same
  3. There are a number of differences in popularity between the two years.

All you need to do now is put that into English and you have the main points of the report. Adding in a short description of the task we have:

These two pie charts show the changes in popularity of different leisure activities in the United States of America between 1999 and 2009. We can see that the most popular leisure activities were almost the same in both periods, but there were a number of differences in popularity between the various activities.

Step 2: choose the details to include

There are 16 different figures you can include. This is too many. The task is to select and report the most important details. This will include naming all the activities, but not all the numbers. To do this, try looking for:

  1. the biggest number
  2. the smallest number

These are generally important details to include. You should also consider what changes beween the two charts, not least because the task asks you to make comparisons. So, ask yourself:

  1. what’s gone up
  2. what’s gone down
  3. what hasn’t changed
  4. what’s new

Putting this together, we need these details:

  1. walking is most popular in both periods
  2. yoga disappears and weightlifting is new
  3. swimming doubles
  4. aerobics, jogging and cycling all fall
  5. soccer and camping don’t change much

Step 3: organise your report

This will vary from task to task, but typically you will be looking at two content paragraphs. As you write your paragraphs, you want to think of three key ideas:

  • highlight the main points – they come first
  • group similar ideas together
  • find a logical structure to present the points

In this case, I would go with this structure:

Paragraph 1

walking is much the biggest slice of the pie in both years

weightlifting is new and yoga has gone

It is clear that walking was the most popular activity in both 1999 and 2009 with around 30% of Americans saying that they preferred it. Also, yoga was no longer among the preferred activities in 2009, but weightlifting was chosen by 10% of people.

Paragraph 2

refer to the other activities in order of popularity in 2009 – soccer and swimming first, jogging and aerobics last

note the biggest changes – cycling, jogging and aerobics all big fallers, swimming the big riser.

The second most popular activity was soccer at just under 20% in both years, a figure that was matched by swimming in 2009, having almost doubled in popularity over the previous decade. Most of the other activities became less popular over the same period of time, with cycling, jogging and aerobics all falling by at least a half to under 10%. The one exception to this trend was camping which stayed almost unchanged at around 9%.

Step 4: get the vocabulary right

This is the big one and will take time to learn. To help you on your way, I show you two model answers with extensive vocabulary notes. My suggestion is start with the first one. Don’t be worries that it looks too simple. it isn’t. It is in fact extremely good – band score 9. The when you have that right, take a look at the second version which has some more advanced vocabulary.

A good version

This is the final report

These two pie charts show the changes in popularity of different leisure activities in the United States of America between 1999 and 2009. We can see that the most popular leisure activities were almost the same in both periods, but there were a number of differences in popularity between the various activities.

It is clear that walking was the most popular activity in both 1999 and 2009, with around 30% of Americans saying that they preferred it. Also, yoga was no longer among the preferred activities in 2009, but weightlifting was chosen by 10% of people.

The second most popular activity was soccer at just under 20% in both years, a figure that was matched by swimming in 2009, having almost doubled in popularity over the previous decade. Most of the other activities became less popular over the same period of time, with cycling, jogging and aerobics all falling by at least a half to under 10%. The one exception to this trend was camping which stayed almost unchanged at around 9%.

Read about the vocabulary

Language notes

These two pie charts show the changes in popularity of different leisure activities in the United States of America between 1999 and 2009. We can see thatthe most popular leisure activities were almost the same in both periods, but there were a number of differences in popularity between the various activities.

It is clear that walking was the most popular activity in both 1999 and 2009, with around 30% of Americans saying that they preferred it. Also, yoga was no longer among the preferred activities in 2009, butweightlifting was chosen by 10% of people.

The second most popular activity was soccer at just under 20% in both years, a figure that was matched by swimming in 2009, having almost doubled in popularityover the previous decade. Most of the other activities became less popular over the same period of time, with cycling, jogging and aerobics all falling by at least a half to under 10%. The one exception to this trend was camping which stayed almost unchanged at around 9%.

Standard phrases

“These two pie charts show“: the normal phrase to describe what the chart/graph is about

“We can see that“: a phrase to state a main point

“It is clear that“: another phrase to identify a main point

Varying vocabulary

“popular/popularity/preferred“: you are going to repeat the word “popular”. That is not a problem, provided you also use some variations. One way to do this is to change the form of the word from “popular” to “popularity”. The other word I use in this report is “preferred”: you should note I vary this too, using it as an adjective and a verb. Other variations include “to express a preference” and “favourite”.

“1999/2009“: another word you are going to repeat relates to time. Again, you want to make sure you have some variation here. Note these: “between 1999 and 2009“,  “in both periods“,  “in both years“, “over the previous decade“, “over the same period of time“.

General vocabulary

“a number of“: a simple but exceptionally useful phrase. Avoid using phrases like “lots of ” in IELTS

“various“: a useful and more advanced variant for “different”

“exception to a trend“: Learn this phrase. You will need to talk about things that do not follow the normal pattern.

Dealing with numbers

Numbers are very important in this task. I suggest you take a look at my lesson on dealing with numbers.

“around 30%“: you will use per cent a lot in this task. You do need to include numbers, but you should avoid using too many of them. When you do use them, try to do what I have done here and use language too, “around” is good language for “about”

“a figure that was matched by“: “figure” is an exceptionally useful word which can be used with numbers or percentages. This is a harder phrase that you could try for yourself when talking about two similar/identical numbers.

“at just under 20%“: more good number language. This is very much better than 18%.

“having almost doubled“: more approximate number language. Remember the language of maths: “half”, “double” etc.

“all falling by at least a half to under 10%“: the phrase to note here is “at least”

“which stayed almost unchanged at around 9%“: this is better variation of “did not change”

 

My band score 10 answer

The above report is exceptionally good. It covers all the right details (Task response), has a good range of grammar with relative clauses (Range and accuracy of grammar), is very coherent (well organised and linked) and has some range of vocabulary, even if some words are repeated (Lexical resource). This answer can help you by extending the range of vocabulary you use for:

  • general words
  • dealing with numbers
  • linking

These two charts illustrate how the preferred leisure activities of Americans changed between 1999 and 2009.Generally speaking, while the list of activities remained almost identical over the decade, there were a number of changes in their relative popularity.

It is immediately evident that walking was by some distance the most popular pastime in both years,accounting for just under a third of the preferences expressed. Of equal note is that by 2009, yoga had disappeared from the list of preferred activities and had been replaced by weightlifting, which was chosen by one in ten Americans.

Among the less popular activities, the most notable development was that the proportion of people who went swimming doubled, making it equal second in popularity with soccer at 18%.  In stark contrast, around as half as many Americans went cycling in 2009 as compared to ten years earlier, with the result that it became less popular than camping, at 7% and 9% respectively.  Likewise, the number of people who went jogging and did aerobics also dropped significantly, with less than 5% of respondents to the survey choosing them.

Read about the vocabulary

Language notes

These two charts illustrate how the preferred leisure activities of Americans changed between 1999 and 2009.Generally speaking, while the list of activities remained almost identical over the decade, there were a number of changes in their relative popularity.

It is immediately evident that walking was by some distance the most popular pastime in both years,accounting for just under a third of the preferences expressed. Of equal note is that by 2009, yoga had disappeared from the list of preferred activities and had been replaced by weightlifting, which was chosen byone in ten Americans.

Among the less popular activities, the most notable development was that the proportion of people who went swimming doubled, making it equal second in popularity with soccer at 18%.  In stark contrast, around as half as many Americans went cycling in 2009 as compared to ten years earlier, with the result that it became less popular than camping, at 7% and 9% respectively.  Likewise, the number of people who went jogging and did aerobics also dropped significantly, with less than 5% of respondents to the survey choosing them.

General vocabulary

“illustrate“: a useful alternative to the standard “show ”

“remained almost identical“: a variation of “stayed the same”

“The most notable development“: “development” is a useful alternative to “change” and “notable” works in the same way as “significant”.

“respondents to the survey “: one word you may find yourself repeating a lot is “People”. One way to avoid this is to use “Americans”. This is a more advanced version – you respond to a survey and the people to respond to a survey are “respondents”.

Linking phrases

“while“: a useful and slightly more advanced variation of “but”

“Generally speaking,”:  an alternative to “in general”. It is a good habit to use a phrase like this in your summary paragraph. Note the comma.

“It is immediately evident that“: a variation of the standard “It is clear that”. Again, it is a good habit to use a phrase like this when you are writing about the main points of the chart/graph.

“Of equal note“: a useful linking phrase when you are joining two important main points.

“Among the less popular activities“: this is good writing as it explains to the reader that this paragraph is about a different topic.This is a good structure to borrow.

“In stark contrast“: this is a set phrase when you have a large contrast. Don’t overuse it, it only works for big differences.

“Likewise“: another very useful linking phrase. You use it between two sentences which are about similar ideas. Note the comma.

Dealing with numbers

“accounting for just under a third“: you could just say “around 30%”, but this way you use more language. “Accounting/accounted for” is a very useful phrase when dealing with numbers. Another example would be: “Children under 14 account for almost a quarter of people who play golf regularly”.

“by some distance the most“: when you make a comparison, it is a good idea to try and qualify it in some way. if you say it is the biggest, ask yourself the question “By how much?”. Another alternative her would be “significantly the most”.

“one in ten Americans“: “one in ten” is a very useful variation when you are talking about percentages.

“proportion“: another key word for task 1 – an excellent variation for percentage.

“dropped significantly“: you should have a number of variations for saying “rise” and “fall”. “Drop” is quite a neutral word so you can qualify with adverbs like “significantly”

Grammar notes

“had disappeared“: think about tenses if you are given two charts relating to different periods in the past. Can you use a past perfect?

“which was chosen by “: two points to consider here. The relative “which”is a key piece of grammar and the passive, both of which are key pieces of grammar for this task.

“with the result that“: note the structure here. The fall in popularity means that it has become less popular. This is an idea you can borrow.

 

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