Junior Cert English: The art of writing differently

Commercial feature A broad range of writing styles is required – from concise, point-driven paragraphs to personal, exploratory essays

Thu, Mar 6, 2014, 01:00

Different kinds of writing
While you may be a good reader, and a good talker, capable of discussing issues and well able to convey your opinions, the exam is a written exam and writing is quite a different skill to talking. Most of us enjoy conversation but having the patience to sit for hours and write down information in a coherent and interesting manner is a different kind of skill. And it is important to recognize that different sections of the exam require different kinds of writing skills.

The kind of writing required in the reading section and the media studies sections of the exam could be described as concise writing. This kind of writing requires short, point driven answers, supported by references to examples in the passages you are given to read. Both of these sections of your exam are actually reading questions; it is your reading that is being tested, your ability to comprehend what you read, whether that happens to be a piece of prose or an advertisement.

As these sections of the exam are testing your reading ability, it is important to realize that the answers you write should be driven by points that contain information you find in the extracts, inferences you make about content, and observations you make about style.

This kind of writing should be direct in making its points, and those points should be made in short paragraphs. Each paragraph should contain your opinion, an opinion that should be made in short, clear sentences. That opinion, your points, should be supported by short quotations from the passages and references to the content. So, concise writing should be a set of points supported by evidence from the texts, delivered in short, clear paragraphs.

Personal writing is a term that is probably better recognized as being an essay. That essay may take the form of a story or a discussion or a description, but whatever form it takes, there are certain structural elements that are expected to be there.

Essays are expected to have development. In other words, regardless of what form an essay takes, it should have direction, which means it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Every essay must go somewhere. There should be a journey of some kind. If it is a discussion, you should take a side on some issue and the essay should indicate how you have arrived at a particular opinion. If the essay is a narrative, apart from having a setting where something occurs (the action) and characters who are involved in events, there should also be a passage of time.

Functional writing is quite different from concise writing and personal writing. It has more development and scope than concise writing, but has less opportunity for descriptive and imaginative passages than personal writing. This kind of writing – involving reports, reviews, letters, profiles– is a writing that requires organization and clarity above everything else. Again, the paragraphing style is crucial. Paragraphs should be brief and very clear, containing well made points. This kind of writing generally avoids figures of speech and long descriptions, instead concentrating on details of events. One element of this kind of writing is its adherence to presenting a logical sequence to what is being written, so that the content should be presented in a pattern of order that provides a clear beginning middle and end.

The kind of writing that requires you to discuss poems or extracts from drama and fiction texts, or that requires you to discuss something you have studied in school, is quite different from the writing used in an essay or in a report, or when answering a reading question.