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GCSE English

Thanks to Shahzeb for contributing the notes!


    1. 1.1 Character through description
    2. 1.2 Character through action
    3. 1.3 Character through speech
    4. 1.4 Settings which create meaning
    5. 1.5 Settings which create mood or atmosphere
    1. 2.1 Sound effects
    2. 2.2 Imagery
    3. 2.3 Purpose, tone and attitude
    4. 2.4 Form
    1. 3.1 Interpreting character and meaning
    2. 3.2 Dramatic devices
    3. 3.3 Radio, television and film scripts
    1. 4.1 Metaphor and symbolism
    2. 4.2 Irony
    1. 5.1 Comparing poems
    2. 5.2 Comparing prose
    1. 6.1 Place and time
    2. 6.2 Cultural, social and historical settings
    3. 6.3 Dramatic effect
    1. 7.1 SECSI
    1. 8.1 Prose texts
    2. 8.2 Poetry texts
    3. 8.3 Drama texts
    1. 9.1 Other non-fiction texts
    2. 9.2 Responding to non-fiction
  10. 10 MEDIA TEXTS
    1. 10.1 Audience
    2. 10.2 Purpose
    3. 10.3 Media language
    4. 10.4 Structural and presentational devices
    1. 11.1 Creating atmosphere
    2. 11.2 Travel writing
    1. 12.1 Technical language
    1. 13.1 Other devices
  16. 16 SPELLING
  22. 22 WRITING
    1. 22.1 Writing to explore, imagine and entertain
    2. 22.2 Writing to inform, explain and describe
    3. 22.3 Writing to argue, persuade and instruct
    4. 22.4 Writing to analyse, review and comment
    5. 22.5 Personal and impersonal analytical writing
    1. 26.1 Before the exam
    2. 26.2 In the exam
      1. 26.2.1 All types of writing
      2. 26.2.2 Avoiding common mistakes


Examiners will expect you to explain how writers create interesting characters and use them to convey ideas and attitudes. There are three basic ways of doing this, although often they will be used in combination.

Character through description

This is the first description of Mrs Kingshaw in I’m the King of the Castle by Susan Hill: 

She was widowed, she was thirty-seven, and she was to become what he had termed an informal housekeeper. 

There is no physical description, so we have no idea at this stage what Mrs Kingshaw looks like. Our interest is gained by making us wonder, for example, what has attracted Mr Hooper to Mrs Kingshaw? What does he mean by ‘informal housekeeper’? So the author’s technique is one of giving a little information to make us want to read on.

Descriptions may be more detailed. This is Marian in The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley:

Her father’s long eyelids drooped over her eyes, leaving under them a glint of blue so deep and liquid that it might have been shining through an unshed tear. Her hair was bright with sunshine, but her face, which was full like her mother’s, only pale rose-pink instead of cream, wore a stern brooding look that her small curved nose made almost hawk-like.

You could sketch Marians appearance from this information, but not Mrs Kingshaw. However, there is a similarity in the descriptions, and it is an important technique which you should comment on when writing about character. This is the implicit meaning in the descriptions; that is, what the authors are suggesting about the characters. Marian is obviously beautiful, but words such as stern, broodingand hawk- likehint at harsh elements in her character; the lack of information about Mrs Kingshaw makes her seem mysterious and even a little threatening. Susan Hill and L. P. Hartley have got us speculating about their characters in one case through lack of detail, and in the other through the amount of detail! 

Character through action

Rather than simply describe them, the author may show us characters doing things. Our reactions to what they do help us decide what kind of people they are. When Billy Casper in A Kestrel for a Knave washes his hands after a fight at school, he plays with a soap bubble:

He tilted his hand and shifted his head to catch the colours from different angles and in different lights, and while he was looking it vanished, leaving him looking at a lathered palm.

What is the author, Barry Hines, telling us? Despite his problems, Billy is a sensitive lad who delights in the natural world around him. On a more basic level, he is not used to having hot water and soap to wash with!

Character through speech

Squealer in Animal Farm by George Orwell shows his character through what he says. Here we see his cunning and disregard for the other animals:

We pigs are brain workers. The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink that milk and eat those apples. Do you know what would happen if we pigs failed in our duty? Yes, Jones would come back!

It is what he says which shows Squealers nature. Sometimes it will be how a character says something which is revealing. In The Darkness Out There by Penelope Lively, Mrs Rutter shows how little she minds about the death of a German airman (but also her anger at the death of her own husband in the war) by commenting, Tit for tat...

Apart from character, the aspect of prose fiction which most influences how you respond to an authors concerns is setting. Setting means the ways in which places or objects are used to create meaning, atmosphere or mood.

Settings which create meaning

Sometimes a description will appear to be literal or neutral if the writer simply wants to establish where something is happening:

The house, which was called Warings, had been built by the boy’s great-grandfather, and so it was not very old. In those days, there had been a large village, and the first Joseph Hooper had owned a good deal of land. Now, the village had shrunk, people had left for the towns and there had been few newcomers, few new buildings. Derne had become like an old busy port which has been deserted by the sea.

That extract from Im the King of the Castle gives background information in a straightforward way. Even so, a skilful writer like Susan Hill cannot avoid suggesting in the final sentence that the village has not merely shrunk in size, but has actually been rejected by people what is wrong with this place, the reader might wonder.

Descriptions of places are often used to create meaning. In this passage from Lord of the Flies, the sea is made to seem monstrous and threatening:

...it seemed like the breathing of some stupendous creature. Slowly the waters sank among the rocks, revealing pink tables of granite, strange growths of coral, polyp, and weed. Down, down, the waters went, whispering like the wind among the heads of the forest. There was one flat rock there, spread like a table, and the waters sucking down on the four weedy sides made them seem like cliffs. Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out – the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar.

Words such as breathing, creature, growths, whispering, heads, suckingand breathedgive the sea human qualities. These convey both the threat of the environment and the fear of the boy watching it. So, as well as helping to establish William Goldings theme of savagery, the passage also tells us about Ralphs feelings.

Settings which create mood or atmosphere

Setting can thus be used to illustrate a characters mood, or to set the tone of a story. The narrator in Dylan Thomass The Outing tells us:

The charabanc pulled up outside the Mountain Sheep, a small, unhappy public house with a thatched roof like a wig with ringworm ...

Here the mix of comedy and disappointment reflects both the narrators feelings and the atmosphere of the story.

Barry Hines begins A Kestrel for a Knave with this paragraph:

There were no curtains up. The window was a hard edged block the colour of the night sky. Inside the bedroom the darkness was of a gritty texture. The wardrobe and the bed were blurred shapes in the darkness. Silence.

This sets the mood for the whole story, which is indeed hardand gritty. This silenceis not peaceful, but threatening, with the blurred shapeslurking in the darkness.

When you consider setting, look for meaning both in what is described and how it is described; think about what these choices tell you about characters in the story or about the actual themes and ideas of the story. Look especially at the words used, and any images such as William Goldings comparison of the sea to a monster or Dylan Thomass comparison of the thatch to a rotten wig. 


Sound effects

When you read a poem, what does it sound like? Do the sounds have anything to do with its subject matter? If you speak a poem out loud, how much effort does it take to pronounce the words? Do the sounds of the words, and the effort it takes to make them, help you share the poets feelings or sense the atmosphere the poet is trying to create?

When Wilfred Owen, a soldier-poet of the First World War, writes about the merciless iced east winds that knive us, the sounds (that is, all the cs, ss and is) make you feel as though you are experiencing the biting cold, and sharing his despair.

Owens line shows examples of both alliteration (when the same sound is repeated, for example the cs, ss and is) and of onomatopoeia (when the sound of a word imitates the sound of what it describes). Windis an onomatopoeic word, as you make a blowing sound when you pronounce it. So is knive, as the sound of the word is sharp and violent, just like the effect of the cold wind it describes.

Poets often use alliteration and onomatopoeia together. Their choice of words may also be influenced by the physical effort the reader needs to make when speaking them out loud. In the Owen extract, kniveends with a rasping v sound, and the cs and ss in the other words are very forceful too as you need to force air between your teeth to pronounce them.

In complete contrast, Lord Alfred Tennyson uses gentle, soothing sounds in the following lines from his poem In Memoriam. These require little effort on the speakers part and so reinforce the alliteration and onomatopoeia. They create the effect of a hot, drowsy summer afternoon.

The moan of doves in immemorial elms And the murmuring of innumerable bees 


Poets often use original imagery to convey their meaning. The image may relate an object, place or emotion to something with which you are familiar, so that you can share the poets feelings. When Gillian Clarke writes Like peaty water sun slowly fills the long brown roomshe is using a simile, where the word likemakes a direct comparison of one thing (sunlight) to something else (peaty water). In this example, the simile helps you picture a room which remains rather gloomy and mysterious despite the brightness which comes into it. It allows you to share the feelings of apprehension which the poem describes.

Imagery may be used to shock you into seeing something in a different way, if the poet compares the familiar or comfortable with something frightening or disturbing. For example, to Ted Hughes thistles

are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects. Every one manages a plume of blood. 

Here there is a simile in the first sentence. The reference to
a plume of bloodis a metaphor there isnt really blood on the thistles, just a purply-red colouring on their tips, but the image suggests the violence Ted Hughes associates with thistles.

Hughes also uses the technique known as personification, when objects or places are made to seem alive by the words used to describe them. In the final lines of Hughespoem, personification is combined with metaphor and simile to reinforce the threat he sees in thistles:

Then they grow grey like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear, 

Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground. 

Purpose, tone and attitude

When you respond to a poem, you need to think what is it about and why was it written? Does it make you see situations in a new light or understand feelings in greater depth? When Gillian Clarke describes her car, left near a building which was being demolished, in her poem Jac Codi Baw as

splattered with the stone’s blood, smoky with ghosts. 

her purpose is to help us reflect on how much is actually being destroyed.

Tone refers to the way in which the poet addresses you. It may be to question you or challenge your thinking, as when George Herbert writes in Jordan:

Who says that fictions only and false hair Become a verse? 

Or the tone may be quite matter-of-fact. Nissim Ezekiel begins the poem Night of the Scorpion:

I remember the night my mother was stung by a scorpion. 

Attitude means the poets viewpoint: is the Iin the poem the poet him or herself, or is the writing ironically putting forward ideas the poet does not hold? In the lines by Gillian Clarke above, it seems quite clear that she is expressing her own attitude of sadness. But to decide if Simon Armitage is being honest in his poem which begins:

I am very bothered when I think

of the bad things I have done in my life. 

you would need to consider the whole poem very carefully. 


The form of a poem can also affect your response to it. Regular rhyme and rhythm may often create a happy, light-hearted mood and convey simple ideas or the poet may use the form ironically to contrast with, and emphasise, a sombre message. This is what William Blake does in his poem London:

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,

And blights with plagues the marriage hearse. 

Poems which have an irregular rhythm and little, or no, rhyme can seem more like a conversation. It may feel as though the poet is talking directly to you, especially if the language is blunt and everyday rather than formal. This is Seamus Heaney in his poem The Early Purges:

I was six when I first saw kittens drown.

Dan Taggart pitched them, ‘the scraggy wee shits’, 

Into a bucket 

Sometimes the form of a poem can imitate its meaning, as in the opening of this poem by Alice Walker, Poem at Thirty-Nine, where the shortening lines seem to illustrate her tired father running out of energy:

How I miss my father. 

I wish he had not been 

so tired
when I was


Always try to comment on the form of a poem: it is chosen for a purpose by the poet, as carefully as the ideas, words and images are chosen. 


Plays are written to be performed. Respond to them as a member of an audience what effect would situations, characters, language have on you?

  • How would the staging of each scene (the set, costumes, props) affect an audiences response?
  • What relationships do the characters have with each other? How is this signalled to the audience?
  • What is the play really about? In other words, what is the authors purpose or message? How is this made clear to the audience? 

Interpreting character and meaning

Responding to the authors use of language is crucial. This may be within stage directions, for example when the grumpy teacher in Willy Russells Our Day Out replies to a cheerful colleagues greeting: Morning.

Even a simple piece of punctuation can help. When Basil Fawlty says Sorry?to a guest, the question mark shows that he is either in one of his usual states of confusion or challenging aggressively. He is not being apologetic that would be out of character.

Authors may give detailed directions and descriptions, so that you react in a way which suits their purpose. When we first see Eliza in Shaws Pygmalion, the script says:

She is not at all a romantic figure. She is perhaps eighteen, perhaps twenty, hardly older. She wears a little sailor hat of black straw that has long been exposed to the dust and soot of London and has seldom, if ever, been brushed ... 

and so on, for another ten lines. What this kind of scripting tells us is that the playwright is particularly concerned that the audience sees the characters and receives the plays messageexactly as s/he imagined them.

Dramatic devices

Dramatists use various devices to shape the audiences reactions. In A View from the Bridge, Arthur Miller uses Alfieri not only as a character in the play, but also as a commentator to step out of the action and talk directly to us:

It was at this time that he first came to me. I had represented his father in an accident case some years before, and I was acquainted with the family in a casual way.
I remember him now as he walked through my doorway –

at which point the action resumes with that meeting, enabling Miller to switch timescales and have a mouthpiece for his message at the same time.

Dramatic irony that is, when you know more than the characters on stage can create striking effects. You may feel an almost physical involvement with the action at its most obvious level, this occurs in pantomime when a whole audience will shout out to a character on stage, Behind you!

Radio, television and film scripts

A radio play depends almost entirely on the power and originality of its language. So be prepared to comment on how the author captures your imagination through the choice of words, and how sound effects and silences add to the drama.

Comment on how television and film may use a range of special effects such as multiple screens, flashbacks, non-fiction inserts, long shots and close-ups to affect your response to characters and themes. In a visual medium, language may seem less important you may see characters in situations where no words are spoken. You need to consider whether the medium helps or hinders the authors purpose, and whether the author has exploited fully the technical possibilities offered by the medium. 


Writing which conveys factual information must make its meaning clear. It must not cause doubts or uncertainty in the readers mind. If you have to read this kind of text twice, it has failed in its purpose. The language of such texts avoids opinion, emotion and implication; the writers attitudes or personality are not important. Language is used here literally.

Literary texts are different: they have succeeded if you can find alternative meanings when you read them. The language of a well- written literary text is full of qualities such as the authors mood, ideas and values.

In literal language, a spade is a spade and a pen is a pen. Literary language, by using images and allusions (reference to a person, event or story), can make us see how one might be like the other. Read this extract from the poem Digging by Seamus Heaney:

Between my finger and my thumb 

The squat pen rests.

Ill dig with it. 

Seamus Heaney realises that his tool the pen is like his fathers tool which was a spade. Neither tool is better than the other, and both men create worthwhile things with them.

Metaphor and symbolism

Remember the power of the imagery from William Goldings Lord of the Flies:

...it seemed like the breathing of some stupendous creature... Then the sleeping leviathan breathed out – the waters rose, the weed streamed, and the water boiled over the table rock with a roar.

 Certain words give animal qualities to the sea. They convey the fear of the boy watching it. In the extract from Thistles by Ted Hughes (see page 10) we also saw how thistles could be symbolised as threatening in a human way through personification and imagery.


The meaning of literary texts is often conveyed through the way the reader understands a situation better than the characters involved in it. For example, in Barry HinesA Kestrel for a Knave, Mr Gryce the Headteacher sees nothing odd in singing a hymn about Gods love at an assembly mostly taken up by shouting at the pupils (and sometimes the staff). Irony may also be very bitter. An example is this extract from Siegfried Sassoons poem:

Does it matter? Losing your sight? 

Theres such splendid work for the blind: 

And people will always be kind. 

Irony can also be subtle. In Penelope Livelys The Darkness Out There, it is only at the end of the story that the reader realises how inappropriate this early, gentle description of Mrs Rutter is:

...the old woman was back in the armchair, a composite chintzy mass from which cushions oozed and her voice flowed softly on.

Dramatic irony is a common device in plays or sitcoms: you, the audience, know more than the characters on stage and so can be horrified or amused by what they say. In Fawlty Towers the audience is already cringing when Basil asks a guest And how is that lovely daughter of yours?long before Sybil quietly reminds him: Dead


One way to show understanding of how texts achieve their effects is to compare how writers tackle a similar theme, idea or situation. You need to think about:

  • the language and structure of the texts
  • the authorsfeelings, values and attitudes
  • and what their purposes for writing may have been. 

Comparing poems

Look at the ending of Rupert Brookes Peace:

Nothing to shake the laughing hearts long peace there 

But only agony, and that has ending;

And the worst friend and enemy is but Death. 

Compare this with the ending of Siegfried Sassoons Attack:

They leave their trenches, going over the top, 

While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists, 

And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists, 

Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop! 

Both describe death in battle. To Brooke writing at the start of the First World War it is something glorious, patriotic, almost without consequence. To Sassoon writing with several yearsexperience of the trenches it is terrifying. Brookes language is stately and poetic; Sassoon, although he uses the same technique of personification, writes in plain, urgent language. He uses rhythms which reflect meaning (second line) and he uses stopstart phrases and harsh sounds (third and fourth lines). When comparing texts it is a good idea to point out similarities as well as differences. This is often how varying attitudes and values become clear.

Comparing prose

You will sometimes need to compare the presentation of characters. The authors technique may leave you to form your own opinion. Read the extract overleaf from The Darkness Out There by Penelope Lively.

The girl blushed. She looked at the floor, at her own feet, neat and slim and brown. She touched, secretly, the soft skin of her thigh; she felt her breasts poke up and out at the thin stuff of her top; she licked the inside of her teeth, that had only the one filling, a speck like a pin-head.

Sandra is a complex character: still childlike, but becoming a young adult; likeable, but a little vain. The author stresses this complexity by making you do the work. Sometimes an author needs to move the story along and introduce you quickly to the main aspects of a character. Description may then be more obvious as Claudette Williams shows in Invisible Mass of the Back Row:

He is big, sturdy and beautifully dark, with a baby moustache. He is handsomely dressed in his Dashiki suit. There is a kindness about this man that is not usually found among teachers.

Sometimes a character or situation changes within a text. You may be asked to describe and explain this process by comparing one part of the text with another. Look at how the teenagers in Penelope Livelys The Darkness Out There think of Mrs Rutter at the start of the story:

...old Mrs Rutter with her wonky leg would be ever so pleased to see them because they were really sweet, lots of the old people.

But after they discover the secret of her past, Kerry says about her:

‘It makes you want to throw up ... someone like that.’

You might explain this change by quoting and explaining the last lines of the story, seen through the thoughts of Sandra:

She walked behind him, through a world grown unreliable, in which flowers sparkle and birds sing but everything is not as it appears, oh no.


Place and time

You may be asked to show your understanding of the relationship of texts to the place and time in which they were written and how that affects their meaning. It may be just a single word which suggests a non-British setting, as in Poverty Poems 2 by Nissim Ezekiel: 

I lifted up my eyes
Near the railway station 

And saw a leper standing 

Against a poster-ridden wall. 

Here, the word leperalerts us to the likelihood of a foreign setting. It may be a description of behaviour or beliefs which you can identify as indicating a different social and cultural setting. This extract describes the behaviour of villagers after a neighbour has been bitten by a scorpion:

The peasants came like swarms of flies
and buzzed the name of God a hundred times to paralyse the Evil One.
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls

they searched for him... 

The worries, ideas and values described in texts are often the same, irrespective of the cultural or social setting. You should therefore look not only for what is distinctive in such texts, but also for what is familiar or universal. Look for how the distinctiveness of the setting makes for originality. In the lines above, from Nissim Ezekiels Night of the Scorpion, the neighbours show the fear and concern you would expect in any society. However, details such as the candles and lanterns and the actions of the villagers locate the event firmly within its own culture. This is reinforced by the imagery used, swarms of fliesbeing a particularly appropriate metaphor in the circumstances. 

Cultural, social and historical settings

Social and cultural settings may even be imaginary, for example in science-fiction stories. In Examination Day, by Henry Slesar, twelve- year-old children are tested and eliminatedif they are too intelligent for the needs of their society. So this is the choice facing Dickies parents at the end of the story:

‘You may specify by telephone,’ the voice droned on, ‘whether you wish his body interred by the Government or would you prefer a private burial place? The fee for Government burial is ten dollars.’

The historical setting of texts may be shown by the ideas or actions described, but is often most obvious through the language. For example, in this ballad the vocabulary makes it clear that this is a Scottish poem from an earlier century. The harshness of the vocabulary suits the theme and mood exactly. 

As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane; 

The tane unto the tother did say 

Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’ 

Dramatic effect

For dramatic effect, a story or poem may sometimes turn cultural, social and historical expectations on their head. Margaret Atwood, for example, uses a traditional story to create humour out of modern attitudes in There was Once

– There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.

– Forest? Forest is passe, I mean I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.

When commenting on these aspects of a text, remember that you must comment on the effects achieved by the social, cultural or historical dimension shock, amusement, fascination with the unknown, etc. 


In your examination you need to show that you can use technical words which describe how writers make language work for them and achieve their desired effects. Examples of such terms are alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor and personification. (Check back to pages 916 if you are unsure of the meanings of any of these words.)

Simply using these words, even knowing the meaning of them, is not enough. To gain high marks in your examination you must be able to explain how any technique works in a particular text. So, for example, in these lines from William Goldings Lord of the Flies you would comment how the alliteration and onomatopoeia (particularly the s and sh sounds) imitate the noise of the sea which they describe. They create a vivid picture in the readers mind:

Now the sea would suck down, making cascades and waterfalls of retreating water, would sink past the rocks and plaster down the seaweed like shining hair: then, pausing, gather and rise with a roar, irresistibly swelling over point and outcrop, climbing the little-cliff, sending at last an arm of surf up a gully to end a yard or so from him in fingers of spray.

Similarly, in Portrait of a Machine the poet, Louis Untermeyer, does not state directly that the machine is alive. However the words he uses (such as nudity, monster, purring, muscles, sure-fingeredand flank) make the reader think of the machine as some kind of living creature:

What nudity as beautiful as this
Obedient monster purring at its toil;
Those naked iron muscles dripping oil

And the sure-fingered rods that never miss? 

This long and shining flank of metal is 

Magic that greasy labour cannot spoil 

The writers purpose here is to make you think about the nature of machines. Are they beautiful, or threatening? How much in control of them are we?


This is a useful acronym to help you to write about the effects achieved by the language and devices used by writers of fiction texts. Suppose you were responding to these lines from Wilfred Owens Dulce et Decorum Est:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,  

You might structure your comments the SECSI way:

  • Statement Wilfred Owen wants to shock his readers by revealing the true horrors of modern warfare.
  • Evidence the above quotation
  • Comment the poet uses frightening, repulsive images, invoking the senses of sight, taste and hearing, using harsh words with many j, g, c, v and s sounds. The garglingmetaphor stresses the unpleasantness of the situation. The images of cancer and sores contrast vividly with the reference to innocent tongues.
  • Scheme of things the poets purpose was to write realistically about the war. This was at a time when many of his contemporaries were writing patriotic verse which did not show the public what soldiers had to endure in the trenches.
  • Interpretation although these are not pleasant lines to read, Owen achieves his purpose and underlines his point that poetry should tell the truth. As he wrote elsewhere, My subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity.The poetry achieves its effects through carefully chosen words, images and devices. 


Prose texts

The structure of a prose text will influence how you read, understand and react to it. Look at the beginning of this novel, Push Me, Pull Me by Sandra Chick:

Everyone likes Christmas Eve. I don’t. Would never admit it, though. Wouldn’t be fair on the others to play selfish and dampen the spark. Truth is, I get jealous of the fun everybody else is having.

The writing is in the first person (I), in the voice or style of an invented teenage character. The effect is immediate and compelling. It feels as if you are being spoken to directly by someone who could be a friend of yours. The use of informal language (e.g. Would never admit it, Truth is) is a choice made by the author in structuring the story to appeal to its target audience.

Third-person narration (he/she) can work equally well, especially if the structure allows for lots of dialogue. The advantage is that an author can exploit the contrast between formal description and speech so that readers do not tire of one style. Here is an example from

A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines:

...Jud was having his breakfast when Billy came downstairs. He glanced up at the clock. It was twenty-five to six.
‘What’s up wi’ thee, shit t’bed?’
‘I’m off out, nesting; wi’ Tibby and Mac.’
He whooshed the curtains open and switched the light off. The morning light came in clean as water, making them both look towards the window. The sun had not yet risen, but already the air was warm, and above the roof line of the house opposite, the chimney stack was silhouetted against a cloudless sky.
‘It’s a smashing morning again.’
‘Tha wouldn’t be saying that if tha wa’ goin’ where I’m goin’.’

A different structural approach to narrative is to use two or more characters as narrators. This approach can either use the straightforward alternation of chapters or sections, or use devices such as diaries or letters interspersed in the text. The main purpose of this is to give the reader more than one account of or reaction to events and characters. This encourages thoughtful and different interpretations of what apparently happens.

Other common structural devices such as flashbacks make you think about the sequence of events in a story, or the effect of the past on characters in the present. They may lead you to think What might have happened if...?

Poetry texts

Remind yourself of how the main structural features of a poem rhyme, rhythm, layout of verses and choice of language affect the readers response to its meaning. 

Drama texts

Remind yourself of how dramatists may use a range of devices to structure scripts. Many of these are similar to prose structures narrative viewpoint, contrasts in voice or language, chronological sequence, for example. However, there are a number of special effects available to radio, television and film in particular.

If you are comparing versions of a text in different media for example, a film of a Shakespeare play or a stage dramatisation of a novel consider whether the original structure has been changed at all. Have parts been left out, or additions made? Has the sequence of events been changed? Have the relationships of some of the characters changed? Why do you think this was done, and what effect does it have on you? A helpful way to think about the importance of how a text is structured is to consider what effect changes have had on it, or might have if they were made. 


The main purpose of non-fiction texts is to convey information or facts, but this is often presented alongside the authors ideas or opinions. Look out for opinions disguised as facts (see page 49) and question the usefulness of arguments (see page 53).

Non-fiction texts include autobiography, biography, journals, diaries, letters, essays and travel writing. Because these deal with peoples experiences, ideas and attitudes you should read them as though they were literary texts. The language used, the people, incidents, places or ideas described, are selected and structured in a formal way to have a particular effect on you. Many are written in the first person (I) so your opinion of the author will influence judgements about the trustworthiness of the text.

In biography, the author often writes as though s/he knows all the innermost thoughts and qualities of the subject. You must decide how reliable the author is. In this excerpt, the author has a view of his subject as a businessman which was clearly not shared by everyone:

Clark was unfairly blamed for the company’s troubles, which derived from complacency, failure to modernise and restrictive practices. 

You dont know which view is correct, but you must recognise that what is written here is merely an opinion. The opinion is backed by emotive and value-laden words such as unfairly, blamed, complacency, failureand restrictive.

Travel writing often reveals attitudes and prejudices. Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea shows his contempt for seaside holidaymakers, and perhaps some snobbery, when he describes Blackpool as:

real clutter: the buildings that were not only ugly but also foolish and flimsy, the vacationers sitting under a dark sky with their shirts off, sleeping with their mouths open, emitting hog whimpers. 

Words like clutter, ugly, foolish, flimsyand hog whimpersare intended to make you share Therouxs condescending view of these people who visit an unattractive place, sunbathe under a dark sky, look foolish and make animal noises. His use of the word emittingputs you on Therouxs side: he knows you are an intelligent person who will understand his language and share his point of view writers will try to manipulate you in this way.

Journals, diaries and letters are usually different. Sometimes they are written for publication (in which case you must read them in the way suggested above). More often they are informal in style and structure, and it is easier to spot the writers opinions or prejudices. For example, Mary Shelleys diary entry for 6 March 1815 reads:

Find my baby dead. Send for Hogg. Talk. A miserable day. In the evening read ‘Fall of the Jesuits’. Hogg sleeps here. 

The plain language, short sentences and jumps from one thought to another underline the spontaneity and real emotion in the writing.

Other non-fiction texts

These include information leaflets and other factual or informative writing, such as encyclopaedia articles or reference books. There is not always an authors name on these, but remember they have been written by someone. Look for evidence of bias in the language or in the selection and presentation of material.

Responding to non-fiction

You should comment on the language, content and structure of texts, and the influence of the authors own attitudes and ideas. Remember to answer these questions:

  • What do I feel about the text?
  • Does it successfully achieve its purpose? 


Media texts include radio, film, television, magazines and newspapers. They may contain both fiction (e.g. realisations of a classic novel as drama script or printed cartoon) and non-fiction materials (e.g. advertisements).

In your GCSE English exam, you are most likely to encounter non- fiction, print-based materials. In responding to them, you need to explain how particular effects are achieved. You should also comment on why texts are successful in relation to their target audience and intended purpose.


Many media texts are aimed at broad groups of people, categorised by income, profession or interests. Particular advertisements, for example, will be aimed at different groups and will therefore be presented and distributed differently. Rolls Royce cars are not advertised on prime- time commercial television, but Skodas are. This allows the authors of media texts to make certain assumptions about the audiences beliefs, lifestyles and aspirations. For example, an article in a magazine for members of the National FarmersUnion begins:

British food is clearly the best, and how to prove it beyond doubt to supermarkets, caterers and the general public, is the aim of a new industry-wide farm standards initiative being promoted by NFU. 

This is neither a lively nor balanced presentation of views. The writer is addressing an audience assumed to be both interested and sympathetic. 


In the most successful media texts, purpose is hardly distinguishable from audience, as media authors need to give their audiences what they want. This is why media texts may often seem stereotypical: for example, magazines aimed at men are full of articles about sport and cars, and magazines aimed at women are about fashion, food and children.

A tabloid newspaper shows a picture of Gianfranco Zola, Chelseas Italian footballer, serving a pizza under the headline:

which contains the puns typical of the medium, but also presents a stereotypical view of Italians. Even more upmarketbroadsheet newspapers use similar approaches, as in this headline from The Independent: ‘FRENCH SAY NON TO LE BUSINESS SPEAK ANGLAIS’. This is designed to capture the interest of an educated readership. It also sustains the supposed hostility between the French and the English. 

Media language

Media texts are often short and snappy. They are designed to grab the readers attention. You should therefore look out for, and comment on, language which

  • tries to influence your opinion (e.g. clearlyin the NFU article)
  • sounds memorable, but has no real meaning (e.g. Mr Muscle loves the jobs you hate)
  • is partly truthful (e.g. kills all known germs)
  • appeals to snobbery or fear (e.g. words such as exclusive), or mentions of understainsin washing powder advertisements. 

Structural and presentational devices

Comment on how titles, subheadings, frames, colour, font styles and sizes, and illustrations are used to catch and direct the readers interest. Charts and diagrams may be as important as words in conveying information. 


Definite facts do not often appear in written texts, even those labelled non-fiction. Look at this simple advertisement for a credit card: 

The only facts in it are the (approximate) number of outlets and the telephone number. All the rest is opinion (even your local branchmight be a long way to people who live in the country). This advertisement is designed to make the reader feel that it is important to own one of these cards.

Creating atmosphere

In the following excerpt from Reginald Thompsons newspaper account of skirmishes in North Korea, there is very little fact at all. The writers purpose is to establish the atmosphere or feelof the event, before going on to relay the bare facts of what actually happened.

Cry Korea

It was a game of blind man’s bluff in these wild rugged irregular hills in which the enemy moved freely, easily eluding the groping arms of the Americans by day, and swooping down upon them, blind in the night, with devastating fury and magnificent discipline. 

You may not be asked to identify fact and opinion directly. Instead you might be asked to describe what a text tells you about something, and then to explain what the author
feels about it. In other words,

first tell the facts, then consider the opinions. Remember to use your common sense. For example, if a house advertisement claims that the residence has a large south- facing garden, it is reasonable to assume that the property has a garden and that it will (more or less) face south. Whether it is large or not is more likely to be a matter of opinion.

Travel writing

In examinations, you may be presented with a piece of travel writing. This is a genre (type of writing) in which facts, opinions and the writers ideas and attitudes are often intermingled. Sorting out one from the other requires careful reading. Read this extract from Please Dont Call it Soviet Georgia by Mary Russell carefully: 

The silence is heavy with waiting. Then it comes, faint at first. A heavy, rumbling sound. A film of nervous sweat breaks out across my back. Maybe it’s not tanks. Maybe it’s aircraft going over. At this time of night? No, the tanks rumble on, thunder into our ears. Below, the faces are impassive, unflinching. Beside me, a young woman puts her arms round her friend who is sobbing. Suddenly, the sound stops. It’s true, there was nothing to fear. Not this time. It was a tape, the tape of what happened last year. Only, last year the tanks didn’t stop... 

The facts are few she is scared by what she thinks are tanks. But the emotions, attitudes and values (the opinions) are what make the writing moving and powerful. 


When reading non-fiction texts, you often need to follow an argument or train of thought. This will help you to understand the writers purpose, or understand what the writer is trying to persuade or instruct you about. Such pieces of text might be:

  • an article about bloodsports
  • a set of instructions for constructing an item of furniture 
  • an advertisement.

Look out for the effect of structural features which organise the writing. For example, the use of headlines, subheadings, numbers, diagrams and pictures, or flowcharts (see pages 5758 and 6162 for more detail about these). These features shape your response to the writing. Look at this card designed and produced by British Telecom to be carried by mobile phone users to remind them of certain facilities on their phone. 

The clarity of the BT card is aided by: 

  • brief instructions
  • plain language
  • clear sequencing
  • the bold headline which separates the advanced featuressection.

Note how not all the instructions on the card are grammatically complete (e.g. Wait for prompt). This helps to keep the instructions short and precise. 

Technical language

Of course, not all arguments or instructions can be put into simple or brief language. Complex ideas need a full explanation. They may require the use of technical language. Look at this extract from a buyers guide to four-wheel drive vehicles (The Essential Guide to Choosing and Using Your 4×4 Vehicle, published by the Rover Group Ltd):

Although the language is reasonably straightforward, the ideas are not necessarily easy for someone who does not understand the workings of power units in cars. The diagram does not seem to make the argument any easier, as the labels include some terms not used in the writing. Be prepared to identify failures as well as successes provided you can explain why. 


Most non-fiction and media texts are put together carefully so as to have maximum impact on their intended audiences. This is true even of privatetexts such as diaries or letters, which will usually be structured in narrative or chronological ways to capture the writers idea or point of view. More publictexts such as information leaflets or magazine articles will usually show a wide range of features. This is because there are often business-related reasons for their need to succeed.

Most of these additional features are intended to ensure that the reader understands the message or purpose of the text in two main ways. Firstly, by presenting information in a logical way and/or in a way which will capture your interest and imagination. Secondly, by presenting text in small units so that you are able to take it in easily and think about it as you go. You are less likely to become bored by it, and more likely to stick with it to the end. Breaking text up in this way also allows it to be presented attractively (as you will see in more detail on pages 6162).

Look at this advertisement for homes in the USA: 

This example shows use of the following structural features:

  • A clear heading to attract the attention of targeted readers.
  • Although there is only a small amount of text, it is full of relevant information.
  • Key details are in a bullet-pointed list to avoid information overload.
  • Different aspects of the information (e.g. contacts for further details) are separated to help readers easily find what they need to know.

These are some of the most common structural devices found in printed non-fiction/media texts whatever their length, purpose or audience. 

Other devices

Other devices to look out for include the use of graphical information (particularly charts or tables) to convey numerical or financial information, or maps, diagrams and timetables to convey travel information.

The purpose of such structural devices is to ensure that the reader quickly gains whatever information the writer wishes to convey. When responding to non-fiction/media texts you should always write about structural features with these questions in mind:

  • Does the structuring of the content help the writer achieve the desired purpose?
  • If so, how? If not, what are the shortcomings of the structure? 
  • What effect is this text likely to have on its target audience?

The last point is important. If a piece of text is aimed, say, at teenagers then it is not reasonable to criticise it on the grounds that older people would not understand the use of slang or colloquial language. Similarly, do not criticise an advertisement for pensions aimed at older people because it is boringto a teenage reader. 


These are more to do with how the text is presented. There is some overlap here with structural devices (see pages 5758). For example, bullet points or headlines are really both structural and presentational. All the devices discussed on page 58, and those detailed here, are concerned with achieving desired effects on particular audiences.

You should therefore respond to the use of presentational devices in the same way as to structural devices. You should ask yourself these questions:

  • Do the devices help the writer to achieve the desired purpose?
  • If so, how? If not, why have the devices not worked?
  • What effect is this text likely to have on its target audience? 

These may be placed around parts of a text, or around the whole text. The effect in either case should be to draw the readers eye to something significant. Look out for which parts of a text are highlighted in this way and which are not. Sometimes the absence of frames can be used to divert attention from details which the writer does not want to stand out such as details of additional charges or product guarantees.


These may serve a number of purposes. Above all, they can make dull text look more attractive and therefore more interesting. At the same time, they may present an image of the information, product or idea which the writer is trying to promote. Consider how realistic or honest illustrations are sometimes new cars or houses will be represented by an artists impression. Ask yourself why?Is it because the actual product doesnt exist? Or can the impressionimpress more than the real thing?


Colour is often used sparingly as it is expensive to reproduce. Although colour can make text eye-catching, over-fussy or poor use of colours can be distracting. They can make text more difficult to read, rather than more attractive. 


The style and size of different fonts may affect the way a reader reacts to text. For example, some fonts have a more seriousor formal appearance, while others are more obviously informal. Some styles are associated closely with particular eras (e.g. the 1970s or 1980s) or even individual products. Some styles may be associated with feelings or atmospheres. For example, a ruined castle, or a horror film, might use a gothicor medievalfont in their promotional literature. Larger fonts may be used to emphasise particular aspects of a text. The so- called small printmay hide less attractive information. Text may be in bold, in italics or underlined in various ways, to add to the impact of different font styles and sizes.

Logos and symbols

Logos are used mostly to fix the image of a company or organisation in the readers mind so that it is instantly recognised when met again. Some advertising relies on well-known logos and does not mention the company name at all. The  effect of this can be to make the reader feel as though s/he belongs almost to an exclusive clubof those who understand the logo, and can therefore make them more responsive to the advertisement. Symbols such as ticks, crosses, pairs of scissors and so on can be space-savers, and thus cost-savers. They can also be helpful to readers. 


All texts are written for a purpose. Skilful writers will manipulate (i.e. control) your response to a text through the range of techniques they use. You have already looked at some of these techniques, but the most valuable weapon a writer has is individual words. Look at this fairly typical advertisement for a new house:

Individual words such as large, detached, charming, convenientand superbare all examples of opinions disguised as facts. There are also whole phrases designed to influence the readers feelings:

  • charming village environmentis intended to evoke a warm glow of belonging to a community with old-fashioned values;
  • convenient access to M4shows that the house isnt too far away from the city;
  • home exchange availablereassures the prospective buyer that they wont need to sell their existing house.

However, note the words in very small print beneath the illustration – ‘Similar house types to be built. This is not avoiding the truth, but it does point to the fact that the picture is not actually the house for sale.

The language of non-fiction, particularly that of advertisements, often appeals to our emotions, such as snobbery. The house advertisement on page 65 does that. Although the language is restrained (i.e. not over the top), it nevertheless suggests that this is a house for a successful businessperson.

Other types of non-fiction texts, such as autobiography or travel writing, often use language in a more literary way. This is intended to engage the readers imagination. As an example, Roald Dahl mentions in Going Solo:

sinister vultures waiting like feathered undertakers for death to come along and give them something to work on.

 Humour is often used in texts like these. It may be kindly or, more often than not, pointed and condemning. Read this extract from Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson:

Bradford’s role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well.

When commenting on humour remember to explain the effect it has on the reader. Is it to make a sort of bond between the writer and reader? Or is it to make sharp criticism of someone or something? Or is it just to show off the authors verbal dexterity (clever use of words)?

Verbal dexterity is often used by writers of media texts which advertise products. Catchphraseswhich become associated with chocolate bars or soft drinks are important to the success of one kind of non- fiction writer. The idea is to fix certain products in our minds by coming up with memorable phrases. These catchphrasesrely on devices such as rhyme and repetition (A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play) or literary language that is slightly ridiculous (such as describing an Australian lager as the amber nectar). Alliteration, puns, onomatopoeia and (often far-fetched) imagery are all used by writers when advertising products. 


Learning spellings and spelling unknown words

If you are learning a new spelling first LOOK at it (to see if it reminds you of any other words or spelling patterns you already know), then COVER it (and try to seethe word in your minds eye), then WRITE it (from memory) and finally CHECK it (to see if you were right).

If you have to spell a difficult or new word from memory or from just hearing it, LISTEN to its sound (say it slowly to yourself several times) and think which letters might represent those sounds; THINK about spelling rules or patterns you know; WRITE down two or three spellings which might be correct then decide which looks or feelsright. Finally CHECK in a dictionary/spellchecker.

You wont always be able to use a spellchecker or a dictionary or ask someone how to spell a word, especially in an exam. So learn to:

  • think about word families: if you can spell appear, you shouldnhave problems with disappear, disappearing, disappeared, and so on;
  • think about word origins: you shouldnt forget the n in government’ if you remember that its job is to govern us. 
Spelling rules
  • q is always followed by u, except in Iraq
  • i comes before e except when it follows c (e.g. friend, briefbut ceiling, receive)
  • If all is followed by another syllable, it loses one l (e.g. also, alreadyalways; but note that all right must be written as two words)
  • If a word ends with a single vowel followed by a single consonant, you must double the consonant if adding an ending which begins with a vowel (e.g. shopshoppedshopping; swimswimmerswimming)
  • If you add full or till to the end of another word or syllable, you must drop one l (e.g. hopeful, until). 
  • Drop the final e from a word if adding an ending which starts with a vowel (e.g. loveloving; rattlerattling)
  • Keep the final e in a word if adding an ending which begins with a consonant (e.g. lovelovely; rattlerattled)
  • If a word ends with a consonant followed by y, change the y to i before all endings except ing (e.g. funnyfunnily; marrymarriedmarrying)
  • An i or ee sound at the end of a word is nearly always shown by the letter y (e.g. country, hungry, but common exceptions are coffee, committee and taxi as well as foreign borrowings, especially Italian words such as macaroni and spaghetti)
  • The i before e except after c rule is generally true, but not if the sound is ay (e.g. neighbour and weigh). Other common exceptions to this rule are: counterfeit, foreign, forfeit, leisure, reign, seize, sovereign.
  • Think about the meanings of words which sound the same but have different spellings (e.g. their/there/theyre and to/too/two). 

  • Regular plurals are formed by simply adding an s to the singular word (e.g. horsehorses; dogdogs)
  • Words which end with a consonant followed by y form the plural by changing the y to ies (e.g. babybabies; ladyladies)
  • To form the plural of a word ending in sxzchsh or ss, add es (e.g. busbuses, foxfoxes, churchchurches, missmisses)
  • Most singular words which end with f or fe change the f or fe to ves to form the plural (e.g. knifeknives; leafleaves; wifewives). Common exceptions to this rule are chief, dwarf, roof and safe which simply add an s to form their plural.
  • A few words can form their plural either by adding s or by changing the final f to ves (e.g. hoof; scarf; wharf). 



Basic sentence punctuation requires an upper case (or capital) letter at the start and a full stop at the end. Longer sentences may need commas, semi-colons, colons, exclamation or question marks.

In Lord of the Flies, William Golding writes:

He was old enough, twelve years and a few months, to have lost the prominent tummy of childhood; and not yet old enough for adolescence to have made him awkward.

Because the sentence contains two definite ideas contrasting childhood and adolescence they have been separated with a semi- colon. This shows a sophisticated grasp of sentence structure and punctuation. It is better than writing two separate sentences as the ideas are closely linked. The commas in this example are used to separate a descriptive phrase (which adds to the meaning, but is not indispensable) from the main sentence.

The other main use of commas is to separate a list, as in this example from Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird:

Of all days Sunday was the day for formal afternoon visiting: ladies wore corsets, men wore coats, children wore shoes.

This example also shows the most frequent use of the colon, which is to introduce a list.

Question marks must be put at the end of direct questions. Exclamation marks indicate strong emotions such as anger or astonishment as well as humour. Remember that well-chosen words will convey emotion too, and do not rely on exclamation marks alone to affect your readers response!

Punctuating speech

Another passage from Lord of the Flies illustrates the main rules.

‘I don’t care what they call me,’ he said confidentially, ‘so long as they don’t call me what they used to call me at school.’
Ralph was faintly interested. ‘What was that?’
The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned towards Ralph.
He whispered.
‘They used to call me “Piggy”.’

Note that you should:

  • put all the words spoken inside speech marks;
  • begin each new piece of speech with a capital letter unless it is the continuation of a sentence (as in Piggys opening remark);
  • place punctuation of the spoken words inside the speech marks (e.g. the comma after mein the first line, and the question mark at the end of Ralphs query);
  • use double speech marks inside the normal single speech marks for a title or nickname, as in the last line above. 

These have two functions:

  • to show missing letters in abbreviated words such as wasnt (was not), cant (cannot), Ive (I have) and so on. The apostrophe is placed where the missing letters would be.
  • to show possession (e.g. the boys coat, the womens partners).
Remember that its means it is (e.g. its very hot in here); its means belonging to it, as in the dog chased its ball


Formal writing

You may well be asked to produce a piece of formal writing in your examination. In formal writing you must choose your words more carefully and precisely than you would if making casual notes or if in conversation with a friend. Consider this sentence from Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: 

The town side of the boulevard backed on to substantial gardens which were squared off and apportioned with civic precision to the houses they adjoined.

Note how the writer conveys the impression that this street is inhabited by well-off and important (perhaps even self-important), orderly and conventional people. All of this is done by using words such as substantial, squared off, apportioned, civic, precisionand adjoined. Not a word is wasted in suggesting the characters of the inhabitants before you have actually met them. Even the use of housesrather than homes implies rather cold or unemotional people. Think how little you would be able to speculate about them if the author had simply written, The houses on the town side of the boulevard had large, neat gardens. There is nothing flashyabout this writing: merely well-chosen words which, together, give a clear viewpoint and invite some speculation.


When you are writing narrative, think about structure as well as vocabulary and style. For example, could you achieve a more striking effect by using flashbacks or multiple viewpoints than by writing a straightforward chronological account? Could you use an updated version, in a different setting, of a traditional or well-known story to convey a particular message? While you should always try to be original and fresh in your choice of language, reworking a traditional form is acceptable. It may help you present your ideas effectively.


If you are writing poetry, you are quite likely to use traditional structures and well-known forms. William Blake, for example, contrasts the simple, nursery-rhyme-like form of this verse to highlight a deep and challenging idea in A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

In poetry you are using fewer words than in prose, so remember that choosing precise vocabulary is most important. As an example, take this line from Gillian Clarkes poem Sunday

The cats jump up on windowsills to wash And tremble at the starlings. 

The word trembleis original but accurate in its picture of cats watching birds. It makes us think, because it is a word which usually suggests fear rather than aggression. Here it applies to both the actions of the aggressors (the cats) and the feelings of the potential victims (the starlings).

Non-fiction texts

You need to be equally precise when you are writing some types of non-fiction. Your personal writing needs to evoke people, places, events and feelings through the vocabulary and imagery you use. Your descriptive or informative writing must be clear, to the point, and sensibly structured if its purpose is to be understood. 


Your response to other peoples writing, and the style of your own writing, must take account of its intended purpose and its target audience. This means thinking about formality and informality in your use of language. For example, think about how you might aid characterisation by using non-standard forms of English in dialogue in a story. Also important is the extent to which you can show your knowledge of, and control over, a range of different sentence structures.

Note the effective contrast in this extract from Barry HinesA Kestrel for a Knave between informal, non-standard English in the spoken words to the formality and variety in the descriptive writing:

‘It was a funny feeling though when he’d gone; all quiet, with nobody there, and up to t’knees in tadpoles.’
Silence. The class up to their knees in tadpoles. Mr Farthing allowed them a pause for assimilation. Then, before their involvement could disintegrate into local gossip, he used it to try to inspire an emulator.

Showing a range of techniques

If you can vary the structures of your own writing, you are likely to gain a high grade in your examination. The aim is not only to show your skill in varying sentence structures, but to match them to the needs of the moment. Barry Hines does this by gradually lengthening the sentences. This reflects the tension of the moment, which the teacher tries to capture and maintain.

In writing fiction, then, make the sentence structures play their part in creating mood and conveying atmosphere. Look at this passage from William Goldings Lord of the Flies

Wave after wave, Ralph followed the rise and fall until something of the remoteness of the sea numbed his brain. Then gradually the almost infinite size of this water forced itself on his attention. This was the divider, the barrier. On the other side of the island, swathed at midday with mirage, defended by the shield of the quiet lagoon, one might dream of rescue; but here, faced by the brute obtuseness of the ocean, the miles of division, one was clamped down, one was helpless, one was condemned, one was –

The rhythm of the opening words in the Golding extract reflects the movement of the sea itself. Then the long, unfinished sentence mirrors the difficult nature of the idea with which Ralph is grappling. The mounting panic in his mind is mirrored in the repetitive structure of the closing phrases. Long sentences, carefully used, can be most effective. Combined with the use of the present tense, this technique can give immediacy and forcefulness to writing, especially in a piece of non-fiction. As an example of this, read this extract from Hong Kong by Jan Morris:

I leave my typewriter for a moment, open the sliding glass doors and walk out to the balcony; and away from the hotel’s insulated stillness, instantly like the blast of history itself the frantic noise of Hong Kong hits me, the roar of that traffic, the thumping of that jack-hammer, the chatter of a million voices across the city below; and once again the smell of greasy duck and gasoline reaches me headily out of China. 

Note the use of semi-colons by both William Golding and Jan Morris. This adds to the effects achieved by both writers in building sweeping sentences which carry the reader along on a flood of ideas and descriptive details.

Another way of achieving immediacy is by using ungrammaticalsentences. For example, this is how Dylan Thomas begins The Outing: A Story:

If you can call it a story. There’s no real beginning or end and there’s very little in the middle.


When you plan your own writing, you must have an overview of the whole text not only its content, but how it moves from the beginning to the end in a way which will engage readers.

When you have finished a piece of writing, you must check and revise it to ensure that the overall structure and effect is what you intended. Careful planning will help greatly. This means thinking about the content of different sections of the text (such as paragraphs), the progress from one section to another, and the beginning and end in particular.


These organise meaning and make your text accessible to the reader. A paragraph will usually be one or more sentences which are connected by: 

  • topic or subject perhaps a character or setting in a story, or one aspect of the idea or argument in a non-fiction text;
  • narrative or chronological sequence (e.g. the stages of a journey made by a character in a story or the order of instructions for assembling a piece of furniture);
  • an argument or approach (e.g. reasons why you do or dont believe in ghosts in a piece of writing about the supernatural).

Use paragraphs flexibly. They do not have to be so many lines or so many sentences long. Variety in paragraph length just as in sentence structures can contribute to the tone or atmosphere you are trying to create. Look at the extract from Examination Day by Henry Slesar (overleaf). A boy in a future society is about to undergo an intelligence test to decide if he is allowed to survive or not. The tension is created by each event being in a separate paragraph. 

A concealed loudspeaker crackled and called off the first name.
Dickie saw a boy leave his father’s side reluctantly and walk slowly towards the door.
At five minutes of eleven, they called the name of Jordan.
‘Good luck, son,’ his father said, without looking at him. ‘I’ll call for you when the test is over.’
Beginnings and endings

Opening paragraphs need to grab your readers attention. Use them to state an idea boldly, to introduce a memorable character, to start a dialogue which sets up a conflict, or to intrigue your reader with something unusual. This is how Margaret Atwood starts The Big Man

Julie broke up with Connor in the middle of a swamp.

Endings need plenty of thought as well. You can do various things with an ending. You might neatly round off a story, as Penelope Lively does in The Darkness Out There:

She walked behind him, through a world grown unreliable, in which flowers sparkle and birds sing but everything is not as it appears, oh no.

Or you can try the more risky, but often effective, technique of leaving the reader wondering and wanting more. This is how Charlotte Perkins Gilman ends Turned:

He looked from one to the other dumbly.
And the woman who had been his wife asked quietly: ‘What have you to say to us?’

It would be disastrous to leave your reader high and dry in a piece of non-fiction writing, especially if it is instructional in any way. Once again, remember to test your approach against the demands of purpose and audience


Your written work cannot achieve its full effect on the reader (especially if that reader is an examiner) unless you present it neatly and clearly. Depending on the kind or genre of writing it is, it may also be helpful to use a range of suitable presentational devices to break up the text.


However much you like to use computers for coursework, you will have to handwrite your examination papers. Try to develop handwriting which uses CLUES:

  • Consistently shaped and joined letters
  • Letters clear distinction between upper (capital) and lower (small) case
  • Upright, or at least always leans in the same direction
  • Evenly spaced
  • Sensible size neither too cramped nor too spread out.

Consider what you use to write with the correct pen for you (in terms of diameter, balance, weight and so on) will improve both the speed and quality of your handwriting.

Breaking up the text

If writing prose fiction, remember to use paragraphs (page 85). You might also use chapter headings in a longer story. You could use titles in a sequence of poems, which may be broken up into stanzas (or verses). Scripts for media such as stage, radio, film or television need to follow appropriate layout conventions regarding stage/camera directions, set details and so on.

If you are writing non-fiction, remember that you can use a range of devices including titles, underlinings, different margin sizes/ indentations, headings and subheadings, frames, bullet points and numbered instructions. All of these can be done by hand in an examination, where appropriate. 

Titles, charts and diagrams may also make your meaning clearer, but may be less easy to produce without IT. Do not try to use a range of colours on your examination paper, as this may cause confusion for markers and checkers at a later stage. In fact, many examination boards instruct you to use only blue or black ink in their answer books.

Editing and proofreading

The final aspect of presentation is the last set of checks that you carry out in an examination. Editing means looking back over the work you have written and asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I adopted the best tone/approach for the target audience, using a range of appropriate language and grammatical constructions?
  • Have I achieved my purpose in the overall effect of the piece?
  • Have I made the best choice of content in respect of audience and purpose?
  • Is the structure and presentation of the piece logical, coherent and helpful?
  • Is the piece easily understood and attractive to look at?
Proofreading means checking: 
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Grammar 

Dont worry about making alterations or corrections in your work. If you do it neatly, the examiner will be impressed that you have checked your work thoroughly in the first place, and that you have been able to identify and correct errors. 


Writing to explore, imagine and entertain

The purpose of some writing you will be asked to do in your exam is
explore, imagine or entertain. This is most likely to be a piece of narrative or descriptive prose. It may be based on your own experience or be wholly or partly imagined. Your first planning issue is to think about the audience for your writing. If it is a story for a young child, the structure may follow conventions such as Once upon a time ...and ... they all lived happily ever after, while the characters may be simply bador good. Even so, you must plan features such as plot, characters, setting, ideas, structure and style carefully. Make sure they work together to serve your purpose and please your audience.

If writing for a more mature reader, you may think about using techniques such as flashback or multiple viewpoints.


Concentrate on exploring one event, character or issue in detail, depending on your purpose; you will not have time for too much complication when writing in the exam. Even if you are writing fantasy, you must make it believable for your intended audience.


Concentrate on a few, well-described, different characters and use a wide range of descriptive vocabulary. Show character through speech and action. When Marcus, in The Go-Between by L. P. Hartley, says 

‘Leo, you mustn’t come down to breakfast in your slippers. It’s the sort of thing that bank clerks do.’

the reader gains an immediate idea of his background and attitudes.

Similarly, when Napoleon in George Orwells Animal Farm urinates on Snowballs plans for the windmill, this action characterises him far more effectively than any amount of description. 


Plan the place, the season, the time of day and the weather: all can create the desired effect on your audience. As when describing character, this is an opportunity for you to show the range of your vocabulary. Kingshaws fear in Susan Hills Im the King of the Castle is emphasised here by the word spearingand by the claustrophobic setting: 

The sun was spearing, now and again, through the network of leaves, and rippling over the tree trunks like water. But mostly, the leaves were too thick to let much light in. It was very close, too, now that they were well into the wood, the air that he took in at his mouth felt warm, and somehow thicker than normal air.


Remember your purpose: is there a message? There will be a greater effect on readers if there is, but dont tack it crudely on the end: it should be implicit in the narrative, largely through the characters you create,
the situations you put them into and the development of the plot.


Who tells the story? Is it chronological, or are there flashbacks? What makes the beginning seize the readers attention? What makes the end unforgettable?
Plan all of this, but remember limitations of time in the exam.


Show what you can do:

  • detailed and original descriptions which create a sense of place and atmosphere in your readersminds
  • sentences and paragraphs which vary in length and structure to change the pace of the story
  • realistic dialogue to bring the characters to life. 

Writing to inform, explain and describe

This kind of writing is the response to exam questions which ask you to:
  • inform someone about an event, or how to do something
  • explain how something works or how to get from one place to another
  • describe what something feels or looks like.

Although you may need to use some imagination, you can often base responses on your own experiences and observations. The exam paper may give you stimulus material to help you with the content it is your writing skills which will be tested, not your general knowledge.

Audience and purpose

Take particular notice of the audience and purpose you are given. For example, the purpose of a task might be to write to a visitor to your school, informing him or her of the arrangements, explaining how to get there and describing what facilities are available. This would be a polite and formal piece of work, probably written in quite plain, functional language. You might use bullet points or sketches to clarify certain information.

Your response to a task which asked you to write about an early memory, explaining how it has affected you, would be quite different. In this case, your style would be less formal, allowing you to use a more imaginative range of vocabulary and sentence structures.

Remember that the needs of a given audience will help you decide on the content and tone of your writing. If you were asked to write an informative piece about video recorders, explaining how to use them and describing the benefits they can bring, the nature of your final text would depend, for example, on whether it was written for a ten year old or a mature adult.

Personal and impersonal

An important decision you have to make in planning informative, explanatory or descriptive writing is how personal it should be. Should thoughts and feelings come into it, or should it be factual and to the point?

Once again, this comes back to purpose and audience. It would probably not be appropiate to include anything other than information in the letter to a school visitor, mentioned previously but if you already knew the visitor well, then you would approach the task quite differently. Similarly, with the piece about video recorders: if your purpose was to inform and explain to a child, your writing would
be straightforward and to the point. If, on the other hand, you wanted to amuse an older person by making out that video recorders are extremely difficult to tame, then your approach would be more imaginative and free.

This choice is most often apparent in writing which is largely descriptive rather than informative or explanatory. It is possible, but not easy, to write impersonal, neutral descriptions and they are often very dull.

This description from Bill Brysons Notes From a Small Island gives plenty of information and explanation, but is made more interesting because of his obvious anger which comes through in the choice of language: 

A couple of miles beyond Kimmeridge, at the far side of a monumentally steep hill, stands the little lost village of Tyneham, or what’s left of it. In 1943, the Army ordered Tyneham’s inhabitants to leave for a bit as they wanted to practise lobbing shells into the surrounding hillsides. The villagers were solemnly promised that once Hitler was licked, they could all come back. Fifty-one years later they were still waiting. Forgive my disrespectful tone, but this seems to me disgraceful... 

Writing to argue, persuade and instruct

This group includes writing in which the purpose is to present opinions or arguments in ways which will persuade the audience. This has to be done by:

  • changing the readers views if they differ from your own;
  • strengthening the readers views if they are similar to your own; G suggesting why it is good to hold particular views. Within this category, typical exam tasks might be to:
  • argue about an aspect of modern life, such as making the case for birth control or against nuclear power;
  • examine a common problem and suggest the most sensible approach to it such as overcoming famine in Africa;
  • prepare advice for young children on how to avoid dangers in the home.
To shock or not to shock?

By its nature, this kind of writing tends to involve strong emotions and deeply-held beliefs. Sometimes, shocking readers with the strength of your views is a good way of gaining attention before you try to persuade or instruct them. However, strong feelings can get in the way of presenting a case logically and clearly. Readers may switch off if they feel they are being preached at, or if your writing is not clear. The best arguments persuade through instruction that is, they present evidence to people which makes them think about, and perhaps change, their views. 

Keeping cool

Going to the other extreme and deliberately avoiding high emotion can be an effective way of engaging your readers sympathies. This is how George Orwell describes a hanging in a Burmese jail:

There was a clanking noise, and then dead silence. The prisoner had vanished, and the rope was twisting on itself. I let go of the dog, and it galloped immediately to the back of the gallows; but when it got there it stopped short, barked, and then retreated into a corner of the yard, where it stood among the weeds, looking timorously out at us. We went round the gallows to inspect the prisoner’s body. He was dangling with his toes pointed straight downwards, very slowly revolving, as dead as a stone.

This is an almost detached description of a terrible event. The writers feelings of revulsion are conveyed to us not through violent outbursts but through the detail of the dog and its reactions.

Points of view

Willingness to admit different points of view in your writing can strengthen an argument, since it makes you appear reasonable rather than fanatical. It also shows your ability to collect and cross-reference a range of ideas.

Stylistic devices

Depending on the purpose and audience for your writing, and the form it is taking, think about using:

  • presentational devices such as headings and sub-headings, and bullet points;
  • charts and graphs or other evidence to support your views (but dont go mad with statistics);
  • carefully chosen vocabulary and imagery which will create a picture in the readers mind (such as in Orwells final sentence above);
  • direct appeals and questions to the reader, such as Do you think this is right?Then you should go on to answer the appeal on the readers behalf in a way which advances your case. 

Writing to analyse, review and comment

This is the kind of writing you need to produce if an exam question asks you to:

  • identify and describe the particular qualities of a person, place, event, book, advertisement, etc. this is analysing;
  • describe and explain what those particular qualities tell you about the person, place, book or advertisement this is reviewing;
  • explain and identify your reaction to, and the significance of, the person, place, book or advertisement this is commenting.

You are most likely to use this kind of writing when you respond to texts, in personal writing, such as a piece of autobiography or an account of work experience, or in writing about social or historical issues.

Purpose and audience

These are key concepts, whatever kind of writing you are doing. In this case, your purpose might range from amusing a friend with an account of something you did as a young child, to impressing a magazine editor with your thoughts on the latest novel by a famous author.

Language and structure

Your choice of vocabulary needs to be very precise and the structure of your writing should develop in a coherent way. An example is this description by Bill Bryson of the development of the Kodak Company: 

From the outset Eastman developed three crucial strategies that have been the hallmarks of virtually every successful consumer-goods company since. First, he went for the mass market, reasoning that it was better to make a little money each from a lot of people rather than a lot of money from a few. He also showed a tireless, obsessive dedication to making his products better and cheaper. 

Note how Bill Bryson uses words like crucial, strategies, hallmarks, consumer-goods, mass marketto give authority to the writing. Also note how obsessiveand dedicationcreate a quick and convincing pen-portrait of George Eastman, the founder of the Kodak Company. The structure is held together by words such as from the outset, firstand also. The reversal of a little...a lotand a lot...a fewis a neat structural feature.

Personal and impersonal analytical writing

Analytical writing is often impersonal and written in the third person (he/she). Even when written in the first person (I) the language and style can be objective and logical. For example, the following extract from an essay on the freedom of the press: 

However, I think that the issue goes far beyond the invasion of the privacy of a handful of people. The public has a right to know what is going on, and the proposed curbs would cut information down to a minimum. 

The word however, and similar words such as nevertheless, thereforeand althoughare useful in constructing this kind of writing.

Personal analytical writing may involve deep emotions. Even so, vocabulary and sentence structures need to be carefully planned if the writer is to communicate effectively with the reader. This is the end of an account of a girl meeting her father, whom she has not seen for a long time: 

I stepped down onto the platform and with trembling, uneasy steps I made my way through the crowds to this man. He saw me, came and took my cases, but then put them down. This man had a large grin on his face and his arms were open; he leant over and hugged me. All the thoughts I had experienced on the train left my head. This man was my father.

The vocabulary apart from trembling, uneasy’ – is plain but effective; the repetition of this manhints at uncertainty. Then the short final sentence, revealing this manto be the father, contrasts dramatically with the previous longer sentences. 


When taking part in a speaking and listening activity which is being assessed for your exam, you need to concentrate on three things: 

  • your topic (what you are going to say);
  • your purpose (what you want to achieve by saying it);
  • your audience (who you are talking to).

Thinking about this will help you decide how formal or informal your words should be. It will also help to decide whether you should rely just on the power of speech or whether you should use visual aids such as diagrams or pictures. Formal speech means avoiding slang and incomplete sentences; this is particularly important and courteous if you are speaking to an unknown audience.

General techniques you should use in all oral work include:

  • speaking clearly and firmly to make sure that everyone can hear you;
  • varying the tone, pitch and pace of your voice to keep your audiences attention; and in groupwork particularly:
  • being polite but insistent in making your points heard;
  • being prepared to give way to someone else who wishes to speak.
Individual and pair work

On your own, or with a partner, you will probably need to show skills such as describing or narrating. For example, if you are talking about, or comparing, personal experiences. You may also need to explore, analyse or imagine. For example, if working on the meaning of a text you have not seen before, or preparing a role play.

Group work

In a group discussion, your function is to be part of a team which has a task to complete together, but make sure your own contributions show how well you can explain, argue and persuade

Explaining means using your knowledge and experience to put across your own point of view. Dont be afraid to challenge the audience with new ideas. Others will concentrate:

  • if your choice of language is interesting;
  • if you present what you say in an organised way;
  • if, in other words, you remember topic and audience.

Arguing and persuading means conveying a point of view, which may not be shared by others. It does not mean losing your temper, even if you believe passionately in what you say and no one else does. It means using techniques such as:

  • questions (not necessarily expecting answers);
  • repetition of key words, phrases, and ideas. 
It also means convincing others that your point of view is right by: 
  • varying the structure and length of your sentences for dramatic effect;
  • using powerful and vivid vocabulary;
  • using humour (often more powerful than anger); 
  • using evidence to support what you say;
  • in other words, achieving your purpose.
Chairing a group discussion

In this role you will have fewer opportunities to put forward your own ideas and points of view. Instead, you should:

  • introduce the topic so that all members of the group understand what they are expected to achieve;
  • sometimes ask questions, seek clarification and occasionally summarise what has been said so that all members of the group understand what is going on;
  • keep the group on task, and draw anyone who does not seem involved into the discussion;
  • summarise the discussion at the end and check that the group agrees that it has achieved its purpose. 


Active listening means showing that you are listening with interest and understanding. Although listening goes on inside your head, you can show that you are actively involved by:

  • giving appropriate non-verbal signals in other words, your body language;
  • giving appropriate verbal signals, such as an occasional Really?or Uh-huhor a similar short phrase;
  • responding appropriately when you have a chance to speak.
Body language

This is important both in speaking and listening, and the same techniques apply in both situations:

  • Posture: sit or stand in an alert way, not slumped with hands in pockets!
  • Facial expressions: generally, smiles encourage and frowns discourage, but match your expression to what is being said.
  • Gestures and movements: nods or shakes of the head can be encouraging, but nail biting or fiddling with a pen suggests that you are not involved.
  • Eye-contact: this is crucial both as a speaker and a listener to maintain interest and concentration.
  • Arm position: your arms should be relaxed, not tightly folded, to suggest you are listening with an open mind. 
Hearing and understanding

You need to do more than just show you are listening. You need to hear what is being said, and understand it by:

  • being aware of the speakers body language and what it means;
  • being aware of the speakers tone of voice does it match what is being said, or is it perhaps ironic or sarcastic?
  • concentrating on the most important points the speaker is making so that you can remember them and ask about them or reply to them later;
  • noting any bias, contradictions or misuse of evidence that you can challenge;
  • asking for something to be explained or justified in more detail.
  • The last point above is particularly important. It is a technique which, as long as you dont overdo it, both increases your understanding of the topic and shows that you are listening with interest.
Listening in a group

When you are listening to others in a group you should:

  • ask questions which draw out other peoples opinions;
  • ask for explanation, or more detail of othersideas;
  • summarise what others have said to check that you understand them; G show that you are interested and involved through your body language.
Showing listening through speaking

When it is your turn to speak, you can continue to show that you were listening with interest and understanding by:

  • replying directly to the main points raised by previous speakers and adding to them with your own ideas and opinions;
  • questioning any bias, wrong information, etc. which you think was given by presenting your own points of view;
  • using what others have said in reaching your own conclusions and directly ask the rest of the group if they agree with you or not. 


Background information

The exam board will usually provide an introduction and/or brief notes which tell you something about the texts and their authors. Read this carefully, as it may:

  • provide you with background information about the texts or authors which will help you understand them better;
  • help you relate different texts to one another by theme, genre or culture;
  • prepare you for the kinds of questions you may be asked in the examination.


Most exam boards allow you to annotate pre-release material, so:

  • write the meanings of any words or phrases which you are not sure of in the margin;
  • underline or highlight words/phrases which you think may be good to refer to in your answers perhaps because they are unusual or striking examples of imagery, characterisation, rhyme, etc.;
  • devise your own symbols to cross-reference details from one text with another perhaps if there are texts on a similar theme which use different approaches;
  • note details of rhyme schemes and rhythms in poems, or the structure of stories if these are unusual or significant to their meaning;
  • DO NOT write in lots of irrelevant background information the examiner will want to see how you respond to the texts, not how much general knowledge you have;
  • DO NOT write pre-prepared answers on the material it is cheating, and may get you disqualified. In any case, you must answer the actual questions on the exam paper, not the ones you would like to answer. 

Responding to the texts

Decide what you understand and like (or dislike) about each text. Think about different ways of reading them, so that you can write about alternative interpretations.

Make revision notes for yourself under these headings: G text(s) I particularly enjoyed, and why

  • text(s) I particularly disliked, and why
  • thematic connections between texts
  • interesting or unusual uses of language in texts
  • interesting or unusual ideas in texts
  • interesting or unusual writing techniques, devices or structures G main points of interest in character, setting or theme
  • similarities and differences between texts in relation to themes, ideas, techniques, purpose, audience, language, etc.

(DO NOT write them on the pre-release material itself, as this may get you disqualified.)

Even though you cannot put detailed notes on the actual pre-release material, you could devise a coding system and key which relates to the above list. It would be quite acceptable to write that onto the material and it might usefully jog your memory in the exam.


REMEMBER to take your own annotated copy of the pre-release material into the exam BUT DON’T TAKE ANY OTHER NOTES! 


Before the exam

  • Read Chief Examinersreports on previous exams: these will tell you why answers succeed or fail generally, and the common mistakes candidates make.
  • Study mark schemes published by your exam board: these will tell you how marks are gained in specific types of questions.
  • Look at the kinds of questions you are likely to face by studying past papers: you will not then be surprised in the exam.
  • Make sure that you know the latest syllabus requirements: again, this will prevent any nasty surprises in the exam.
  • Practise writing to the time limits of the exam, ensuring that you can write neatly and accurately at speed.

In the exam

Read the instructions on the paper carefully. You should:

  • establish how many questions you have to answer overall, whether some need to come from certain sections, whether there are choices within questions, etc.;
  • work out how long to spend on each question. Apportion time to each question in relation to the marks it carries in other words, spend twice as long on a question worth 10 marks than on one worth 5 marks.
  • check which text(s) or part(s) of text(s) you need to use in answering reading questions;
  • check whether writing questions require you to use your own knowledge and/or imagination, or whether there is some text you can use for ideas. 

Reading questions

Read each piece of text carefully and make brief notes on:

  • your first reactions to events/settings/characters in fiction texts; G your first reactions to information/facts/opinions in non-fiction texts;
  • any ideas/concerns/attitudes that strike you as interesting; G initial thoughts about language/technique/presentation. 
Read each question carefully so that you can:
  • understand exactly what is required, looking at key words such as How? or Why? Underline key words so that you remember to address them in your answer.
  • use any prompts to help you focus and structure your answer, remembering that they may be listed in order of difficulty;
  • keep focused on the question. Refer to it in your answer, and ensure that all you write is relevant.

Planning answers

Plan your answer in note or outline form. This ensures that you: G dont rush into writing your actual answer before you have got a good idea of what you want to say;

  • decide on the overall structure of your answer, so that it is logical and coherent;
  • decide which are the best textual references to use.


Check your final answer. Have you:

  • expressed yourself clearly, with accurate spelling and punctuation? 
  • set out quotations clearly and accurately?
  • included all the material you planned to use?
  • ended with a firm conclusion which refers back to the question? 

All types of writing

In any kind of writing under exam conditions make sure that you:

  • understand how to use stimulus material if it is provided;
  • make notes about content, bearing in mind the time available;
  • make an outline paragraph plan to help you structure your material; G consider drafting opening and closing paragraphs in some detail to ensure that they are effective;
  • write at your normal speed, taking care over accuracy and legibility; G constantly think about purpose and audience: are you presenting the right kind of material in the right kind of way?

Writing to explore, imagine, entertain

  • Decide on the ideas, feelings and situations that you want to explore in your writing.
  • Imagine the sort of behaviour, dialogue, reactions and settings that will make your characters believable.
  • Remember that to entertain does not necessarily mean humour: suspense, surprise and conflict are all equally acceptable.

Writing to inform, explain, describe

  • Think purpose. What is the point of the information, explanation or description you are writing?
  • Think audience. How will age, gender, interest, need, etc. affect the tone and style of your writing?
  • Think response. Do you want your reader to feel challenged, amused, reassured, flattered? Your choice of language needs to reflect this.

Writing to argue, persuade, instruct

  • Think about the viewpoint you adopt. Is it to be a powerful one-sided statement or a rational consideration of different opinions?
  • Think about the language you use. Will it achieve most by shocking readers, or by being cool and distanced?
  • Think about the evidence you can use to support your case and affect the readers response. 

Writing to analyse, review, comment

  • Convey the special qualities of whatever you are writing about by analysing what effect it has on you, and why.
  • Collect evidence. Weigh one aspect against another, so that you review the subject thoroughly.
  • Summarise your thoughts and feelings through clearly expressed comments.

Avoiding common mistakes


  • Comment, dont just describe think how and why rather than what.
  • Use quotation selectively, not just everything you can think of.
  • Analyse specific details of language and presentation dont make vague generalisations.


  • Keep to the subject dont twist a question to fit something you had prepared earlier.
  • Keep narratives simple and explanations relevant and logical dont try to be too clever.
  • Make sure your tone is appropriate dont ever forget the audience. 
source: Collins English