Signpost Essay

When you take a road trip (and let’s say your smart phone has died), you have to rely on other things. Along the highway are mileage markers and other signposts that tell you how many miles to your destination and what towns, rest stops, etc. are in between.  This allows you to track your progress and to see how far you still have to go, and perhaps what towns in between you might want to stop at to take a break.

Signposts in Writing


You may not have heard the term and so you may not know what is a signpost in writing. In a way, a reader of your essay or paper (or any other kind of academic writing) is on a bit of a trip. They expect to follow a logical path through the points you make, and that path should be very clear. Essay signposting takes care of this. They are words or phrases that move your reader forward to the next point with no confusion. The word, “for example,” is a typical signpost. The reader now knows that you are going to further explain the point you are making by putting that little extra phrase in.

Transitions and Signposts

Sometimes, especially in the middle of a paragraph, transitional words and signposts can be the same thing. When you used the words, “first, second, third,” etc., you have used signpost writing that is actually a transition too – it tells your reader that you have finished one point and are moving onto the next. While generally, when people think about what are signposts in writing, they think in terms of words or short phrases. In fact, there can also be signpost sentences.

If, for example, you have summarized a point made by an expert, and you are moving to another expert’s opinion that differs, your signpost writing could be a whole sentence. “John Jones, however, disagrees with Mr. Smith.” There you go, and your reader gets where you are going now.

Signposting in Writing is Important

One of the things your professor wants to see is a really clear flow of what you are writing. Having transitions between paragraphs takes care of some of this, but within paragraphs, there have to be words and phrases too. Signposting in essays takes care of this.

So, Let’s Look at Some Signposting Words for Essays

The Biggies

These are full sentences or long phrases that occur when a student needs to provide a road map, usually at the beginning of an essay or a paragraph. Examples include:

  • The issues addressed in this essay are……
  • The discussion of this issue includes the following points.
  • We can conclude all of the following:

Smaller Phrases and Words

Giving a signpost in writing can be for many purposes

  1. To emphasize a point you are making: “More important, furthermore, in fact,”
  2. Getting more specific: “in terms of, in particular, to be more specific”
  3. Giving examples: “for instance, for example, such as”
  4. Introducing a comparison: “on the other hand, however, in comparison to”
  5. Voice a similarity: “likewise, also, again”
  6. To summarize: “finally, overall, in conclusion”

You can check your signposting essay writing as you review and revise your rough draft of any essay or paper you produce. In fact, you must do this. Ask yourself if you are leading your reader clearly from one point to the next. If not, fix it with some signposts.

Essay Writing – It’s Complicated

There is a lot to think about when you write an essay, and signposting is just one more thing to add to your plate in this process. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, especially when you are in a hurry and know you don’t have time to write and then polish an essay that is due quickly. In these situations, it is not a “blot” on your character to make use of a professional writing service. And if you need to locate one, you can check out the best essay writing service reviews that are now on a number of high quality review websites. You’ll get truthful information provided by actual customers.

As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, linking and sequencing your ideas in Writing Task 2 is crucial to scoring high in the assessment criterion of Coherence and Cohesion. You may have some great points to make but if they are presented in a disjointed way, it makes it difficult for the examiner to follow your line of argument. Your ideas should be presented logically in paragraphs and you should use signposting language to guide your reader.

What do I mean by ‘signposting’ language? Well, the words and phrases used to signal the connections between your ideas. For instance, when you want to introduce an example, you might choose the phrase I’ve just used: ‘for instance’. When you want to make a comparison, you might begin your sentence with a word like ‘similarly’. Used throughout your essay, they help to make your ideas obvious to your reader.

In this week’s post, I will give you a range of functions for which we need signposting language as well as examples of each. Then next week, I will give you a text, a model Task 2 essay, where you will have to identify and/or add the signposting language yourself.

So, here are some instances of when you should use linking and sequencing words and phrases in your Task 2 essay.

Introducing an example:

  • For instance
  • For example
  • In this case
  • In particular
  • Notably

Providing extra information:

  • In addition
  • Moreover
  • Also
  • Not only…but..
  • What is more
  • Furthermore
  • Again

Suggesting a result:

  • In consequence
  • Therefore
  • As a result

To prove something:

  • Evidently
  • For this reason
  • Due to this
  • Because of this
  • Inevitably

Introducing a contrast/show an exception:

  • However
  • Whereas (one thing…),
  • Nevertheless
  • In contrast
  • Despite this,…
  • Even though
  • Alternatively
  • Conversely
  • On the one hand…; on the other hand…

To emphasise something:

  • Definitely
  • Obviously
  • Inevitably
  • Undeniably

To order your ideas:

  • Firstly
  • In the first instance
  • In general
  • Secondly
  • Finally

To finish your essay

  • In conclusion
  • To summarise
  • To conclude

Do you know of any others? Can you add them to the list? From now on, whenever you read any IELTS essays during your exam preparation, make a note of the signposting language and how and why it is used. Learn some phrases by heart and make a point of including one example in each paragraph of your essay(s). Remember to check back next week for some practice activities.

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Filed Under: Writing Task 2

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