IELTS Writing Problem Solution Essay

In a problem solution essay you are asked to provide causes of a problem and possible solutions to resolve it. These problems can be some major world issues like homelessness or global warming. Since the world’s governments can’t even solve these issues, you’re not expected to come up with the solution that will make the difference for humanity. Simply identifying key causes and linking ideas that will lessen their effect is sufficient.

Strategy

The following strategy will help you to quickly structure a decent answer to one of these questions. There may be other ways to answer a problem solution essay question – you simply need one that will work with the majority of problem solution questions.

Step 1: Understand the Issue

As with other IELTS writing task 2 questions, the first step is to understand the question.

To help, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why is the issue important?
  2. What causes the problem?
  3. What would reduce or resolve those causes?
Example

As an example, let’s take the following question:

In many major cities, traffic congestion is a daily problem for commuters.

As usual, we can often find a reason for caring about this issue that is linked to the economy. In this case, traffic congestion means lost productivity for workers and delays for any goods that are being moved by road. We can also find other good reasons too: traffic congestion means more exhaust emissions are adding to global warming while being stuck in traffic jams causes stress, which may lower the general health of the population.

There are many causes of traffic congestion, including:

  • too many people live in cities and own cars;
  • commuters travel to the same part of the city at the same times of day;
  • road layouts are inefficient for the volume of traffic.

To resolve these causes isn’t that difficult. We don’t need to be that creative here – obvious solutions are not necessarily bad. For now, we’ll save the solutions until we get to our solutions paragraph.

Step 2: Write the Introduction

As with our essays, a problem solution essay has an introduction consisting of:

  • global statement;
  • thesis statement;
  • outline statement.

The global statement tells the reader why it is an important issue, e.g.

For many commuters, traffic congestion has become a norm of our daily lives. Despite its normalcy, this problem causes huge losses to businesses while also resulting in unnecessary exhaust emissions being released into the air.

For a problem solution essay, you generally will say that you believe something needs to be done about the issue.

It should therefore be high on the agenda of every politician to tackle this issue…

In your outline statement you should briefly indicate the causes you will mention:

…which is caused by rising numbers of car owners travelling to the same parts of the city every day.

Step 3: Write the Body

In a problem solution essay, our two body paragraphs are going to deal with the causes and the solutions in that order.

Causes

In your causes paragraph, aim to give two causes of the problem and expand upon them. Just like in the other essays, we start with a topic statement and then back it up with explanation and example. Don’t expect the examiner to make huge logical leaps – even if you think it is simple, say how this cause contributes to the problem.

The biggest cause of this problem is that city populations continue to rise while more people own a car. This is not only a result of high birth rates, but also migration to cities from rural areas or even from abroad. Another major cause is that most employers tend to be based in the centre of a city and expect their employees to arrive and leave at the same time. If the majority of employees are expected at 9am, they will therefore all likely be close to the city centre at 8:50am, resulting in heavy traffic.

Solutions

The second body paragraph should deal with solutions. In my experience, this is where students tend to struggle with this essay, but it is not too difficult to come up with some effective solutions using the following framework:

Coming Up With Solutions

In most problems, a government can try to resolve the causes using three tools:

Legal solutions

A government can make law or pass legislation. This law can do one of four things:

  • prohibit something – i.e. make it illegal to do something
  • restrict something – i.e. reduce the amount people can do something
  • obligate something – i.e. make people do something
  • enable something – i.e. allow people to do something

Financial solutions

A government can try to get people to do something by giving them a financial incentive to do it. For example:

  • impose/increase taxes on something (to discourage it)
  • decrease taxes on something (to encourage it)
  • offer subsidies on something
  • offer grants/scholarships/loans for something (usually education)
  • provide foreign aid (to poorer nations)

Ethical/Educational solutions

Maybe the problem is just not really known about or requires a major attitude shift from the public. In this case the government might:

  • raise awareness of the issue
  • remove the negative stigma associated with something
Our Example

In terms of our example, we can possibly find multiple solutions from the above ideas.

Cause 1 – too many cars in cities

  1. prohibit anyone from owning a car or living in cities (sure, it is extreme, so probably not the one we’ll go with)
  2. increase the driving age, make the driving test more difficult or add more requirements to owning a car to restrict car ownership
  3. increase taxes on car ownership e.g. sales tax, insurance tax, road tax, fuel tax
  4. decrease alternative transport costs by reducing tax or subsidising public transport

In my view, the fourth option (possibly along with the third) would be the most effective.

Cause #2 – driving to the same place

Again we can find many solutions:

  1. encourage home working where possible by increasing taxes on business properties or decreasing taxes for businesses with high percentages of home workers
  2. use similar measures to encourage companies to allow their staff to come at staggered times
  3. restrict the number of drivers who can drive into the city centre
  4. provide grants, loans or subsidies to businesses to set up outside of the city centre

My preferred choice would be a combination of 1, 2 and 4 although it is best to pick one solution only.

And so for the solutions paragraph:

One solution is for the government to try to reduce the number of cars in cities. This can be done by ensuring high quality public transport exists and subsidising the cost of this transport for city residents. Additionally, problems can also be reduced by incentivising businesses  to offer their employees more flexible working arrangements such as home-working or different start times. This would reduce the number of cars travelling to the main commercial centres at the same time of day.

Step 4: Write the Conclusion

The final paragraph is your conclusion. Remember to:

  • rephrase the causes
  • rephrase the solutions

Traffic congestion continues to grow in major population centres due to increasing urban populations and the continued practice of fixed working hours in offices. Ensuring the provision of high quality but affordable public transport and encouraging businesses to adopt other ways of working can help to overcome this complex issue.

Practice Questions

Click here for all IELTS writing task 2 practice questions and sample answers.

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