This is the next in my series of sample essays for IELTS. In this lesson, I focus on a harder essay type – one which asks you to think of your own ideas rather than just saying whether you agree/disagree or what the advantages or disadvantages are. No need to panic. The same ideas apply for this type of essay as any other – no special model is required.
- You need to focus on the question and your position in the introduction and the conclusion
- You should write organised paragraphs based around one main idea
As ever, you will find the essay to download and this time I have added detailed notes on vocabulary and some exercises to help you write the essay yourself.
Understanding the question – what do those words mean?
One way in which your essay may go wrong is if you do not understand the words in the question. One tip that can sometimes work is simply to read on. Words/phrases that you do not understand may be explained by words you do understand. in this case, you may not be familiar with “community service orders”, but you should be able to work out what is meant by the phrase “order people to work in the community to pay for their crimes”.
Prison has long been the traditional punishment for people who commit crimes. Some people believe, however, that community service orders are more appropriate in some cases. When do you think that it is right to order people to work in the community to pay for their crimes?
Understanding the question – how to structure your answer
Don’t worry if this is perhaps a less familiar question type that doesn’t fit into the model essay plans you have learned. That’s not a problem. Forget models and just read and understand the question. You have to say when community service is more appropriate than prison. This simply means you have to think of times when someone who has committed a crime should not go to prison. You then need to organise those into ideas that can make paragraphs.
My suggested structure is the simple one:
Introduction: identify the question and outline your position – when are the times CSOs are more appropriate
Content 1: Explain one time when CSOs should be used. Explain why and find an example
Content 2: Parallel to your first paragraph. Explain another time when CSOs should be used with a reason and an example
Conclusion: Parallel to the introduction – restate when CSOs should be used and summarise the main points from your content paragraphs
Don’t forget the essay rubric – give reasons too – that means saying why not just when
All IELTS essay questions come with this rubric/set of instructions:
Give reasons for your answer and include any relevant examples from your own knowledge or experience
This means that even though the question asks to say “when”, you also need to say why. To repeat myself, this applies to ALL IELTS essay questions and it should become a habit to give examples and reasons for everything you say. Do this and your coherence score will improve overnight.
Ideas for the essay
Here are some ideas for prison and community service essays – some of which I use in this essay:
- minor crimes – is it right that people who commit “small offences” should go to prison – shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime?
- mitigating circumstances – perhaps there are understandable reasons to explain why the crime was committed – perhaps they were under the influence of someone else
- young offenders – is it right that people under 18 should go to prison
- influence of other criminals – sometimes prison can teach people how to become criminals because they spend all their time with other criminals
- first time offenders – should people who have only committed one crime be given a second chance
- prison is expensive and does not “help the community” – is it a good idea to allow criminals to make some contribution to society to pay for their crime
- community service should be restricted to people who show remorse – or are sorry for the crime they committed
Focus on vocabulary – think word families for cohesion and collocations
One problem with an essay on law and order is that most of the vocabulary in this area is quite technical. To help you, I have highlighted the “crime” language in this essay. One thing to note is that I am quite clever in how I vary my words. I do not try and use lots of different words, rather I take a family of words and use the different words in that family. This not only makes the essay easier to write by using fewer words, it also helps it’s cohesion – all these words link to each other and so link the essay together. It is not always the case that you need to use “different” words.
The word families
- minor offences – less serious offences – offenders – minor offenders – first time offenders – re-offend
- criminals – career criminals – hardened criminals
- custodial sentences – non-custodial sentences
- community service order – community work – work in the community
The technical language and collocations
The other crime vocabulary I have highlighted in green. One point to note here is that most of these phrases work well because they use word combination or collocations well.
- shows remorse = you could also use “be sorry for” and you should note the use of “show” in the phrase
- mitigating factors = you could also use “good reasons to explain why they committed that crime”
- sending them to prison: note the phrase send to prison
- written graffiti: you can use another “minor crime” here – the idea is to show that you can use and know some technical vocabulary
- caught driving when drunk = note the use of “catch” here to complete the phrase
- they are ordered to = simple language works too
- sanction = you could just use “punishment”
- judges = some more semi-technical language
The essay to read and download
Read the complete essay
It has never been straightforward to know how to decide to punish criminals for their actions. It does seem clear, though, in this day and age that work in the community is a viable alternative to custodial sentences for minor offences and, perhaps, in cases where there are mitigating factors. In this essay, I attempt to explain when I believe these community service orders should be made.
The first set of circumstances when community work is the appropriate sanction is for less serious offences when the offender shows remorse for his actions. Part of the reason for this is that it may be wrong to take away someone’s livelihood by sending them to prison, simply because they have written graffiti on a wall. Likewise, there is a significant danger that these minor offenders would become hardened criminals if they spent time with career criminals in prison. I would emphasise, however, that it should be a condition that the criminal regrets his actions and it is only appropriate for first time offenders.
The other major instance when there is a strong argument to order people to work in the community is when their crimes are unlikely to be repeated. For example, someone who has caused an accident and been caught driving when drunk may not be sent to prison if they were driving their pregnant wife to hospital. In this case, it seems much better if they are ordered to help the community in some way such as working in a shelter for the homeless.
In summary, prison is in my view not always the best sanction and there are certain circumstances when non-custodial sentences may be both more effective and more just. In particular, judges may decide not to send to prison minor offenders and people who are unlikely to re-offend.
The downloadIELTS prison and community service essay (3625)
Are you applying to a college or a scholarship that requires a community service essay? Do you know how to write an essay that will impress readers and clearly show the impact your work had on yourself and others?
Read on to learn step-by-step instructions for writing a great community service essay that will help you stand out and be memorable.
What Is a Community Service Essay? Why Do You Need One?
A community service essay is an essay that describes the volunteer work you did and the impact it had on you and your community. Community service essays can vary widely depending on specific requirements listed in the application, but, in general, they describe the work you did, why you found the work important, and how it benefited people around you.
Community service essays are typically needed for two reasons:
1. To Apply to College
- Some colleges require students to write community service essays as part of their application or to be eligible for certain scholarships.
- You may also choose to highlight your community service work in your personal statement.
2. To Apply for Scholarships
- Some scholarships are specifically awarded to students with exceptional community service experiences, and many use community service essays to help choose scholarship recipients.
- Green Mountain College offers one of the most famous of these scholarships. Their "Make a Difference Scholarship" offers full tuition, room, and board to students who have demonstrated a significant, positive impact through their community service
Getting Started With Your Essay
In the following sections, I'll go over each step of how to plan and write your essay. I'll also include sample excerpts for you to look through so you can get a better idea of what readers are looking for when they review your essay.
Step 1: Know the Essay Requirements
Before your start writing a single word, you should be familiar with the essay prompt. Each college or scholarship will have different requirements for their essay, so make sure you read these carefully and understand them.
Specific things to pay attention to include:
- Length requirement
- Application deadline
- The main purpose or focus of the essay
- If the essay should follow a specific structure
Below are three real community service essay prompts. Read through them and notice how much they vary in terms of length, detail, and what information the writer should include.
From the AXA Achievement Scholarship:
"Describe your outstanding achievement in depth and provide the specific planning, training, goals, and steps taken to make the accomplishment successful. Include details about your role and highlight leadership you provided. Your essay must be a minimum of 350 words but not more than 600 words."
From the Laura W. Bush Traveling Scholarship:
"Essay (up to 500 words, double spaced) explaining your interest in being considered for the award and how your proposed project reflects or is related to both UNESCO’s mandate and U.S. interests in promoting peace by sharing advances in education, science, culture, and communications."
From the LULAC National Scholarship Fund:
"Please type or print an essay of 300 words (maximum) on how your academic studies will contribute to your personal & professional goals. In addition, please discuss any community service or extracurricular activities you have been involved in that relate to your goals."
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas
Even after you understand what the essay should be about, it can still be difficult to begin writing. Answer the following questions to help brainstorm essay ideas. You may be able to incorporate your answers into your essay.
- What community service activity that you’ve participated in has meant the most to you?
- What is your favorite memory from performing community service?
- Why did you decide to begin community service?
- What made you decide to volunteer where you did?
- How has your community service changed you?
- How has your community service helped others?
- How has your community service affected your plans for the future?
You don’t need to answer all the questions, but if you find you have a lot of ideas for one of two of them, those may be things you want to include in your essay.
Writing Your Essay
How you structure your essay will depend on the requirements of the scholarship or school you are applying to. You may give an overview of all the work you did as a volunteer, or highlight a particularly memorable experience. You may focus on your personal growth or how your community benefited. Regardless of the specific structure requested, follow the guidelines below to make sure your community service essay is memorable and clearly shows the impact of your work.
Samples of mediocre and excellent essays are included below to give you a better idea of how you should draft your own essay.
Step 1: Hook Your Reader In
You want the person reading your essay to be interested, so your first sentence should hook them in and entice them to read more. A good way to do this is to start in the middle of the action. Your first sentence could describe you helping build a house, releasing a rescued animal back to the wild, watching a student you tutored read a book on their own, or something else that quickly gets the reader interested. This will help set your essay apart and make it more memorable.
Compare these two opening sentences:
"I have volunteered at the Wishbone Pet Shelter for three years."
"The moment I saw the starving, mud-splattered puppy brought into the shelter with its tail between its legs, I knew I'd do whatever I could to save it."
The first sentence is a very general, bland statement. The majority of community service essays probably begin a lot like it, but it gives the reader little information and does nothing to draw them in. On the other hand, the second sentence begins immediately with action and helps persuade the reader to keep reading so they can learn what happened to the dog.
Step 2: Discuss the Work You Did
Once you’ve hooked your reader in with your first sentence, tell them about your community service experiences. State where you work, when you began working, how much time you’ve spent there, and what your main duties include. This will help the reader quickly put the rest of the essay in context and understand the basics of your community service work.
Not including basic details about your community service could leave your reader confused.
Step 3: Include Specific Details
It’s the details of your community service that make your experience unique and memorable, so go into the specifics of what you did. For example, don’t just say you volunteered at a nursing home; talk about reading Mrs. Johnson her favorite book, watching Mr. Scott win at bingo, and seeing the residents play games with their grandchildren at the family day you organized. Try to include specific activities, moments, and people in your essay. Having details like these let the readers really understand what work you did and how it differs from other volunteer experiences.
Compare these two passages:
"For my volunteer work, I tutored children at a local elementary school. I helped them improve their math skills and become more confident students."
"As a volunteer at York Elementary School, I worked one-on-one with second and third graders who struggled with their math skills, particularly addition, subtraction, and fractions. As part of my work, I would create practice problems and quizzes and try to connect math to the students' interests. One of my favorite memories was when Sara, a student I had been working with for several weeks, told me that she enjoyed the math problems I had created about a girl buying and selling horses so much that she asked to help me create math problems for other students."
The first passage only gives basic information about the work done by the volunteer; there is very little detail included, and no evidence is given to support her claims. How did she help students improve their math skills? How did she know they were becoming more confident?
The second passage is much more detailed. It recounts a specific story and explains more fully what kind of work the volunteer did, as well as a specific instance of a student becoming more confident with her math skills. Providing more detail in your essay helps support your claims as well as make your essay more memorable and unique.
Step 4: Show Your Personality
It would be very hard to get a scholarship or place at a school if none of your readers felt like they knew much about you after finishing your essay, so make sure that your essay shows your personality. The way to do this is to state your personal strengths, then provide examples to support your claims. Take some time to think about which parts of your personality you would like your essay to highlight, then write about specific examples to show this.
- If you want to show that you’re a motivated leader, describe a time when you organized an event or supervised other volunteers.
- If you want to show your teamwork skills, write about a time you helped a group of people work together better.
- If you want to show that you’re a compassionate animal lover, write about taking care of neglected shelter animals and helping each of them find homes.
Step 5: State What You Accomplished
After you have described your community service and given specific examples of your work, you want to begin to wrap your essay up by stating your accomplishments. What was the impact of your community service? Did you build a house for a family to move into? Help students improve their reading skills? Clean up a local park? Make sure the impact of your work is clear; don’t be worried about bragging here.
If you can include specific numbers, that will also strengthen your essay. Saying “I delivered meals to 24 home-bound senior citizens” is a stronger example than just saying “I delivered meals to lots of senior citizens."
Also be sure to explain why your work matters. Why is what you did important? Did it provide more parks for kids to play in? Help students get better grades? Give people medical care who would otherwise not have gotten it? This is an important part of your essay, so make sure to go into enough detail that your readers will know exactly what you accomplished and how it helped your community.
Compare these two passages:
"My biggest accomplishment during my community service was helping to organize a family event at the retirement home. The children and grandchildren of many residents attended, and they all enjoyed playing games and watching movies together."
"The community service accomplishment that I'm most proud of is the work I did to help organize the First Annual Family Fun Day at the retirement home. My job was to design and organize fun activities that senior citizens and their younger relatives could enjoy. The event lasted eight hours and included ten different games, two performances, and a movie screening with popcorn. Almost 200 residents and family members attended throughout the day. This event was important because it provided an opportunity for senior citizens to connect with their family members in a way they aren't often able to. It also made the retirement home seem more fun and enjoyable to children, and we have seen an increase in the number of kids coming to visit their grandparents since the event."
The second passage is stronger for a variety of reasons. First, it goes into much more detail about the work the volunteer did. The first passage only states that she helped "organize a family event." That really doesn't tell readers much about her work or what her responsibilities were. The second passage is much clearer; her job was to "design and organize fun activities."
The second passage also explains the event in more depth. A family day can be many things; remember that your readers are likely not familiar with what you're talking about, so details help them get a clearer picture. Lastly, the second passage makes the importance of the event clear: it helped residents connect with younger family members, and it helped retirement homes seem less intimidating to children, so now some residents see their grand kids more often.
Step 6: Discuss What You Learned
One of the final things to include in your essay should be the impact that your community service had on you. You can discuss skills you learned, such as carpentry, public speaking, animal care, or another skill. You can also talk about how you changed personally. Are you more patient now? More understanding of others? Do you have a better idea of the type of career you want? Go into depth about this, but be honest. Don’t say your community service changed your life if it didn’t because trite statements won’t impress readers.
In order to support your statements, provide more examples. If you say you’re more patient now, how do you know this? Do you get less frustrated while playing with your younger siblings? Are you more willing to help group partners who are struggling with their part of the work? You’ve probably noticed by now that including specific examples and details is one of the best ways to create a strong and believable essay.
Compare these two passages:
"As a result of my community service, I learned a lot about building houses and became a more mature person."
"As a result of my community service, I gained hands-on experience in construction. I learned how to read blueprints, use a hammer and nails, and begin constructing the foundation of a two-bedroom house. Working on the house could be challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate the value of hard work and be more willing to pitch in when I see someone needs help. My dad has just started building a shed in our backyard, and I offered to help him with it because I know from my community service how much work it is. I also appreciate my own house more, and I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head."
The second passage is more impressive and memorable because it describes the skills the writer learned in more detail and recounts a specific story that supports her claim that her community service changed her and made her more helpful.
Step 7: Finish Strong
Just as you started your essay in a way that would grab readers’ attention, you want to finish your essay on a strong note as well. A good way to end your essay is to state again the impact your work had on you, your community, or both. Reiterate how you changed as a result of your community service, why you found the work important, or how it helped others.
Compare these two concluding statements:
"In conclusion, I learned a lot from my community service at my local museum, and I hope to keep volunteering and learning more about history."
"To conclude, volunteering at my city's American History Museum has been a great experience. By leading tours and participating in special events, I became better at public speaking and am now more comfortable starting conversations with people. In return, I was able to get more community members interested in history and our local museum. My interest in history has deepened, and I look forward to studying the subject in college and hopefully continuing my volunteer work at my university's own museum."
The second passage takes each point made in the first passage and expands upon it. In a few sentences, the second passage is able to clearly convey what work the volunteer did, how she changed, and how her volunteer work benefited her community. She also ends her essay discussing her future and how she'd like to continue her community service, which is a good way to wrap things up because it shows your readers that you are committed to community service for the long-term.
Are you applying to a community service scholarship or thinking about it? We have a complete list of all the community service scholarships available to help get your search started!
Do you need a community service letter as well? We have a step-by-step guide that will tell you how to get a great reference letter from your community service supervisor.
Thinking about doing community service abroad? Before you sign up, read our guide on some of the hazards of international volunteer trips and how to know if it's the right choice for you.
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