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How to Plan & Write IELTS Problem Solution Essays
IELTS problem solution essays are the most challenging essay type for many people. The way they are worded can vary hugely which can make it difficult to understand how you should answer the question.
Generally, you’ll be asked to write about both the problem, or cause, and the solution to a specific issue. Sometimes, however, you will only be required to write about possible solutions.
The 3 essay types:
- Problem and solution
- Cause and solution
- Just the solution
Hence, it’s essential that you analyse the question carefully, which I’ll show you how to do in this lesson. I’m also going to demonstrate step-by-step how to plan and write IELTS problem solution essays.
Here’s what we’ll be covering:
- Identifying IELTS problem solution essays
- 6 Common mistakes
- Essay structure
- How to plan
- How to write an introduction
- How to write main body paragraphs
- How to write a conclusion
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Click the links to see lessons on each of these Task 2 essay writing topics.
Once you understand the process, practice on past questions. Take your time at first and gradually speed up until you can plan and write an essay of at least 250 words in the 40 minutes allowed in the exam.
Here are two typical IELTS problem solution essay questions. They consist of a statement followed by the question or instruction.
1. One problem faced by almost every large city is traffic congestion.
What do you think the causes are? What solutions can you suggest?
2. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of endangered species has increased significantly and we have witnessed more mass extinctions in this period than in any other period of time.
State some reasons for this and provide possible solutions.
These are some examples of different ways in which questions can be phrased. The first half of the questions relate to the problem or cause, the second half to the solution.
What issues does this cause and how can they be addressed?
What are some resulting social problems and how can we deal with them?
What problems arise from this and how can they be tackled?
Why is this? How might it be remedied?
What are the reasons for this, and how can the situation be improved?
Why is this happening, and what measures can be taken to tackle this problem?
And here are a few questions where you only have to write about the solution.
How can this situation be improved?
What solutions can you suggest to deal with this problem?
How can this problem be solved?
What measures could be taken to prevent this?
It’s important that you are able to recognise the common synonyms, words and phrases used in problem solution questions. Here are the key words and their synonyms used in the questions above.
- Problem – issues, resulting, situation
- Cause – reasons, why
- Solution – deal with, addressed, tackled, remedied, improved, measures taken, solved, prevent
Before we move on to some common mistakes, I want to quickly explain the difference between a problem and a cause. Read the following examples.
Problem – I've missed the last bus home after visiting my friend for the evening.
Cause – I misread the timetable and thought the bus left at 22.45 when it actually left at 22.35.
The ‘cause’ is the reason for the ‘problem’. We’ll be looking at question analysis in more detail in a minute.
6 Common Mistakes
These six errors are common in IELTS problem solution essays.
- Confusing problem and causes questions.
- Having too many ideas.
- Not developing your ideas.
- Not developing both sides of the argument equally.
- Not linking the problems and solutions.
- Not being specific enough.
It is common for an essay to consist of a list of problems and solutions without any of them being expanded on or linked to each other. Sometimes, a student will focus on just the problem or only the solution which leads to an unbalanced essay. Both these issues will result in a low score for task achievement.
You must choose just one or two problems and pick solutions directly linked to them. Explain them and give examples.
Another serious error is to write generally about the topic. You need to be very specific with your ideas. Analysing the question properly is essential to avoiding this mistake. I’ll show you how to do this.
Now let’s look at a simple structure you can use to write IELTS problem solution essays. It’s not the only possible structure but it’s the one I recommend because it’s easy to learn and will enable you to quickly plan and write a high-level essay.
- Paraphrase the question
- State 1 key problem/cause and related solution
2) Main body paragraph 1 – Problem or Cause
- Topic sentence – state the problem or cause
- Explanation – give detail explaining the problem or cause
- Example – give an example
3) Main body paragraph 2 – Solution
- Topic sentence – state the solution
- Explanation – give detail explaining the solution
- Summarise the key points
This structure will give us a well-balanced essay with 4 paragraphs.
One Problem/Cause & Solution or Two?
Most questions will state problems, causes and solutions in the plural, that is, more than one. However, it is acceptable to write about just one.
This will give you an essay of just over the minimum 250 words. To write about two problems/causes and solutions will require you to write between 350 and 400 words which are a lot to plan and write in the 40 minutes allowed.
It is better to fully develop one problem/cause and solution than ending up with one idea missing an explanation or an example because you run out of time.
The step-by-step essay structure I’m going to show you includes one problem and solution but you can write about two if you feel able to or more comfortable doing so.
How To Plan IELTS Problem Solution Essays
Here’s the question we’re going to be answering in our model essay followed by the 3 steps of the planning process.
One problem faced by almost every large city is traffic congestion.
What do you think the causes are? What solutions can you sugge st?
- Analyse the question
- Generate ideas
- Identify vocabulary
# 1 Analyse the question
This is an essential step in the planning process and will ensure that you answer the question fully. It’s quick and easy to do. You just need to identify 3 different types of words:
1. Topic words
2. Other keywords
3. Instruction words
Topics words are the ones that identify the general subject of the question and will be found in the statement part of the question.
One problem faced by almost every large city is traffic congestion .
So, this question is about ‘ traffic congestion’ .
Many people will do this first step of the process and then write about the topic in general. This is a serious mistake and leads to low marks for task achievement.
What we need to do now that we know the general topic, is to understand exactly what aspect of traffic congestion we're being asked to write about.
The other keywords in the question tell you the specific topic you must write about.
By highlighting these words, it’s easy to see that you are being asked to write about the problem of traffic congestion in large cities. Your essay must only include ideas relevant to these ideas.
The instruction words are the question itself. These tell you the type of IELTS problem solution essay you must write. This is a ‘causes and solutions’ question.
# 2 Generate ideas
The next task is to generate some ideas to write about.
There are several different ways to think up ideas. I cover them fully on the IELTS Essay Planning page.
We’re going to use the ‘friends technique’. This is the method I prefer as it allows you to take a step back from the stress of the exam situation and think more calmly.
Here’s how it works. Imagine that you are chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee and they ask you this question. What are the first thoughts to come into your head? Plan your essay around these ideas.
Doing this will help you to come up with simple answers in everyday language rather than straining your brain to think of amazing ideas using high-level language, which isn’t necessary.
You might want to try this yourself before reading on for my ideas.
Here are my ideas:
- Too many cars on the roads – increasing numbers of people own cars, more convenient than buses & trains
- Inadequate public transport – crowded, old & dirty
- Poor road layout
- Rush hour traffic – most people travel to & from work at the same times each day
- Car sharing, park-and-ride scheme, congestion charge
- Improve public transport – more frequent and better quality
- Improve infrastructure – bus lanes, cycle lanes will make it safer for people to cycle
- Flexible working hours
For each cause you think of, immediately write down a possible solution. This you will ensure that the problems and solutions you think of are linked.
You don’t need to spend long on this as you only need one or two ideas.
I’ve got more far more ideas here than I need as I spent more time thinking about it that I would in the real exam. I’m going to pick just one cause to develop in the essay and one or two solutions.
My advice on making your selection is to choose ideas you can quickly think of an example to illustrate.
Here are my choices:
Cause – Too many cars on the roads. Why? – increasing numbers of people own cars, more convenient than buses & trains
Solution – Park-and-ride schemes
We’re almost ready to start writing our IELTS problem solution essay but first, we have one more task to do.
# 3 Vocabulary
During the planning stage, quickly jot down some vocabulary that comes to mind as you decide which cause and solution you are going to write about, especially synonyms of key words. This will save you having to stop and think of the right language while you’re writing. For example:
- traffic jam
- heavy traffic
- private transport
With that done, we can focus on the first paragraph of the essay – the introduction.
How To Write an Introduction
Good introductions to IELTS problem solution essays have a simple 2 part structure:
- State 1 key problem/cause and related solution/s (outline sentence)
- Have 2-3 sentences
- Be 40-60 words long
- Take 5 minutes to write
1) Paraphrase the question
Start your introduction by paraphrasing the question.
Question: One problem faced by almost every large city is traffic congestion.
What do you think the causes are? What solutions can you suggest?
O ne of the most serious issues facing the majority of large urban areas is traffic jams.
Note my use of synonyms to replace key words in the question statement. You don’t have to replace every key word but do so where possible whilst ensuring that your language sounds natural.
2) Outline statement
Now we need to add an outline statement where we outline the two main points that we’ll cover in the rest of the essay, that is, the cause and the solution I chose earlier. Here they are again.
Cause – Too many cars on the roads. Why? – increasing numbers of people own cars, more convenient than buses & trains
And, this is one way to develop them into an outline sentence.
The main reason for this is that there are too many private cars on the roads these days and a viable solution is to introduce more park-and-ride schemes.
So, let’s bring the two elements of our introduction together.
This introduction achieves three important functions:
- It shows the examiner that you understand the question.
- It acts as a guide to the examiner as to what your essay is about.
- It also helps to keep you focused and on track as you write.
The two ideas in your introduction will become your two main body paragraphs.
Main body paragraph 1 – Too many cars on the roads
Main body paragraph 2 – Park-and-ride schemes
How To Write Main Body Paragraphs
Main body paragraphs in IELTS problem solution essays should contain 3 things:
- Topic sentence – outline the main idea
- Explanation – explain it and g ive more detail
Main Body Paragraph 1
The topic sentence summarises the main idea of the paragraph. That’s all it needs to do so it doesn’t have to be complicated.
It plays an important role in ensuring that your ideas flow logically from one to another. It does this by acting as a signpost for what is to come next, that is, what the paragraph will be about.
If you maintain a clear development of ideas throughout your essay, you will get high marks for task achievement and cohesion and coherence.
We’ll now take the idea for our first main body paragraph and create our topic sentence.
Obviously, we’re going to write about the cause of the problem first.
Main body paragraph 1 – Too many cars on the roads
The number of people owning cars increases year on year, with most families now having more than one car.
Next, we must write an explanation sentence that develops the idea.
Most people like the convenience of travelling at the time they want to rather than being restricted to public transport timetables, so they prefer to drive themselves around rather than taking the bus or train. This is despite the fact that they frequently have to sit in long traffic queues as they near the city centre.
Finally, we add an example to support our main point. If you can’t think of a real example, it’s fine to make one up, as long as it’s believable. The examiner isn’t going to check your facts. Alternative, you could add another piece of information to support your idea.
Whenever I have to attend a meeting in the city, I always drive because it means that I can leave home when I want to rather than getting stressed about getting to the station in time to catch the train.
That’s the 3 parts of our first main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.
We now follow the same process for our second main body paragraph.
Main Body Paragraph 2
Main idea 2 – Park-and-ride schemes
First, we write the topic sentence to summarise the main idea.
A solution that is proving successful in many areas is park-and-ride schemes.
Now for the explanation sentence where we expand on this idea.
This is where you park your car for free in a large car park on the outskirts of the city and take a bus for the final part of your journey. The fee you have to pay for the bus trip is usually very small and this public transport system is generally very regular, running every ten minutes or so.
Finally, an example to support this point.
A survey carried out in the city of Exeter showed that the rush hour congestion decreased by 10% when the council set up a park-and-ride scheme to the north of the city. There was an additional drop of another 10% in traffic volume when a second scheme began operating to the south.
That’s the 3 parts of our second main body paragraph complete. Here’s the finished paragraph.
Now we need a conclusion and our IELTS problem solution essay is done.
How To Write a Conclusion
The conclusion is a summary of the main points in your essay and can generally be done in a single sentence. It should never introduce new ideas.
If you're below the minimum 250 words after you’ve written your conclusion, you can add a prediction or recommendation statement.
Our essay is already over the minimum word limit so we don’t need this extra sentence but you can learn more about how to write a prediction or recommendation statement for IELTS problem solution essays on the Task 2 Conclusions page.
The conclusion is the easiest sentence in the essay to write but one of the most important.
A good conclusion will:
- Neatly end the essay
- Link all your ideas together
- Sum up your argument or opinion
- Answer the question
If you achieve this, you’ll improve your score for both task achievement and cohesion and coherence which together make up 50% of the overall marks. Without a conclusion, you’ll score below band 6 for task achievement.
You can start almost any final paragraph of an IELTS problem solution essay with the words:
- In conclusion
- To conclude
Now all you need to do is briefly summarise the main ideas into one sentence.
Here’s a top tip . Go back and read the introduction to the essay because this is also a summary of the essay. It outlines what you are going to write about.
To create a good conclusion, you simply have to paraphrase the introduction.
Here is the same information formed into a conclusion. I’ve also added a personal statement at the end to link back to one of my example sentences. You don’t have to do this but in this case, I think that it rounds the essay off better.
That’s it. We’ve completed our essay. Here it is with the 4 paragraphs put together.
Finished IELTS problem solution essay.
Go through this lesson as many times as you need to in order to fully understand it and put in lots of practice writing IELTS problem solution essays from past exam questions. Practice is the only way to improve your skills.
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More help with ielts problem solution essays & other task 2 essays.
IELTS Writing Task 2 – T he format, the 5 question types, the 5 step essay writing strategy & sample questions. All the key information you need to know.
The 5 Types of Task 2 Essay – How to recognise the 5 different types of Task 2 essays. 15 sample questions to study and a simple planning structure for each essay type.
Understanding Task 2 Questions – How to quickly and easily analyse and understand IELTS Writing Task 2 questions.
How To Plan a Task 2 Essay – Discover why essay planning is essential & learn a simple 4 step strategy, the 4 part essay structure & 4 methods of generating ideas.
How To Write a Task 2 Introduction – Find out why a good introduction is essential. Learn how to write one using a simple 3 part strategy & discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.
How To Write Task 2 Main Body Paragraphs – Learn the simple 3 part structure for writing great main body paragraphs and also, 3 common mistakes to avoid.
How To Write Task 2 Conclusions – Learn the easy way to write the perfect conclusion for a Task 2 essay. Also discover 4 common mistakes to avoid.
Task 2 Marking Criteria – Find out how to meet the marking criteria in Task 2. See examples of good and poor answers & learn some common mistakes to avoid.
The 5 Task 2 Essay Types:
Step-by-step instructions on how to plan & write high-level essays. Model answers & common mistakes to avoid.
Problem Solution Essays
Advantages & Disadvantages Essays
Double Question Essays
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IELTS Writing Test – Understand the format & marking criteria, know what skills are assessed & learn the difference between the Academic & General writing tests.
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Stephens, C. (n.d.). Academic A Writing . EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/academic_a_writing
In this chapter you will write a problem/solution essay. To write a problem/solution essay, think about a problem that you have experienced and how it could be fixed.
A problem/solution essay is written to explain the solution(s) for a problem. This essay can describe multiple solutions or one “ideal” solution to the problem you describe.
This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.
Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/academic_a_writing/problemsolution_essa .
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Problem-solution essays Situation-problem-solution-evaluation
Problem-solution essays are a common essay type, especially for short essays such as subject exams or IELTS . The page gives information on what they are , how to structure this type of essay, and gives an example problem-solution essay on the topic of obesity and fitness levels.
What are problem-solution essays?
Problem-solution essays consider the problems of a particular situation, and give solutions to those problems. They are in some ways similar to cause and effect essays , especially in terms of structure (see below). Problem-solution essays are actually a sub-type of another type of essay, which has the following four components:
The 'situation' may be included in the essay prompt, in which case it will not be needed in the main body. If it is needed, it can often be included in the introduction, especially for short essays, as with the example essay below . The 'evaluation' may be included as part of the conclusion (also as in the example below), or omitted altogether, especially for short essays. For these reasons, problem-solution essays are more common than situation-problem-solution-evaluation essays (or SPSE essays).
There are two main ways to structure a problem-solution essay. These are similar to the ways to structure cause and effect essays , namely using a block or a chain structure. For the block structure, all of the problems are listed first, and all of the solutions are listed afterwards. For the chain structure, each problem is followed immediately by the solution to that problem. Both types of structure have their merits. The former is generally clearer, especially for shorter essays, while the latter ensures that any solutions you present relate directly to the problems you have given.
The two types of structure, block and chain , are shown in the diagram below. This is for a short essay, which includes the 'situation' in the introduction and 'evaluation' in the conclusion. A longer essay, for example one of around 1,000 words, with citations , would probably have these two sections as separate paragraphs in the main body.
Below is a problem-solution essay on the topic of obesity and poor fitness . It uses the block structure . Click on the different areas (in the shaded boxes) to highlight the different structural aspects in this essay, i.e. Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation. This will highlight not simply the paragraphs, but also (for problems and solutions) the thesis statement and summary , as these repeat the problems and solutions contained in the main body.
Consumption of processed and convenience foods and our dependence on the car have led to an increase in obesity and reduction in the fitness level of the adult population. In some countries, especially industrialized ones, the number of obese people can amount to one third of the population. This is significant as obesity and poor fitness lead to a decrease in life expectancy , and it is therefore important for individuals and governments to work together to tackle this issue and improve their citizens' diet and fitness. Obesity and poor fitness decrease life expectancy. Overweight people are more likely to have serious illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, which can result in premature death. It is well known that regular exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, which means that those with poor fitness levels are at an increased risk of suffering from those problems. Changes by individuals to their diet and their physical activity can increase life expectancy. There is a reliance today on the consumption of processed foods, which have a high fat and sugar content. By preparing their own foods, and consuming more fruit and vegetables, people could ensure that their diets are healthier and more balanced, which could lead to a reduction in obesity levels. In order to improve fitness levels, people could choose to walk or cycle to work or to the shops rather than taking the car. They could also choose to walk up stairs instead of taking the lift. These simple changes could lead to a significant improvement in fitness levels. Governments could also implement initiatives to improve their citizens' eating and exercise habits. This could be done through education, for example by adding classes to the curriculum about healthy diet and lifestyles. Governments could also do more to encourage their citizens to walk or cycle instead of taking the car, for instance by building more cycle lanes or increasing vehicle taxes. While some might argue that increased taxes are a negative way to solve the problem, it is no different from the high taxes imposed on cigarettes to reduce cigarette consumption. In short, obesity and poor fitness are a significant problem in modern life, leading to lower life expectancy . Individuals and governments can work together to tackle this problem and so improve diet and fitness . Of the solutions suggested, those made by individuals themselves are likely to have more impact, though it is clear that a concerted effort with the government is essential for success. With obesity levels in industrialized and industrializing countries continuing to rise, it is essential that we take action now to deal with this problem.
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Below is a checklist for the main body of an essay. Use it to check your own writing, or get a peer (another student) to help you.
Find out about writing definitions and definition essays in the next section.
Go back to the previous section about cause & effect essays .
Author: Sheldon Smith ‖ Last modified: 22 January 2022.
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Compare & contrast essays examine the similarities of two or more objects, and the differences.
Cause & effect essays consider the reasons (or causes) for something, then discuss the results (or effects).
Discussion essays require you to examine both sides of a situation and to conclude by saying which side you favour.
Problem-solution essays are a sub-type of SPSE essays (Situation, Problem, Solution, Evaluation).
Transition signals are useful in achieving good cohesion and coherence in your writing.
Reporting verbs are used to link your in-text citations to the information cited.
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IELTS Problem Solution Essays
Problem solution essays are a type of essay question sometimes given to you in the test.
In this type of essay you need to discuss the problems with regards to a particular topic and then suggest possible solutions to these problems.
One of the first things you want to make sure that you are able to do is identfy one of these questions when it arises.
Here are some examples of this type of question.
Examples of Problem Solution Essay Questions:
Overpopulation of urban areas has led to numerous problems.
Identify one or two serious ones and suggest ways that governments and individuals can tackle these problems.
Nowadays many people have access to computers on a wide basis and a large number of children play computer games.
What are the negative impacts of playing computer games and what can be done to minimize the bad effects?
The internet has transformed the way information is shared and consumed, but it has also created problems that did not exist before.
What are the most serious problems associated with the internet and what solutions can you suggest?
In the developed world, average life expectancy is increasing.
What problems will this cause for individuals and society?
Suggest some measures that could be taken to reduce the impact of ageing populations.
An important note. Some essays ask for reasons and solutions, not problems and solutions. Writing about a reason (or cause) is not the same as writing about a problem.
Check these model essays to see the difference.
IELTS Problem Solution Essay Example
In order to understand these types of problem solution essays further and how to organize your writing, we'll look at a problem solution example essay:
The enormous growth in the use of the internet over the last decade has led to radical changes to the way that people consume and share information. Although serious problems have arisen as a result of this, there are solutions.
One of the first problems of the internet is the ease with which children can access potentially dangerous sites. For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult. There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society. Another major problem is the growth of online fraud and hacking. These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked, resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.
It is important that action is taken to combat these problems. Governments should ensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites, such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site. Parents also have a part to play. They need to closely monitor the activities of their children and restrict their access to certain sites, which can now be done through various computer programs. Companies must also improve their onsite IT security systems to make fraud and hacking much more difficult by undertaking thorough reviews of their current systems for weaknesses.
To conclude, the internet is an amazing technological innovation that has transformed people’s lives, but not without negative impacts. However, with the right action by individuals, governments and businesses, it can be made a safe place for everyone.
Writing about Problems
From the problem solution essay, look at the problems paragraph, and answer the following questions (then click on the link below to see the answers):
- How many problems are discussed?
- What are they?
- What expressions are used to introduce the problems?
- How are the problems illustrated further?
- What results are discussed for each problem?
Show / hide answers
1) How many problems are discussed?
2) What are they?
children can access potentially dangerous sites growth of online fraud and hacking
3) What expressions are used to introduce the problems?
One of the first problems of the internet is... Another major problem is...
4) How are the problems illustrated further?
For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult. These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked.
5) What results are discussed for each problem?
There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society.
...resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.
Your answers to these questions should tell you a lot about how to plan and organize a problem paragraph.
You only need two or three problems as remember you do not have much time and you need to explain the problems.
When you brainstorm your ideas for problem solution essays, think about (a) what the problem is (b) how you will explain it (c) and what the effect is . Your paragraph will then follow this pattern.
Here is an example of the brainstorming for this paragraph:
Problem 1: children can access potentially dangerous sites
- Explanation / Example: Pornography sites
- Result: Affects thought & development - negative for children & society
Problem 2: growth of online fraud and hacking
- Explanation / Example: Evident from the constant news stories
- Result: Criminals get sensitive information
Here they are illustrated in the paragraph, with the introductory expressions underlined:
One of the first problems of the internet is the ease with which children can access potentially dangerous sites . For example, pornography sites are easily accessible to them because they can register with a site and claim to be an adult . There is no doubt that this affects their thoughts and development, which is a negative impact for the children and for society . Another major problem is the growth of online fraud and hacking . These days, there are constant news stories about government and company websites that have been hacked , resulting in sensitive information falling into the hands of criminals.
Writing about Solutions
Answer the following questions about the solutions paragraph:
- How many solutions are given?
- What three different groups of people does the writer say are responsble for these solutions?
- How would the solutions be implemented?
- What three modal verb structures are used to make the suggestions?
1) How many solutions are given?
adequate legislation and controls monitor the activities of children / restrict access improve company IT security systems
3) What three different groups of people does the writer say are responsble for these solutions?
Governments Parents Companies
Stricter criteria for accessing sites Using computer programs Reviewing current IT systems for weaknesses
5) What three modal verb structures are used to make the suggestions?
should need to must
Your answers to these questions provide you with some key tips on writing a solutions paragraph. Some of these points are now explained further.
The people involved
When you come to brainstorm your solutions, think of the key 'actors' who are involved. It is usually governments and individuals in some way or another.
There may be another group specifically realted to the topic. For example, in this case it is companies and parents. If you are discussing crime it could be the police. If it is violence on TV it could be TV and film producers.
You can then brainstorm your ideas under each 'group' and organize them in the same way.
Developing your solutions
Also, try to make sure your solutions are not too simplistic. It's all too easy to make sweeping generalizations about what people can do. For example, look at this idea:
The government should introduce stricter laws.
It it common to see such statements in IELTS problem solution essays with no further explantion. Give more detail about how or why this would work. For example:
Governments should ensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites, such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site.
Some specific detail has now been given on how this solution could work.
Modal verbs can be used to make suggestions in problem solution essays. These are usually found in solutions paragraphs.
Check out this grammar lesson if you are unsure how to use modal verbs .
Here again is a plan for the problem solution essay for the solutions paragraph:
Solution 1: Governments
- Idea: Adequate legislation and controls for young people
- How: More complex website access criteria
Solution 2: Parents
- Idea: Monitor children and restrict access
- How: Use a computer program
Solution 3: Companies
- Idea: Improve IT security systems
- How: Review current systems in place
Here is the paragraph again. Note how it follows the plan and the clear topic sentence that tells the reader the essay is moving on to discuss solutions (modals verbs are underlined):
It is important that action is taken to combat these problems. Governments should ensure that adequate legislation and controls are in place that will prevent young people from accessing dangerous sites , such as requiring more than simply confirming that you are an adult to view a site . Parents also have a part to play. They need to closely monitor the activities of their children and restrict their access to certain sites , which can now be done through various computer programs. Companies must also improve their onsite IT security systems to make fraud and hacking much more difficult by undertaking thorough reviews of their current systems for weaknesses.
More Task 2 IELTS Lessons:
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Transitional Phrases for Essays
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Composition Type: Problem-Solution Essays
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
In composition , using a problem-solution format is a method for analyzing and writing about a topic by identifying a problem and proposing one or more solutions. A problem-solution essay is a type of argument. "This sort of essay involves argumentation in that the writer seeks to convince the reader to take a particular course of action. In explaining the problem, it may also need to persuade the reader concerning specific causes" (Dave Kemper et al., "Fusion: Integrated Reading and Writing," 2016).
The Thesis Statement
In many types of report writing, the thesis statement is posed front and center, in one sentence. Author Derek Soles writes about how the thesis statement in a problem-solution paper differs from a straight "report of findings" type of text:
"[One] expository mode is the problem-solution essay, topics for which are typically framed in the form of questions. Why did fourth-graders from poor families score low on a nationwide math test, and how can educators improve math education for this group? Why is Iran a threat to our national security, and how can we reduce this threat? Why did it take the Democratic Party so long to select a candidate for the 2008 presidential election, and what can the party do to make the process more efficient in the future? These essays have two parts: a full explanation of the nature of the problem, followed by an analysis of solutions and their likelihood of success."
("The Essentials of Academic Writing," 2nd ed. Wadsworth, Cengage, 2010)
Readers need additional context before you get to your thesis, but that is not to say that the thesis has to be posed as a question in the introduction:
"In a problem-solution essay, the thesis statement usually proposes the solution. Because readers must first understand the problem, the thesis statement usually comes after a description of the problem. The thesis statement does not have to give details about the solution. Instead, it summarizes the solution. It should also lead naturally to the body of the essay, preparing your reader for a discussion of how your solution would work."
(Dorothy Zemach and Lynn Stafford-Yilmaz, "Writers at Work: The Essay." Cambridge University Press, 2008)
It can be helpful to see completed examples before writing in order to examine what makes for an effective piece. See how these introductions give some context before posing the topic and lead naturally into the body paragraphs, where the evidence will be listed. You can imagine how the author has organized the rest of the piece.
"We buried my cousin last summer. He was 32 when he hanged himself from a closet coat rack in the throes of alcoholism, the fourth of my blood relatives to die prematurely from this deadly disease. If America issued drinking licenses, those four men—including my father, who died at 54 of liver failure—might be alive today."
(Mike Brake, "Needed: A License to Drink." Newsweek , March 13, 1994)
"America is suffering from overwork. Too many of us are too busy, trying to squeeze more into each day while having less to show for it. Although our growing time crunch is often portrayed as a personal dilemma, it is, in fact, a major social problem that has reached crisis proportions over the past twenty years."
(Barbara Brandt, "Whole Life Economics: Revaluing Daily Life." New Society, 1995)
"The modern-day apartment dweller is faced with a most annoying problem: paper-thin walls and sound-amplifying ceilings. To live with this problem is to live with the invasion of privacy. There is nothing more distracting than to hear your neighbors' every function. Although the source of the noise cannot be eliminated, the problem can be solved."
(Maria B. Dunn, "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor: The Problem of Noise")
In "Passages: A Writer's Guide, " how to organize a problem-solution paper is explained:
"Though to some extent [your organization of the paper] depends on your topic, do make sure that you include the following information:
Introduction: Identify the problem in a nutshell. Explain why this is a problem, and mention who should be concerned about it.
Problem Paragraph(s): Explain the problem clearly and specifically. Demonstrate that this is not just a personal complaint, but a genuine problem that affects many people.
"Solution Paragraph(s): Offer a concrete solution to the problem, and explain why this is the best one available. You may want to point out why other possible solutions are inferior to yours. If your solution calls for a series of steps or actions to be followed, present these steps in a logical order.
"Conclusion: Reemphasize the importance of the problem and the value of your solution. Choose a problem that you have experienced and thought about—one that you have solved or are in the process of solving. Then, in the essay itself, you may use your own experience to illustrate the problem. However, don't focus all the attention on yourself and on your troubles. Instead, direct the essay at others who are experiencing a similar problem. In other words, don't write an I essay ('How I Cure the Blues'); write a you essay ('How You Can Cure the Blues')."
(Richard Nordquist, Passages: A Writer's Guide , 3rd ed. St. Martin's Press, 1995)
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- Academic practice
- General practice
- Task 1 Academic
- Task 1 General
- Task 2 (essay)
IELTS Writing: problem and solution essay
In this lesson you’ll learn how to answer problems/solutions questions in IELTS Writing . This type of questions gives you an issue and asks you to describe some common problems associated with it and propose some possible solutions.
- See problem-solution question sample
- Learn how to generate ideas
- Learn band 9 answering strategies
- See full band 9 answer
This is an example of problem-solution question in IELTS Writing:
Despite a large number of gyms, a sedentary lifestyle is gaining popularity in the contemporary world.
What problems are associated with this?
What solutions can you suggest?
How to answer the question?
Before starting to write your answer, you should think of 1-2 problems and 1-2 solutions, so you know what to write about. In our case:
Problems associated with sedentary lifestyle :
- problems with backbone (osteoporosis, scoliosis)
- promote walking and cycling as safe and attractive alternatives to motorized transport
- promote visiting gyms and doing exercises
Now, after we’ve generated some ideas for our essay, it’s time to use them in our writing .
Remember : it’s not enough to simply state these facts, you should also extend the ideas in your writing.
Band 9 answer structure
Although there are many possible ways to structure your essay, we’ll use this band 9 answer structure that has been approved by many IELTS examiners:
Band-9 essay structure:
- Body paragraph 1 - problems
- Body paragraph 2 - effects
Let’s take a look at each of these sections in detail:
Introduction Write your introduction in two sentences:
- Sentence 1 - paraphrase the statement (you can use ‘nowadays/today/these days’ to start):
These days a sedentary lifestyle is becoming more and more popular despite a big number of sport facilities.
- Sentence 2 - say what you’ll write about in your essay:
This essay will discuss the main problems associated with this epidemic and propose some possible solutions to avoid them.
Body paragraph 1- problems
- Sentence 1 - summarise the main problems of inactive lifestyle:
The main problems caused by inactive lifestyle are obesity and various spine disorders.
- Sentences 2-3 - state and explain the first problem (you can also give an example). It’s very important to expand your opinion! Imagine that your examiner doesn’t know this subject at all and you have to explain everything in detail:
A growing number of body research shows that long periods of physical inactivity raise a risk of becoming overweight. This is because people burn fewer calories and easily gain weight.
- Sentences 4-5 - describe the second problem (as usual, expand your opinion). You can give an example and use linking words ‘ moreover’ , ’ what’s more’ or ‘ also ’ to start:
What’s more, a lot of studies show that so-called ‘sitting disease’ often results in posture and backbone problems. Due to constant sitting, person loses muscle tissue and curves spine, developing numerous spinal diseases. For example, it has been proven that about 80% of people experience backache at least once a week.
Body paragraph 2 - solutions
- Sentence 1 - briefly state the main solutions:
In my opinion, the best solution to this problem is promoting active lifestyle.
- Sentences 2-3 - write the first solution and explain it:
Firstly, millions of people stay less active because they use cars instead of walking. Therefore, an effective way to make people more active is to advertise walking and cycling as safe and attractive alternatives to motorized transport.
Moreover, inactive lifestyle is gaining popularity because nowadays a lot of people prefer passive rest to workouts in the gym. And the best way to avoid the hazards of unhealthy living is to obtain a regular dose of physical activity. Thus, promoting gyms and regular exercising would increase the level of activity.
Write your conclusion in 2 sentences by summing up the problems and solutions you’ve written in your body paragraphs:
In conclusion, leading a sedentary lifestyle causes a lot of health problems, including obesity and spinal diseases. The most effective solution is to increase the level of fitness among the society by advertising physical activity.
Band 9 answer sample
These days a sedentary lifestyle is becoming more and more popular despite a big number of sport facilities. This essay will discuss the main problems associated with this epidemic and propose some possible solutions to avoid them.
The main problems caused by inactive lifestyle are obesity and various spine disorders. A growing number of body research shows that long periods of physical inactivity raise a risk of becoming overweight. This is because people burn fewer calories and easily gain weight. What’s more, a lot of studies show that so-called ‘sitting disease’ often results in posture and backbone problems. Due to constant sitting, person loses muscle tissue and curves spine, developing numerous spinal diseases. For example, it has been proven that about 80% of people experience backache at least once a week.
In my opinion, the best solution to these problems is promoting active lifestyle. Firstly, millions of people stay less active because they use cars instead of walking. Therefore, an effective way to make people more active is to advertise walking and cycling as safe and attractive alternatives to motorized transport. Moreover, inactive lifestyle is gaining popularity because nowadays a lot of people prefer passive rest to workouts in the gym. And the best way to avoid the hazards of unhealthy living is to obtain a regular dose of physical activity. Thus, promoting gyms and regular exercising would increase the level of activity.
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What Is a Problem-Solution Essay?
A problem-solution essay is an essay that describes a problem and discusses possible solutions to the problem. This type of essay may be assigned in a high school or college composition class, and it generally requires some research before the writing process can begin. The primary thrust of a problem-solution essay is usually either an argument for a specific solution to a problem, or a strong case for the urgent need to solve a problem. Like most essays, the problem-solution essay must contain an introduction, a thesis, a body, and a conclusion.
The first step to writing a problem-solution essay is to identify the problem that will be discussed. It can be helpful to brainstorm possible essay topics and create a list of bullet-point ideas that could possibly be discussed for each topic. The best problem-solution topics are interesting and can be viewed from multiple perspectives, but are also not so broad that a solution to the problem is impossible to imagine.
The opening of a problem-solution essay should describe the problem and provide relevant background information. The problem should be clearly defined, and the causes of the problem should be identified if possible. The extent of the problem must also be described, as well as the effects of the problem and possible consequences of allowing the problem to continue unsolved. Any key terms that need to be defined should also be included in the opening, as well as any pertinent historical information that would help the reader understand the problem better.
Depending on the problem to be discussed, the thesis of a problem-solution essay may argue for the urgent need to solve the problem, or it may argue for a single solution to the problem. Most commonly, it will argue for a single solution. The thesis should generally be only one sentence long, and should clearly identify the main point of the essay. It will usually be placed in the opening paragraph, although in some cases the thesis can be reserved for the latter part of the essay where it will be revealed after a complete discussion of the problem and possible solutions have taken place.
The body of a problem-solution essay should fully describe proposed solutions to the problem and discuss the possible outcomes of each solution. Advantages or disadvantages to each solution should be included, as well as feasibility of the proposed solutions. If any attempts have already been made to solve the problem, those should be described as well. If the essay will be arguing for a single solution to the problem, the body of the paper should lead logically to the conclusion that the solution being advocated is the best solution available. In such cases, it is important not only to describe the solution, but also to describe how the solution can or should be implemented.
The conclusion of a problem-solution essay should contain a call to action, advocating that the reader either take part in the proposed solution to the problem or become involved in looking for a solution to the problem to be solved. Future consequences of the problem can be used as leverage for the call to action. It may also be useful to briefly restate the problem and describe the effects of leaving the problem unsolved. The best problem-solution essays will create a sense of urgency and lead the reader to become interested in solving the problem.
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It's a daunting type of essay.
Students that have to write this type of essay should choose problem solution essay topics that fit with their expertise. For example, if you have this assignment to complete and you know how to garden, you might choose to write about how to solve the problem of getting rid of weeds. Choosing a familiar topic makes this type of assignment so much easier than choosing a topic that requires more research.
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IELTS Preparation Courses
IELTS Writing Task 2 Problem and Solution Essay Lesson
Problem Solution Essay
This lesson on how to write a problem solution essay will:
- discuss common mistakes;
- show you how to analyse the question;
- show you how to think of ideas;
- give you a structure that can be used again and again on all problem solution IELTS essays;
- describe how to write an introduction , main body paragraphs and conclusion; and
- give you a full band 9 sample answer.
Problem/solution questions are one of the most common IELTS Writing Task 2 questions on the academic paper. Despite being very common, many students fail to do well in these questions. This post will look at some of the most common mistakes and then take you through how to answer these questions step-by-step.
- The most common mistake for problem solution essays is not expanding on your ideas and instead simply listing lots of problems and solutions. The examiner does not want a list of all the problems and solutions you can think of, and please don’t do this in the exam. Instead, if you look at how the exam is marked , the examiner wants you to pick one or two problems and solutions and then expand on them with explanations and examples. More on how to do this below.
- Another common mistake is writing about problems and solutions that are not directly linked to the question. You should be like a sniper when answering the question and only give very specific ideas rather than ideas that generally talk about the overall issue. This has a lot to do with how you identify keywords and micro-keywords in the questions which we will look at below.
- Lots of people think of good ideas for problems and then fail to link their solutions to these problems. Each problem should have a solution directly linked to it, or in other words, it should solve the actual problem.
- Finally, some candidates think of really good problems and solutions that answer the question properly and then expand their answers with explanations and examples, but they talk too generally. Instead, you should be thinking of specific examples and explanations. We will look at how to avoid this below.
Analysing the Question
This is one of the most crucial parts of answering any IELTS writing question. If you don’t take the time to think properly about what the examiner is asking you to do, then it is very difficult to answer the question correctly.
We analyse the question by thinking about three things:
- action words
Keywords are the words that tell us what the general topic is.
Micro-keywords identify which part of the general topic the examiner wants you to discuss. They often give an opinion, qualify the statement or talk about a sub-category of the bigger general topic.
Action words tell us what the examiner wants us to do.
Problem Solution Sample Essay
Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century, and sea levels continue to rise at alarming rates.
What problems are associated with this, and what are some possible solutions?
If we look at this question, we can see that the keywords are ‘ global warming ‘. This is our general topic. We will write about this, but we cannot write about any problems associated with global warming. If we do this, we have not answered the question properly. We, therefore, need to look at the micro-keywords.
The micro-keywords are ‘ humans ‘ and ‘ sea level rise ‘. So instead of writing just about the huge topic of global warming and any problems associated with that (such as increased storms, extinction of certain animals, erosion of soil), we have to talk about how particularly sea level rises will affect humans . If we talked about the problems affecting the ‘planet’ or ‘animals’ or the ‘atmosphere’, we would not be answering the question.
The action words are problems and solutions . Our task is, therefore, to write about that and only that. It does not ask our opinion about the disadvantages, advantages, or causes, just the problems and solutions. If we discussed the causes of sea level rise, we would not be answering the question.
For more information, go to effectively analyse an IELTS question .
How to Think of Ideas
Now that we know exactly what the question is asking us to do, we need to think of specific and relevant ideas. There are many strategies for thinking of ideas for IELTS task 2 questions TO THINK OF IDEAS FOR IELTS WRITING TASK 2 but for problem-solving questions; I like to use something called the ‘coffee shop method’.
Instead of brainstorming or mind-mapping- which take too much time and lead to irrelevant ideas in my opinion- you should pretend you are in a coffee shop with a friend and they have just asked you a simple question. In this case, it would be “What are the problems and solutions associated with sea level rise on humans?”
If you were talking to a friend about this, I’m sure you would have no problem thinking of at least 2 or 3 problems and solutions. This method takes you out of an exam situation and puts your mind into a more relaxed environment. Try it and see. If you don’t like it, try one of my other methods.
There are several problems and solutions, including:
Problem : flooding of people’s homes and businesses
Solution : build flood barriers or move to higher areas
Problem : loss of agricultural land and starvation
Solution : switch to more suitable crops
Problem : displacement of millions of people
Solution : move people in a planned and orderly way before the floods
Problem : groundwater undrinkable
Solution : build desalination plants
As you can see, I didn’t think of lots of problems and then lots of solutions. For each problem, you should think of a solution that directly solves this problem.
You now have lots of ideas, but now you must decide which ones to use. I always tell my students to pick the ones they know most about, i.e. that they can explain and give relevant examples.
I advise my students to use a basic four-paragraph structure with all problem solution IELTS essays. Your four paragraphs should look something like this:
Paragraph 1- Introduction
Paragraph 2- Problems
Paragraph 3- Solutions
Paragraph 4- Conclusion
At a sentence level, your structure should look like this:
1- Paraphrase question
2- Outline sentence
3- State problems
4- Explain first problem
5- Explain second problem
6- Example of second problem
7- State solutions
8- Explain solution to first problem
9- Explain solution to second problem
10- Example of solution to second problem
Sentence 11- Summary of main points in paragraphs 2 and 3
For more structures, check out our IELTS task 2 structures guide .
Now let’s look at each paragraph in more detail.
The introduction will have two sentences: a paraphrase of the question and an outline statement.
Paraphrasing is simply saying the sentence again with different words but with the same meaning. We can do this by using synonyms and/or changing the order of the words.
Question- Global warming is one of the biggest threats humans face in the 21st Century, and sea levels continue to rise at alarming rates.
Paraphrased- Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century, and ocean levels are increasing dramatically.
As you can see above, I have used synonyms to change the words of the questions, but it still has the same meaning. The examiner will look for your ability to do this in the exam, so practising this skill is a good idea.
Our outline sentence is next, which tells the examiner what they will read in the rest of the essay. This makes it very clear to the examiner and makes the rest of the essay much easier to understand. You will, therefore, gain marks for coherence and cohesion.
Our outline sentence should look something like this:
This essay will first suggest that the biggest problems caused by this phenomenon are the loss of land and the flooding of homes and then argue that pollution reduction and building flood protection are the most viable solutions.
Our introduction will, therefore, look like this:
Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century, and ocean levels are increasing dramatically. This essay will first suggest that the biggest problems caused by this phenomenon are the loss of land and the flooding of homes and then argue that pollution reduction and building flood protection are the most viable solutions.
It should be noted that this introduction does not contain a thesis statement. This is because this particular question does not ask us for our opinion. However, IELTS problem solution questions sometimes do ask you for your opinion, and you should then include a thesis statement.
Our problems paragraph will have this structure:
Sentence 1- State problems
Sentence 2- Explain first problem
Sentence 3- Explain second problem
Sentence 4- Example of second problem
State problems : The foremost problems caused by climbing sea levels are that land is being lost and peoples’ residences are often flooded.
Now that we have stated the problems, we must explain these. You should always consider your audience to be someone with no specialist knowledge in this area, and you, therefore, need to explain what everything means. Don’t assume that the IELTS examiner is educated and knows what you are talking about. These assumptions will stop you from writing what you need.
Explain first problem : As water levels rise, low-lying land is submerged, and many countries become smaller.
Explain second problem : Furthermore, millions of people worldwide live in coastal areas, and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they are inundated with water and lose their property.
Now we must give an example of what we are talking about. When we give an example, it should be as specific as possible.
An example of a very general example would be:
Lots of people in the world have experienced floods recently.
This is far too general to be considered a good example.
Example : The devastation brought about by this was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced.
This example is much more specific. Stating a place and/or date can help you make your examples more specific.
Our second paragraph will look like this:
The foremost problems caused by climbing sea levels are that land is being lost and people’s residences are often flooded. As water levels rise, low-lying land is submerged, and many countries become smaller. Furthermore, millions of people worldwide live in coastal areas, and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they are inundated with water and lose their property. This devastation was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced.
Now we must move on to our solutions.
Our solutions paragraph will have this structure:
Sentence 1- State solutions
Sentence 2- Explain solution to first problem
Sentence 3- Explain solution to second problem
Sentence 4- Example of solution to second problem
State solutions : Possible solutions to these problems would be to reduce the amount of pollution created and build flood barriers.
We now need to explain how our solution will help solve the problem. Again, do not assume that the examiner has any specialist knowledge of this topic, so you need to explain what you mean.
Explain first solution: If each person reduces their carbon footprint, the negative effects on the environment will be reduced, which will mean that the water level will stop rising.
Explain second solution : Furthermore, flood defences, such as dikes, dams, and floodgates, could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water from reaching populated areas.
Example : The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and one of the most vulnerable to flooding. They have successfully employed various flood defence systems.
Our whole solutions paragraph will look like this:
Possible solutions to these problems would be to reduce the amount of pollution being created and to build flood barriers. If each person reduces their carbon footprint, the negative effects on the environment will be reduced, which will mean that the water level will stop rising. Furthermore, flood defences, such as dikes, dams, and floodgates, could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water from reaching populated areas. The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to flooding, and they have successfully employed various flood defence systems.
We have now answered the question and need to sum up what we have said in the conclusion.
The conclusion should have no new ideas but instead should list the main points from the previous two paragraphs. You can also use synonyms in this paragraph to avoid repetition.
Conclusion : To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face, and it will ultimately lead to some countries losing landmass and many of the world’s cities being left underwater, but possible solutions could be to protect our environment and to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland.
Our whole conclusion for this problem solution essay will look like this:
To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face, and it will ultimately lead to some countries losing landmass and many of the world’s cities being left underwater, but possible solutions could be to protect our environment and to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland.
Problem and Solution Sample Essay
Here is the whole essay:
Climate change is among the principal dangers facing people this century, and ocean levels are increasing dramatically. This essay will first suggest that the biggest problems caused by this phenomenon are the loss of land and the flooding of homes and then argue that pollution reduction and building flood protection are the most viable solutions. The foremost problems caused by climbing sea levels are that land is being lost and peoples’ residences are often flooded. As water levels rise, low-lying land is submerged and many countries become smaller. Furthermore, millions of people all over the world live in coastal areas, and if the sea rises by even a few feet, they are inundated with water and lose their property. The devastation brought about by this was clear for all to see during the 2011 Tsunami in Japan, in which millions of people were displaced. Possible solutions to these problems would be to reduce the amount of pollution being created and to build flood barriers. If each person reduces their carbon footprint, the negative effects on the environment will be reduced and this will mean that the water level will stop rising. Furthermore, flood defences, such as dikes, dams, and floodgates, could be built along coasts and waterways, thereby stopping the water reaching populated areas. The Netherlands is one of the most populated areas in the world and also one of the most vulnerable to flooding and they have successfully employed various flood defence systems. To conclude, stemming the rising tides caused by increasing global temperatures is one of the foremost challenges we face and it will ultimately lead to some countries losing landmass and many of the worlds’ cities being left underwater, but possible solutions could be to protect our environment and to utilise the flood prevention techniques already used by countries like Holland.
I hope this post helps you with IELTS problem solution essays, and if you have any questions, please comment below.
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