© 2009 Steve Campsall
kwikguide - writing that describes
Download free guide for printing
When you are asked to write to describe in English, the examiner is far more interested in your descriptive skills than what has really happened to you in your life. Feel free to be as imaginative as necessary - what you write can be based on reality - but it needs to gain marks, not be completely truthful.
Remember that descriptions in themselves are of little interest to a reader unless they are leading somewhere interesting. Make sure your description has a worthwhile point by giving your writing a purpose of some kind - this is called a controlling idea or ' thesis' your use of description should be to support this controlling idea.
Use precise, effective and well chosen vocabulary rather than using too many weak adjectives.
Keep the idea of every sentence you write heading in the same direction - towards a greater understanding of your controlling idea. This is called giving your writing ' unity' and 'coherence' (Click here for more help with this important concept).
Always aim to ' show' by allowing your reader to feel what you are feeling - much better than ' telling' .
Open in an interesting and original way to catch and hold your reader's interest.
Set the scene and create a suitable atmosphere or mood.
Focus your description only on what will further your controlling idea avoid all else.
Structure your writing. This will help you shape your writing effectively keep control of its flow and direction to help your reader work through your ideas more easily.
Click here to read some examples of descriptive writing, each of which shows a clear controlling idea, effective vocabulary that avoids excessive use of adjectives, and unity and coherence.
In this part of the exam, you gain marks for writing in an accurate, clear and fluent way. Each year the examiner's report mentions that many students failed to achieve a higher grade because they failed to check and correct their work. Always give yourself time to check your writing thoroughly before handing in the exam paper.
Read each sentence after you have written it
Write using a variety of sentence types and styles but remember especially that shorter sentences are often more interesting because they are crisper and clearer. An occasional ultra-short sentence can add real impact to writing.
Never fail to re-read your sentences after writing them to check that they are complete in their sense, accurate in their grammar and spelling and follow on logically and smoothly from the last.
Check every paragraph.
A paragraph is a written discussion that covers a single topic - one topic among the many that are needed to cover the subject matter of the whole piece of writing. One of the sentences in the paragraph, and quite often the first one, is called the ' topic sentence' . This is the sentence that introduces, or tells ' in a nut shell' , what the paragraph is going to be about. The remaining sentences do no more than expand and explore the ideas raised by the topic sentence in more depth. No points that are unrelated to the main topic should be covered in the same paragraph.
Each paragraph should flow smoothly from its predecessor. This is achieved by the use of a subtle ' hook sentence' at the end of the paragraph this is a sentence that ' hooks' into the new topic of the next paragraph.
To correct a missed paragraph simply put this mark where you want in to be: // then, in your margin write: // = new paragraph. The examiner will not mark you down for this so long as you have not forgotten all of your paragraphs.
Examine each comma
Over, or misuse, of commas is a common and important error that can lose many marks. Many of you will occasionally use a comma instead of a full stop to end some of your sentences. You are failing to recognise where the end of the sentence should have been. Too much of this leads to a dreary and difficult-to-read style because it destroys the clarity and crispness that is a necessary part of all good writing.
A sentence is a group of words that is about one main idea or ' thought' . It should seem ' complete' to its reader. Sentences that drift into several ideas, or which seem incomplete, are less clear and interesting to read. Ending a sentence with a comma (or even nothing but a space) instead of a full stop will allow it to ' run on' or drift in this way. Try to use commas only to mark off parts of a sentence so that the sentence reads more smoothly or makes clearer sense.
Look at every apostrophe.
Look at the words you have used that end in ' s' . Are they plurals? If so the chances are they do not need an apostrophe. Apostrophes are used to show when a letter has been missed out (as in: shouldn't) and when two nouns belong to each other (as in: the school's entrance). Also... make sure that when you write ' it's' you do mean ' it is' (as in it's cold) not ' belonging to it' (i.e. as in: its surface).