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FULL ENGLISHBIZ CONTENTS

 

writing skills - anecdotes

What is an anecdote?
An anecdote is a short and interesting story taken from a person's past experience - or that of someone they know or have heard about. For your exam, of course, your own anecdotes will need to be imaginary - made up (but they must still be entirely believable and relevant).

Why are anecdotes useful?
It is a simple fact of life that we enjoy hearing interesting stories. No one knows why, but we do. Certainly, we enjoy relating to and learning from stories - and we often can identify with the characters in them.

If you choose to use a short anecdote in your own writing (and you should give it serious consideration), it will engage, involve and interest your reader in ways little else can; it will add a human and personal dimension that can be irresistible and fascinating.

But anecdotes need to be believable and lively - and they can also be very emotional; and because anecdotes are 'true' stories, they can be very convincing indeed, adding authority to what you write.


How do you use an anecdote?

In 'Writing to Persuade'
For coursework or in the exam, make up a true-sounding story that shows how important your view is, or how other views are less well thought through.

Below is an example.

The exam question asks you to write an article to persuade your readers that homeless people suffer and need help but you know that many people have no sympathy for the homeless, maybe thinking they are lazy and don't want work or that the government help them out enough already with social security. So you make up an anecdote...

 

In 'Writing a Story' or 'Writing to Entertain'
For coursework and exam you can create very fine stories based upon incidents from your own life - events that have happened either to you, or to someone you know. These need not be wholly truthful - they can be simplified and dramatised to make them more interesting and engaging.

 

In 'Writing to Inform'
Remember that here the essay requires a lively and interesting tone that also offers a balanced view as it answers the 5W+H questions (what, when, where...). Anecdotes can be very useful here. For example, you could relate two short anecdotes, each of which shows a different aspect of whatever you are informing your reader about. Then you can add in your own view to add even more balance by giving a third viewpoint. Giving balanced opinions and facts is a key aspect of writing to inform.

 

In 'Writing to Explain, Analyse, Review or Comment'
This kind of writing often needs to simplify and make clear a complex issue. By relating a personal story that might act as a useful analogy, you can make your writing more interesting and useful.

 

In 'Writing to Advise'
Advice needs care, but an anecdote can show how someone else faced up to or managed a particular situation.


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