Writing to Explain

Writing to explain you say! I can already hear the yawns. Although writing to explain may not be the most interesting of topics don’t let this put you off attempting an explain question in your exam. As mentioned previously it is strongly recommended you answer the writing to describe question. However, if this is awful you may need a back-up plan. Furthermore ‘writing to explain’ isn’t that difficult if you can get your head round the main things an examiner wants to see from you.

First up, understanding what you are being asked to do is very important. When an examiner says explain the way in which bullying can effect young people, for example, what he’s really saying is ‘plan an answer considering the main aspects of bullying in some logical order and then present them back to the examiner in a way in which your audiences will understand’. The main thing you should remember about writing to explain is that it wants you to explain several points in great detail rather than lots of points with very little detail. Explaining is almost like analysing, however you are analysing what it asks in the question as apposed to analysing a piece of text.

Although this may sounds easy, when your sat in the exam under pressure it can be significantly more difficult. One of the most important things is that initial plan. This allows you to ‘formulate ideas’ that are relevant to the question. You will need good ideas initially if you are going to be able to explain these ideas in detail.


To help formulate these ideas you should consider the following points:

· Note down several main points related to the question and assess these points; consider whether each point will allow you to explain it at length.

· You need to show that you understand both the topic and the audience you are writing for. To do this you need to be able to write in a way which is clear and concise but also shows examples of language or phrases which are associated with your target audience. For example you should use more simple language if the piece of writing is aimed at children.

· You also need to make sure that you structure your piece of writing in an appropriate manner. You should begin with an effective introduction outlining the main topic, move on to explain this in detail and then conclude the main points discussed in the piece of text. You should also consider how to link each paragraph. This effectively means making sure that each paragraphs lead on from one another i.e. if you are talking about an issue which is relevant to the issue you have brought up in the previous paragraph you can use what is known as a ‘linguistic hook’ – a word or phrase which leads the reader onto the next paragraph. Both of these things will improve the ‘flow’ of your writing and this will make it far easier for the examiner to give you lots of lovely marks.

You can remember these things more easily when you are in an exam by thinking TONE, LANGUAGE, and STRUCTURE, these three things are the foundations for any good piece of writing and if you get it right then you’ll have more ticks on your exam than you can shake a stick at.

Writing to explain- Example Question

1. Many people have interesting and unusual past-times. Write about your unusual past-time and explain why you are interested in it.
(27 marks)

Here is a typical examination style question. You are given a theme or a topic and then told to write about it, explaining a certain aspect of that topic as you write. In this instance it is why you became interested in an unusual past-time. I am going to write the beginning of an answer and point out the sorts of things you should do to secure the top marks.

Everyone, in some capacity, will have a past-time that they enjoy. They enjoy it for a variety of different reasons; perhaps they were brought up in a family full of horse riders, or maybe they saw something on T.V which really caught their eye. Whatever the avenue a person takes to find their hobby there is no denying that once you’ve discovered it there’s no turning back.
No turning back- the exact words that were ringing in my ears when I discovered the shocking truth- I am obsessed with collecting postage stamps. Although this may not seem so unusual it was a real shock when I told my friends about it.

“Everyone, in some capacity, will have a past-time that they enjoy.” A good opening sentence is always important. With this statement I am showing to the examiner that I am aware of the broad audience for this sort of question. Also I am making sure I engage the examiner to hold his/her attention when their marking the answer.

“There’s no turning back.” This is an example of a linguistic hook- keeping the reader interested and leading them onto the next paragraph. This is deemed by the exam board to be quite an advanced skill so if you include them in your writing your likely to get marked well for them.

“When I discovered the shocking truth.” This is what is known as ‘HYPERBOLE’, basically a posh but extremely useful word meaning exaggeration. Exaggeration is not necessarily a technique that you would need to include in an explain answer but nevertheless it can always come in handy if you want too add drama to your writing to sound that bit more imaginative and creative.

Test Yourself Questions

Here are a few exam questions for you to practise the techniques described above.

1. Most people go on short holidays or breaks, explain why your last holiday was so special.
(27 marks)

2. Climate change has become major government policy in recent years. Write an article for your school newspaper explaining why global warming is such a major issue.
(27 marks)