English Language Revision Cards

Writing to inform

The key thing about writing to inform is that you stick to the information. You shouldn't really show many of your own feelings, and you definitely don't want to tell your audience how they should feel. Instead, when you inform you make the facts easy to understand, with a clear structure. 

It's important to structure your answer well. Think of the answer in terms of a drawing, like this:

A timeline (http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/6aa9b41a86fc2c570c047627f6c81dd918098728.gif)

This is a timeline - the arrow is time moving forwards and the four lines are different events in order. For example, depending on what you write about, you can think of the day as the arrow, and plan the different events in a typical day. For instance, you could have registration, then an assembly, then two lessons followed by break. It should be easy to add information and detail. 

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Writing to explain

When you explain, you don't just write information - you also need to give reasons. In very basic terms you can think of the difference between informing and explaining in terms of answering a slightly different set of questions:

Inform = What? When? Who? Where?

Explain = What? When? Who? Where? How? Why?

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Writing to describe

When you describe, you need to give lots of detail and make the words interesting for others to read. For example, if you wanted to describe your home, you would describe it like this:

The first thing is to think about what you want to show other people. Do you want to concentrate on the roof tiles or the types of bricks used? Or do you want to tell them about the fence panel your brother broke when he was chasing you last summer?

You could also write about the time Stephanie threw a tennis ball and it got stuck in the guttering - it's still there - and when it rains really hard the gutter overflows. You might even have a gnome in the front garden, which your grandad bought - it looks stupid, but you won't move it in case you offend him.

Each of these details is far more interesting than roof tiles or measurements. So, when you are describing something, think of drawing a picture or taking a photograph. You focus on a certain point, write a paragraph about it, then move to the next point and the next.

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Differences between inform, explain and describe

The differences

  • If you inform, the writing tends to stick to facts - things you know about and things that can be checked elsewhere.

  • If you explain, the writing tends to be about facts and reasons, so you'd write about why or how something happened.

  • If you describe, it's like taking a photo of something - you need information, but also lots of interesting details. You can include your own thoughts and feelings as well, because that helps convey information to your audience.

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Writing to argue

The key thing about writing an argument is that you present both sides and come to a clear conclusion. It's not like arguing with one of your friends, when you just say what you think. Instead, when you write an argument you have to show you are reasonable and can consider the different sides.

Write to your local paper, arguing that the park should be preserved. It would not be enough to write that you want the park to be saved - it might be how you feel, but it wouldn't be an argument..... It wouldn't even be enough if you wrote about all the good things in the park. That would be persuading as you haven't thought about any other views.--->A good argument presents both the good and bad aspects of keeping the park. For instance, the park might protect nature, but cost a lot to keep clean. It might be a good place to walk, but few people actually go there. An argument depends on bringing these ideas together. Use connectives, like "because" or "however" or "although". These words give your argument a logical structure and help make the contrasts clear. Once you have worked through these ideas, you come to your conclusion - saying whether they should keep the park or not.

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Writing to persuade

When you are persuading people, you usually use a different style. You don't need to show both sides - all you have to do is present your ideas. For instance, imagine you had to persuade people to buy a certain toothpaste. You could write about the great taste, or how clean your teeth feel or how white they are. It doesn't really matter what you find to write about as long as you get them to buy it.

  • Be definite - if you are writing about how great chips are, keep repeating the idea. Convince yourself how good they are - they might even be a healthy option, because lots of doctors are bound to like them and chips wouldn't be so popular if they weren't really great, would they? Once you have convinced yourself, it's much easier to convince others. So next you need to remember to... Be positive - it's always better to hear how good your idea is rather than how bad other people's are. So write about the things that show your ideas in the best light. For instance, aren't chips just great for a quick snack? Why were chips voted the most popular option in our school at lunchtime? And finally don't be frightened to... Be pushy - If you don't seem too sure, or if you can't make your ideas stand out, then you aren't really persuading as much as you can.

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The Persuaders' Toolkit

  • Repeat yourself - don't worry about saying the same thing again and again - people forget, so repeat yourself and they will remember. Even when you think they might remember, you can always repeat yourself another time.

  • Be personal - using words such as "we" or "I" always sounds a lot more convincing. We all know that, don't we?

  • Use questions - why would you use questions? Well, they make people think. They also get your readers involved in what you are writing. So will you use them when you persuade? If not, why not?

  • Use feelings to push ideas - words are your ammunition. In seconds, they can make your friends laugh, or your teacher angry, so why not use them properly to persuade your readers?

    For instance, don't just write "the pressure of doing school work", because there is no real feeling there. Instead, how about: "the endless trauma, the desperation and the mindless suffering that school work inflicts on students".

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Writing to advise

The trick is to be gentle - it's no good pushing your ideas at your readers, or trying to impress them. Instead, you should come across as friendly, as someone who just wants to help.

For instance, imagine you're writing to advise someone in Year 9 who is moving house and has to change schools. We know that it won't be easy - they'll have to make new friends and cope with all sorts of changes. So you need to be sympathetic and give some ideas you think could help.

The first thing might be to plan each main idea in a separate paragraph because it's easier to follow like this. Then think about how you want to present your ideas. 

It is not just the information that makes this a good piece of advice, it's also the style. It includes words like "might" and "can". These make the ideas softer - they are not in your face and pushing you to agree, they just guide you. And they are very simple to use, so make sure you include words like "should, can, could, might, ought to and may" - each one turns an idea into a piece of advice.

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Differences between argue, persuade and advise

When writing to argue, persuade and advise, you are offering ideas to other people. However, each style does this in different ways. If you argue, the writing tends to look at both sides and come to a conclusion. If you persuade, it tends to be one-sided, making your ideas the only sensible choice. If you advise, it tends to be softer, guiding someone towards your ideas.

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Creative writing (1)

Narrative writing is the most traditional form of creative writing: it’s telling a story. The trick to getting high marks is not to tell a story in the traditional way. Think about interesting ways to tackle the different aspects of the narrative. Who is telling the story?

  • Is it first person? Is someone in the story telling the reader directly? In these kinds of narratives the narrator might be the main character – or it might be someone who is very minor. Imagine the story of Cinderella told from the point of view of the mouse who gets turned into her footman. He’d have a very different view of the story – and what would life be like after he’s turned back into a mouse.

  • If the narrator is a specific character, that character needs to be reflected in the way the story gets told – the comments or ‘asides’ which they make to the reader might show who they really are. Perhaps the narrator in the example above would keep making comments about cheese. If it’s someone unexpected then keeping that quiet for a while can lead to an effective ending.

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Creative writing (2)

  • Are you an all-knowing narrator? The story is told in the third person, but the narrator might need to tell the audience what the characters are thinking. Or perhaps there is a secret in the character’s past which the reader needs to know to understand what’s going on.

  • Or, is the narration limited to what a single observer can see? This works well for stories which are shrouded in mystery, or follow a small event in detail. Twist in the tale stories need these kinds of limits.

The person who is supposed to be telling the story will determine the ‘voice’ you write in. If the narrator is someone serious, the tone will be serious. If the narrator is a bit of a joker, the tone will be more informal. Don’t tell the reader about the narrator directly – let the way you write do it for you.

Exercise: Practice writing in the character of different narrators. Imagine the narrator is writing about eating breakfast. What kind of things does he notice? What words does he or she use to describe the food or the people around?

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Writing a review (1)

Review and commentary writing tends to be a piece of writing in which you offer your personal opinion. Your own personal knowledge will make your conclusions count. To demonstrate how much you do know about a topic, you will need to support your points with valid reasons. A review:

  • >focuses on strengths and weaknesses
  • >uses evidence to support ideas
  • >draws a conclusion, saying whether something will be useful for, or interesting to, its audience and purpose
  • >gives personal opinion with confidence and authority
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Writing a review (2)

Like all text types, review writing has certain fairly fixed conventions (called 'genre conventions'). A good way to get used to these is to analyse an existing review and to use it as a 'style model' or example for your own writing.

On the following card is an extract from an example of a review of the book The Darkest Realm by fictional novelist John Paul Grimeson. This particular reviewer did not like what they read. What techniques do you see being used?

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Writing a review (3)

An annotated extract showing the language techniques used in a review

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Writing a review (4)

These are some of the typical conventions that are being used in this review:

  • >the review opens in a lively way to state the writer's opinion
  • >there is a use of direct-address ('you') combined with a question aimed at engaging the reader
  • >alliteration helps emphasise a key phrase
  • >references to other well known works by the author helps the reader's understanding
  • >writing techniques such as a metaphor create vivid imagery that helps engage the reader and also emphasise the writer's negative view
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Writing a letter (1)

The standard layout for a business letter is shown below.

  • Your address appears first at the top right-hand corner.
  • The address of the person you are sending it to is next, on the left-hand side.
  • Underneath, on the right-hand side is the date.
  • Underneath that in the centre of the page is a title (usually in bold).
  • Next is the 'salutation'. This is the 'Dear Sir' or 'Dear Miss Jones".
  • Next comes the main bit of the letter. Don't use indents for paragraphs - just leave a line between each paragraph.
  • The last section is the sign-off. This is where you put 'Yours sincerely' if you have used the person's name or 'Yours faithfully' if you have used 'Dear Sir/Madam'.
  • Leave a few lines for your signature and then put your name on the line below your job title.
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Writing a letter (2) FORMAL

Using formal language doesn't mean that you have to sound boring, you can still use words imaginatively in formal writing. News reports use formal language, but the words are rich and stimulating to keep the audience interested.

  • Make your writing clear and to the point.

  • Try linking ideas with:
    In addition
    Nevertheless
    On the other hand
    By contrast
    Although
    Alternatively

  • Include some complex sentences in your writing. Try using semi-colons if you feel confident about using them correctly. It's good to use figurative language if you think it fits in with the purpose and audience of the task. Metaphors and similes work well in speeches.

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Writing a letter (3) INFORMAL

Writing is informal when it reads as though someone is chatting to the reader. In the right situation, it makes your writing seem more friendly and natural.

1. Address the reader directly

2. It's okay sometimes to use the kind of words that are more usual in speech than writing

3. Contractions sound more natural in certain types of writing eg a talk to fellow students

A word of caution, however!

  • >Don't baffle your reader with too much slang.

  • >Never swear.

  • >Think carefully about structure - informal writing is different to speech and needs carefully planned paragraphs to keep it clear and easy to read.

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