We’ve seen many examples of how to write an essay on an argument topic, that is, a topic that requires you to give your opinion. However, it’s not always necessary to give your opinion on an issue. Sometimes you need to understand a problem, discuss its causes and effects, and give possible solutions. This kind of essay can be referred to as a Problem & Solution Essay. They are sometimes called Cause & Effect essays.
Here are some common Task 2 Essay prompts on the topic of crime that require a Problem & Solution Essay:
As you can see, these topics are stating factual information and so it is not necessary for us to give our opinions. We should assume that the information in the topic is true and proceed from there. In this type of essay you should not try to argue with the main statement!
Most Problem & Solution Essays should follow this basic structure:
In some cases, you may need to combine the cause and effect paragraphs to leave room for more solutions. Also, if you have a large amount of information, you can write a separate conclusion paragraph, but the above structure works well for most essays.
Let’s take a look at this topic to help us understand the best way to write about Problems & Solutions:
Similar to Argument-style essays, you need to write an introduction which gives basic information about the topic. This can be taken from the topic itself and modified slightly. (Remember, it’s ok to copy a little bit from the topic!) In a Problem & Solution essay, we don’t need to give our opinion, but the overall introduction paragraph will be the same. We should begin by saying what the problem is, then explaining why the problem is important, and briefly describing what we will write about.
A good introduction for the above topic would be:
These days, overpopulation in prisons is becoming a serious problem in many countries. Obviously, this situation creates serious negative repercussions for individuals and for society as a whole. The following essay will outline some of the possible causes for the increase in imprisonment, discuss its effects on society, and suggest some ways to resolve this issue.
The most difficult thing about writing a Problem & Solution Essay is having the correct information on hand. Remember that the examiner is not worried about whether or not your essay is 100% factual. They are concerned about your ability to use English! However, it’s usually not a good idea to invent statistics or completely lie about information. (Some people are simply bad at lying!) It’s better to use HEDGING to make “soft” statements that cannot be wrongly interpreted.
Do you know why the prison population is growing? It’s ok if you don’t. Just make an intelligent guess and use HEDGING to soften your idea. For example:
There are many possible reasons as to why the prison population is growing in developed countries. It could be due to an increase in urban population, which brings a large number of people together in a small area. When many diverse groups of people live together in close proximity, there’s bound to be confusion, conflict, and crime. Another possible reason for the growing number of prison inmates is income inequality. As the gap between the rich and the poor grows larger, more and more people are likely to feel desperate for financial stability, thus turning to criminal activities to make ends meet.
You can see that the writer is not completely sure of the information, but does a good job of presenting his or her guesses in an intelligent way. Reread the preceding paragraph and circle all of the hedging words!
Now let’s talk about possible effects. These are usually easier to describe than causes, since we can observe them in the world around us. Use your common sense!
There is no doubt that having a large number of citizens in jail is a profoundly undesirable situation. Prisoners, who are usually male, leave behind their families and live in terrible, violent conditions. Women and children without financial support become reliant on the government, putting pressure on an already overstretched system. Furthermore, young men who lose their fathers to prison may become marginalized by society and end up turning into criminals themselves, continuing this vicious cycle. Additionally, the cost of maintaining prison facilities can be very high and consume funding that could certainly be used in a more positive manner.
Now we just need to offer a few solutions and conclude our essay. Again, you don’t need to worry if your solution is not perfect. You are not a political commentator or a sociologist (or maybe not yet!) but you need to show that you have enough language to write intelligently on a wide range of topics. Give your best ideas and use accurate vocabulary that you know. It’s alright to give your opinion at this point. It’s even ok to admit that the problem is difficult to solve, like so:
The problem of overcrowding in prisons is undoubtedly a difficult one with no clear solution. In my opinion, we must start by reducing income inequality and removing people’s motivation to commit crime. It might also be useful to institute other forms of punishment, such as community service, for non-violent offenders. Reducing the number of people in prison and increasing the number of productive citizens would certainly change society for the better.
Are you ready to try one?? Pick one of the topics given at the top of the page and write a brief outline for a Problem & Solution Essay. You don’t need to write down everything now, but you should have a clear idea of what the main points will be. Making this type of plan will REALLY help you during the exam, and ensure that you have plenty of time to finish your essay.