General Writing Techniques


Follow these simple tips to help maximise your potential for the exam…

Always remember to answer the question. I know this sounds patronising and your teacher will probably drone on about how important it is but it really is. A good way to do this is to:

· Refer back to the question in your answer as often as possible. This means that if you make a point about a certain technique or phrase in the text make sure that you know exactly how you are going to link it back to what the question is asking you – basically how it is relevant.

· Quote stuff! Providing evidence for what you are saying is very important, if you say something about the text but don’t back it up with quotes then the examiner can’t give you marks. If you don’t prove it you may lose it!

· Don’t panic! Be prepared! Look back at the question, very often you will find clues as to what the examiner is looking for. For example if the question is asking “What do colours suggest about the poet’s feelings in Song of the Old Mother” then go through the text and find all the references to colour. Once you have done this assess what the implications of each colour are i.e. yellow for happiness, green for envy or even jealousy and then try and work out whether any other techniques used support the themes brought about by the use of colour. By practising exam questions you will get a better feel for answering these types of questions especially regarding appropriate methods of structuring your answer.

· Use the poets’ last name when talking about a specific text. This shows that you understand the effect that the poet is trying to have and that they have included certain things for a distinct purpose.


Point Quote Comment (PQC)

So how do you quote in the exam? Well the simplest way to do it is to make an initial point, find a quote to support it and the talk about this quote – the effect of it and what it could suggest. Notice that I mentioned could suggest, this is very important because you never know for sure what the writer wanted something to mean – also by mentioning “could suggest” it gives you the opportunity to mention that is could mean something completely different. For example the use of the colour green in a poem could suggest envy but it could also suggest a relation to nature.

Here are some examples:
Shakespeare uses the metaphor “…” this could have been used to exemplify the surreal nature of the character’s situation.

Dickens goes on to build the pace of the text by using short sharp sentences such as “…” this has the effect of ……

Remember back up what you’re saying with quotes! ‘Quotes are good’.

Now I’m going to pass on one of the most precious secrets ever kept…


How to start and finish an essay!

You may laugh and ponder about whether or not I have completely lost my mind but this is something that teachers never tell you how to do and the reason, because it’s actually quite hard to do effectively! These techniques are useful for non-fiction media text answers and poetry essays.

Starting your essay

There are a number of ways in which you can tackle the start of an essay but the two main ways are:

1. The Introduction method.

If you’ve ever written something that you have to read out loud, for example persuasive speeches, then generally you have an introduction at the start, which sets out your main points or gives an outline of what you will be talking about. An essay is no different! With an ‘introduction’ style paragraph there are a number of benefits. Firstly it allows you clarify in your own mind the way in which you are going to answer the question. Secondly you make it clear to the examiner exactly what you are going to talk about, which shows them immediately that you have good organisational skills. Finally it makes it much easier to structure. Here’s an example:

Q. How does Dickens build drama and tension in the first chapter of Great Expectations?

‘Great expectations’ is a story filled with intrigue and drama. Dickens makes effective use of a variety of Dramatic techniques throughout the story in order to fluctuate the tension and keep the reader interested. Dickens also uses a variety of more common linguistic techniques to help portray the tension that is so apparent in the story. I am going to analyse to what extent these techniques are used and if any other factors contribute to the creation of drama and tension in the first chapter of the story.

If you didn’t notice, what I’ve done here is evaluate my aims for the essay clearly and effectively. I have also stuck to the golden rule of making sure that everything I say is relevant!

Remember, when writing an introduction you only need to be brief, the detail and thoroughness will come in the main chunk of writing when hopefully you are backing things up with quotations.


2. The ‘Jump right in’ Method

It must at this point be noted that this method is a little bit more risky but very time-effective if you get it right. If you feel that you are quite a confident writer then this could be the method for you. Also if you find it hard to stick to the time limit then jumping right in could give you that crucial extra 5 minutes to round everything off. I’ll now answer the same question but using this method so you can compare them and see which you think is the best!

A. The first example of Dickens’s ability to create drama and tension comes on line 16 of chapter one. Here we see Dickens beginning the description of the graveyard in which Pip, the protagonist, stands. Dickens uses dramatic irony to …… this has a secondary effect of ……

As you can see, this method does not mess about. The benefits of this is that you are immediately focusing on exactly what the examiner wants to see and you are displaying the skills that he or she will be marking you on. This method could also save you quite a lot of time by launching into the main chunk of writing and leaving out an introduction. Don’t worry about losing marks though, you aren’t given extra marks for doing an introduction style paragraph as they are just different ways of starting your piece of work, however making sure that the start of your essay is strong can make all the difference when it comes to the rest of your essay.


Ending your essay

The way in which you end your essay is just as, if not more important than the way in which you start it. When you end an essay you must summarise everything into a concise and relevant paragraph in order to show that you have completely understood everything you’ve been writing about. This is not actually that easy especially when you’re in your exam so by remembering these key points you should be fine.

· Remember a conclusion is used to summarise the main points so don’t use it to introduce any new ones. If you’ve made a good point previously in your essay then try to mention it in your conclusion, just make sure you re-word what you say to prevent your essay from sounding dull – remember it’s after reading your conclusion that the examiner decides your mark!
· Don’t forget that the conclusion is similar to the introduction in that it doesn’t need to drag on for a page worth of writing. As long as you summarise what you wanted to say then it doesn’t really matter how long it is.




In the exam it is vital you write a plan. Plans only take a few minutes and they allow you to organise your ideas, remind you of the things you want to write about and can help prevent you from spending too long on a particular section. A plan also means that if you do run out of time the examiner can still give a mark for something on the plan. However, it is important when writing a plan that you clearly separate it from the main body of text. This can be done easily by titling it ‘Plan’ and by ruling it out with a diagonal line at the end of the exam.

The two main types of plans are: the spider diagram and a list. Here’s an example of them in use to answer the following question:

1. Describe a place you love (27 marks)

The Spider Diagram

The list

The same plan as above but in a list form:

What love is…
Generalisation of the place I love

Built with my dad who has now passed away

Main body
Love – my tree house
Why? – Calm, nature, I built it, allows me to relive my childhood
Smells – damp, musty, but I love it nevertheless
Sights – the birds in their nest

My paradise, the memories will never fade


Spelling, punctuation and grammar?

Commonly confused words
Here’s a list of words that people often confuse, which can be a pain especially when you’re under pressure in an exam.

Accept: I accept your offer.
Except: Everyone is fired except John.

They’re: They’re an absolute pain.
There: Go over there.
Their: It was their ball.

Affect: The warm sunshine did not affect the boy.
Effect: The boy complained to little effect.

Quiet: It’s awfully quiet.
Quite: That’s quite a nice dress.

Desert: The Sahara desert is hot!
Dessert: The chocolate dessert was awesome.

Knew: I knew I was right.
New: The pink dress was brand new.

Peace: They were at peace with one another.
Piece: I got the last piece of cake.

Know: I know all the days of the week.
Now: Now that I can drive, things will be much easier.

Hear: I can hear you!
Here: Come here.

Were: Were the flowers nice?
Where: Where did he go?
We’re: We’re the best in the World!

Your: That’s your pie.
You’re: You’re a real pain.

Yes I know it’s a pain but unfortunately the only way to improve is to practice. The easiest method? Look, cover, write, check! Here’s a list of commonly mis-spelt words:

Argument Believe Disappear Imagery
Accommodation Business Disappoint Knowledge
Although Character Embarrass Metaphor
Analysis Concentration Emphasise Necessary
Argument Conclusion Engagement Participation
Atmosphere Conscience Environment Persuasion
Beautiful Definitely Favourite Prejudice
Beginning Development Fulfil Questionnaire


Rather than to patronise I’ll only tackle the harder stuff:

These are an absolute nightmare and should be handled with care. They’re used in two different ways…

1. To show that someone owns something:
If its singular add ‘s
E.g. John’s hat, Bob’s cat

If it’s plural but doesn’t end in ‘s’ add ‘s
E.g. Men’s Shirts

If it’s plural and already ends in ‘s’ then only add a ‘ at the end of the word
Girls’ toys, Boys’ games

2. Or if a letter has been omitted
E.g. “It is” becomes “It’s” or “do not” becomes “don’t”

Colons and semi-colons
These are difficult to use, however in order to gain good marks in the exam it’s important that you can demonstrate to the examiner that you are able to use them. The best method is to try and put one in your opening paragraph and then you can forget about them for the rest of the essay.

Colons are used for two main things:
1. Before a quotation
E.g. George Orwell often made explicit his political motivations in his literature, for example in ‘Animal Farm’: “ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS” could suggest…

2. Or before a list (semi-colons are also used here)
E.g. From the supermarket I will require: two packets of eggs; three loaves of bread; six bags of tomatoes; two packets of crisps and a box of mint chocolates.

Semi-colons are also used for two main things:
1. In a list as above.

2. To separate two closely related clauses instead of a full-stop.
E.g. James had been a hard worker all his life, but now he seemed like a God; there were times when the whole project rested completely on his shoulders.

Despite this it is only really suggested that you use semi-colons to separate two closely linked ideas and ignore the other three uses altogether (unless you have a perfect opportunity to use one of them).


Sentence styles

1. The simple sentence has just one noun and one verb
For example: John’s cat ran down the street.

This type of sentence would be used when you are trying to create impact or alert the audience.

2. The compound sentence is two or more simple sentences joined together
For example: I ran home. I ate tea.
could become
I ran home and then ate tea.

This type of sentence would make up a larger majority of your writing by alternating the connectives used such as: however; therefore; on the other hand; nevertheless.

3. The complex sentence is when two main ideas are linked by ‘dropping one sentence into another’.
For example: James Wolsh, our next Prime Minister, would bring prosperity to a waning nation.

This sentence would be used in conjunction with compound sentences to make up the main body of your piece of writing.

The most important fact, however is that they should all be used at some point in your piece of writing and should be used consciously to have a certain effect – don’t just use them anywhere!



For these essay questions (for English Language only) you should write your answer in the correct form. This means if you’re writing a letter you should set it out like a letter. Whilst there are several different styles they may ask you to use, the main ones are:

A Letter

For a letter you should follow the layout below…


Your Address..........


Address of recipient

If formal start with: Dear Sir/Madam
If informal start with: Dear James or Mr. Thomas

Main body

If formal end with Yours Faithfully
If informal end with Yours Sincerely


An article

Articles have a much easier layout to follow…

Title of article


Main body (you don’t need to put it into columns, just write it out as normal and put a note at the bottom to say it would be written in columns. You could also say an image would be included.)


Final Exam Tip!

Here’s a simple thing you should do in the exam. Remember in both papers section B is the extended piece of writing. This is a good thing, what you should do when you first open your question booklet is to read the writing questions in section B, this will give you an idea of what you will have to do, and allows you to begin thinking of some ideas in the back of your mind whilst answering the question in section A.