How to improve your score in IBDP Language A: Paper 1
Whether you are a standard or higher level Language and Literature student, or a Literature-only student, Paper 1 tests your ability to analyse unseen texts. If you are a standard level student, you will have to analyse one text out of a choice of two. If you are a higher level student you will be given the same two texts but you will have no choice: you must write an analysis of both texts. The texts will be unconnected – the topics and text types will be different – and you are not required to compare or contrast at all. You will essentially complete the same exercise twice. This is to reflect the greater number of lessons you will have had to explore a wider range of texts types, and the greater ability you should have when approaching texts by yourself. HL students will be given more time: 2 hours and 15 minutes compared to 1 hour and 15 minutes at standard level. All students will be given an optional guiding question that will focus your attention on important elements of the text, providing you with a ‘way in’ and helping you structure a worthwhile analysis. There are 20 marks available in this exam and this page will help you get as many of them as you can.
If you are on the Literature-only course, you will have to read three literary genres (at standard level) and four at higher level. These genres are: prose fiction, poetry, drama, and prose non-fiction. You will be asked to respond to unseen passages from any two of these genres. If you are an HL student you will have to write about both; SL students can choose which literary genre they prefer to tackle from the two given. All other requirements of this paper, such as time and number of marks, are the same as those on the Language and Literature course.
Whichever course you are on, there’s no doubt that paper 1 is a challenging exam. It represents 35% of your grade at SL and 25% at HL. It will be impossible to predict the topics and exact texts that may appear in this exam paper. The range of possible text types available in the Language and Literature exam is wide, as illustrated by the examples given in the IB syllabus guide. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for likely text types. In the past, comics and cartoons, advertisements, speeches, opinion pieces, infographics, magazine articles, news reports and travel writing have frequently appeared on this paper. Less common examples have been song lyrics, movie posters, letters and even texts from the past, such as an extract from Samuel Pepys’ diary – he was an eyewitness to the Great Fire of London in 1666! Moreover, the IB subject guide is explicit in that you are not meant to exhaustively memorise features of different text types just in case one appears in your exam. Instead, you can learn approaches that are transferable to any text you are given and learn to recognise patterns of language that can help you analyse a text, ascertain its purpose and intended audience, and evaluate its success.
Language and Literature Text Types
(Literature course only)
Select a text type by clicking one of the buttons (above), or scroll down the page, to find explainers and key conventions, along with sample texts and responses. All these answers would score highly if produced in this exam; perhaps even 20 out of 20. However, it is important to note that these responses demonstrate only one possible approach each time. Alternative responses can also be valid. Discuss the responses with your classmates and teacher as you go through the course, and revise before your assessments and exams. Once you have read and written a few sample responses, you’ll be able to find strategies that work for you and will allow you to succeed in Paper 1, whatever text you may encounter.
The world of advertising is enormous, a classroom study of this text type might easily make up a good chunk of your course – and you’ll still have only scratched the surface of what this wide and varied genre has to offer. Unsurprisingly, advertisement texts have been extremely popular in Paper 1. They tend to be persuasive and you can easily learn a few key features to look out for. Studying the language of advertising claims and investigating issues like representation are interesting in their own right, and improving your media literacy when it comes to analysing images and knowing when you’re being manipulated or conned is an important aim of the IB Lang and Lit course. Advertising can be extremely creative too, and striking the balance between recognising effective writing and being skeptical about the things you read can make the difference between a good answer and a great one in Paper 1. Take a look through some of these examples to find common patterns of analysis that you can apply to your analysis of adverts you encounter:
Try for yourself:
Key Features of advertisements
- Problem and benefit: also called ‘benefit and need’, the success of any advert depends upon appealing to the desires of its readers.
- Image: a major component of modern advertising, images often tell visual narratives, or employ tactics such as ‘shock value’ or ‘sex sells.’
- Slogan and copy: as the image is so important in ads, text is kept to a minimum. Slogans should be short, catchy, memorable and should have a relationship with the image; this is called anchoring. Look for typographical features such as bold fonts, underlined words and the like.
- Association: ads sell products… but also sell values. You should be alert to the abstract concepts that the advert is associating with its product and brand. Understand that objects, settings, people and so on are symbolic.
- Testimonial: adverts often include the satisfied quotations of customers who already used the product and are delighted with their purchase. Some ads feature celebrity testimonials.
- Advertising claims: favourites include the use of weasel words, scientific claims, vague language, or bandwagon claims. There are many more for you to look out for, and you might also keep an eye out for jargon which sounds impressive, but doesn’t communicate meaning.
- Persuasion: adverts are always persuasive. Even ads that are not trying to sell you a product or service might be asking you to think something, change your behaviour or help someone. Look out for any and all kinds of persuasive devices in advertising.
A sub-category of advertising, charity appeals attempt to recruit you on behalf of a good cause and often ask you to donate either time or money. They are extremely persuasive, and often rely on similar methods to conventional advertising and persuasive speaking, tending to have more copy than conventional adverts. Take a look at the sample analyses to different charity appeals here and notice the elements they have in common:
Try for Yourself:
- Persuasive: the purpose of charity adverts is to make the reader take action, probably in the form of money or time. Adjacent to this is the need to raise awareness of social problems. Therefore, look out for all kinds of persuasive rhetorical features in charity appeals.
- Pathos: charity ads are likely to be more emotive than regular adverts. By appealing to emotions such as anger, pity, guilt, sympathy, and so on, charity adverts make it more likely that you will want to respond.
- Hard-hitting: like conventional advertising, charity appeals rely on visual elements to impact the viewer. An effective approach is to use hard-hitting shock tactics to spur the reader of this text type into action.
- Credibility: charity appeals need to be even more trustworthy than regular persuasive texts. Look for information that suggests your donations will make a positive change, perhaps in the form of facts and statistics.
- Metonymy: social problems like hunger and poverty are too large for one person to help solve; so charity ads often introduce you to a single individual who represents all those who your donation goes towards helping.
- Direct address: charity ads will often address the reader with the word ‘you’, striving to make a strong connection. If a person in the advert is making eye contact with you, this is a kind of visual direct address.
Frequently associated with wartime propaganda, recruitment campaigns can be used in a variety of contexts to encourage people to support a cause. A hybrid category of advertising and persuasion, recruitment campaigns would traditionally have been waged with pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and posters. Increasingly, this text type is being driven online, although certain traditional features survive; in particular, you can look out for webpages being formatted in three parts, as if folded into a brochure. Take a look at a couple of these responses to recruitment texts, then have a go at writing your own:
Try for yourself:
key features of recruitment campaigns
- Persuasive: the purpose of a recruitment campaign is to persuade you to sign up to a cause or join an organisation. Recruitment drives are almost certain to use direct address and imperatives.
- Visuals: can be wholly visual, but likely to have some accompanying text (multi-modal).
- Slogans: text may be minimal or in the form of slogans which are designed to be catchy. Pay attention to typography, fonts and emphasised words.
- Pathos: the core of a campaign is often emotional, aiming to elicit feelings such as patriotism and duty on one hand, or guilt if one is not to sign up.
- Card-stacking: a common feature of recruitment drives is they often fail to show the downsides of joining up! Ignoring parts of the argument that don’t fit your agenda is called card-stacking.
- Simplification: along with a host of other fallacies, recruitment campaigns reduce complex issues to simple solutions. They may also invoke stereotypes.
- Symbolism: elements of the text will connote concepts that are integral to the writer’s message. Look out for metonymy, where an individual is made to stand for the whole.
Learning the features of persuasion – and how persuasion and propaganda overlap – form a part of your lang and lit course. So if you happen to be given a persuasive speech in your final Paper 1 exam, you can count yourself lucky. Persuasive speeches are organised around clear formal frameworks, such as appeals to logic and emotional appeals, and also provide a chance for individual speakers to express themselves stylistically. Check the formal features of persuasive speeches opposite and, if you want to learn more, visit the course page for this unit of study. Then browse these sample responses to see how to put your learning into practice:
- Chicken Tikka Masala
- William Morris Lecture
Try for Yourself:
key features of speeches
- Ethos: the speaker establishes his or her credibility and may allude to a moral, social or spiritual leader with whom the audience cannot disagree.
- Logos: clear, reasonable arguments, facts and statistics and quoting experts in the field are all ways of establishing a logical appeal.
- Pathos: emotive language and imagery are ways of helping the audience empathise with the feelings of other – often vulnerable – people.
- Persuasive: the speaker attempts to make his or her listener think in a certain way, believe something or take action.
- Direct address: the speaker tries to draw closer to the listeners by addressing them as ‘you’ – look out for the use of ‘we’ or‘us’ to include the speaker and listener on the same side – and be wary of attempts to compliment the listener.
- Modality: modal verbs are small but important words (such as ‘must’, ‘need’, ‘should’, ‘might,’ and so on) that reveal the speaker’s degree of certainty and strength of feeling. You can study modality here.
- Rhetorical devices: all kinds of rhythmical, structural, auditory and linguistic tricks can be employed by a skilled speaker. They are too many to list here, but rhetorical strategies can be studied and learned.
- Logical Fallacies: also called ‘argumentation fallacies.’ Common fallacies in speeches are glittering generalisations, simplification and slippery slope.
Often printed in newspapers or magazines, and sharing many of the features of persuasive speeches, the opinion piece is usually a thoughtfully considered argument about a controversial topic in which the writer takes a side or proposes a solution. Unlike other forms of text for mass consumption, the opinion piece does not pretend to be straight or unbiased. Although it may contain elements of concession or acknowledge the other side of the issue, the purpose of an opinion piece is to express an opinion in a convincing, persuasive or powerful way. An Op-Ed is a special type of opinion piece, normally shorter, which derived its name from its position opposite the editorial page. The op-ed carries the official position of the news institution on a topical issue of the day.
Try for yourself:
- Perspective: as an expression of a personal viewpoint, the first person is most commonly adopted for opinion pieces. Look out for ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ – a clever way of implying the viewpoint is commonly held.
- Solid Arguments: an opinion piece might open your eyes to the reality of an issue, providing facts, statistics and information to help convince you of the writer’s viewpoint. Expect to see opinions backed up by studies, research or evidence of some kind. Keep an eye out for assertion, though, where a writer presents an opinion as if it were a fact.
- Anecdotes: sometimes a writer will relate a small story from his or her personal experience in order to demonstrate a thoughtful approach to the topic at hand. You may find the opinion piece begins with this story, which acts as a kind of hook into the main article.
- Structure: the writer of an opinion piece is not trying to keep you in suspense and the opinion is often obvious from the title or first few lines of the article. The rest of the article should support or develop the writer’s point in a number of ways. The ending should be strong and certain, perhaps reiterating the writer’s position.
- Register and tone: you should be especially alert to the writer’s choices in this regard. Opinion pieces are often formal, but the writer may adopt an irreverent tone, be passionate, conversational, friendly, challenging, even sarcastic depending on the tactics used to convince you of a particular opinion.
- Concession: although similar in many ways, opinion pieces are not quite the same as persuasive speeches, so the writer is not necessarily trying to change your opinion. In this case, you might find concessions to the other side of the argument or even an acknowledgement that the writer’s opinion is flawed in some way.
You might study a graphic novel such as Persepolis or Maus as part of your literature course; you may also be presented with a comic strip or cartoon in Paper 1. Students enjoy comics and cartoons because they are engaging and colourful – but make no mistake. This text type can be as subtle and sophisticated as any novel (just check out the list of features opposite). If you want to become an expert in the comic book form, you might like to read Understanding Comics: the Invisible Art by Scott McCloud. Don’t forget to check out one or two of the examples below, which demonstrate how this text type might be analysed in an exam:
Try for Yourself:
- Purpose: comic strips are often humorous; their primary purpose is to entertain. Nevertheless the strip may make a serious point about a local or global issue.
- Structure: comics and cartoons are drawn in square boxes called panels, arranged in sequence and read in a linear fashion. The white space between the panels is called gutters.
- Exposition: text that tells the story is presented as captions.
- Speech and thought bubbles: so you can read the internal and external dialogue of the characters.
- Mechanics: spatial mechanics is the use of space within and between each frame. Temporal mechanics is the way time can be slowed down, sped up or stopped.
- Artistic style: comics are drawn purposefully and with intention. Are the pictures crisp, heavy, weighty, light, cartoony, realistic, bright, dark? Can you tell whether the artist used pencil, pen and ink, or brush? Words that describe mood and tone can be useful when analysing graphic weight (shading and contrast) and saturation (brightness).
- Emanata: items such as dots, lines, exclamation marks or onomatopoeia that depict action, emotion or sound.
- ‘Cartoonification’: how realistic are the images in the cartoon or comic strip? Realism is measured on a spectrum from photorealistic or lifelike to simplified.
- Punchline: especially apparent in four-panel comic strips, the joke is revealed in the last panel.
Often presented as a single image, some cartoonists focus on topical issues of the day. They attempt to comment on individuals (celebrities and politicians make good targets for political cartoonists) and public figures in a humorous or pointed way. Satirical cartoons may also be called editorial cartoons or political cartoons.
try for yourself:
- Purpose: satirical or political cartoons aim to satirise; this means they ridicule, lampoon or criticise a specific target which may be a person, group of people or a particular decision or viewpoint.
- Irony: meaning when one’s actions contradict one’s words. Look out for people in cartoons saying one thing and doing another.
- Caricature: people are simplified, exaggerated or distorted for effect. An element of caricature may be synecdoche, whereby a part of something is made to stand for the whole.
- Symbolism: objects, icons and even colours have specific associations. Sometimes items are labelled in the text to help the reader make associations.
- Allusion: the cartoon may refer to historical or political events outside the text. The success of an allusion depends on the reader’s ability to recognise it.
- Tone: scathing, sarcastic, pointed, or critical are some of the words you might use to describe the tone of satirical cartoons.
A wide ranging and popular text type, magazine articles differ from news articles in that they are not reporting recent events, but rather discussing events, issues, trends and topics that have a general, contemporary appeal. Increasingly, magazine articles are published online, as producers can reduce costs such as printing and distribution, and collect revenue through both subscriptions and advertising. There are many sub-categories of magazine article, such as the celebrity article, scientific article, interview and so on. Topics of a magazine article are wide, in truth it’s possible to write about anything and publish it as an article; more common topics include fashion, entertainment, food, sport, and lifestyle.
Try for Yourself:
Key features of Magazines
- Headline: bold text that reveals the topic of the article and should provide a hook for the reader.
- Images: photographs of people and places are common features of magazine articles. They are almost always posed, not natural, and are often as prominent as the copy.
- Layout: look out for box-outs, bullet points, ears and other kinds of layout features.
- Entertainment: although they might be topical and current, most magazine articles are designed to entertain. Information may be displayed in an appealing way, using pull quotes and subheadings.
- Buzzwords: being up-to-date, relevant and current means some articles make use of buzzwords and words that are popular at the time of publication.
- Interactive Features: increasingly, articles that would traditionally have been printed in magazines are being published online. In this case, look out for interactive features such as embedded videos, hyperlinks and tabs.
- Embedded interviews: experts on or participants in the topic at hand are often interviewed and quotations are used throughout the article. In the case of celebrity articles, the whole piece could be the write-up of an interview (see below).
Often published in weekend magazines, and now increasingly online, interviews are the write-up of a conversation between a journalist (the interviewer) and an interviewee, normally a celebrity, expert in a field, or person in the public eye. Interviews are written to entertain or divert, but also fulfil the purpose of satisfying a reader’s curiosity for information: whether about how a famous writer works, how an individual became successful, or simply the lifestyle of the rich and famous. When reading an interview, the focus is normally on the interviewee’s thoughts and opinions. But look out for authorial intrusion, something you may have come across in your literary studies, where either directly or indirectly the writer of the article makes their opinions known as well.
Try for Yourself:
- Question-Answer: a recognisable feature of interviews in this format, which presents the questions asked and responses using quotations (direct speech).
- Register: as a record of a spoken conversation, a written interview is likely to contain examples of language that is more like speech. Look out for colloquialisms, idioms, contractions and even jokes.
- Quotation: as an alternative to the question-answer format, you might see interviews written up as a magazine article. In this case you will see a mixture of direct quotation and indirect free speech.
- Topics: the interview may be focused on one issue or may range across various topics. Look out for the interviewer asking leading questions to take the conversation in a particular direction.
- Perspective: the interview presents a one-sided view on a topic or person, so is likely to be highly subjective. The interviewee may use assertive statements which present opinions as if they are facts.
- Them-and-us: celebrity interviews tend to put interviewees on a pedestal. Look for ways in which the text creates a divide between celebrities and ‘us’, the reader, or represents the interviewee as special in some way.
It’s difficult to imagine modern life without digital communication. Following the development of the internet, readers have been empowered to both consume and produce written and visual content at the same time. A popular form of online text type is the blogpost, normally shortened to ‘blog.’ In many ways, blogs have a lot in common with magazine articles and opinion pieces; but instead of media institutions deciding what we should read about, independent reader-writers decide the topics for themselves. For this reason, blogs can be quirky, niche, and carry counter-cultural messages. Have a look at a couple of these responses to the ‘blog’ text type:
try for yourself:
key features of blogs
- Viewpoint: blogs normally represent the interests and opinions of an individual, so are normally first person.
- Purpose: Blogs are guided by individual interests or concerns so the purpose is flexible. A blog might seek to inform readers about an area of interest, topic or movement. They may also discuss an event or issue. Blogs might even function like an online diary, describing the day’s events and reflecting on an experience.
- Diction: depending on the topic, writers of blogs could employ a specialist vocabulary or use technical terms.
- Visuals: blogs may illustrate the text with cartoons, images or photographs (perhaps illustrated or taken by the writers themselves).
- Structure: again dependent on the individual text, but you can look out for chronological and linear structures with subheadings, clear connectives or other features helping organise the text.
Again, this is more a category of writing than a text type. Informational text range from cookbooks to technical manuals, encyclopaedias to public service announcements. Informational texts are meant to appeal to your head rather than your heart. There may be some overlap between information texts and scientific articles. Moreover, infographics are a highly visual form of information text which you can study in detail (below). Take a look though one or two of these sample responses to see how you might analyse informational texts of different kinds.
Try for yourself:
Key features of information texts
- Neutral language: aiming to inform above all else, the register should be formal or semi-formal, the language accessible and the tone neutral.
- Diction: some informational texts are aimed at particular readers and employ technical terms or specialist language – watch out for jargon, which may not communicate clearly.
- Layout: these kinds of texts normally have a clear, easy to understand layout. They might use box-outs, lists, bullet points, page dividers and other organisational features to help guide you step-by-step through the text. Some informational texts are non-linear.
- Facts and Statistics: presented in all kinds of ways: percentages; graphs; charts or numbers. Look for credible sources that are cited.
- Typography: look for fonts, capitalisations, bold or italicised words, underlined words, or other features that help emphasise key points.
- Images: often in the form of diagrams, images should reinforce the written text or be broken into step-by-step guides. They may be simplified.
- Information: although this goes without saying, you should differentiate between general information and specific details.
Short for information graphic, these little visual texts are designed to summarise and present complex information, knowledge and data. They might be posted on a wall, be printed in a magazine or textbook, be a feature in a magazine or, increasingly, spread online. Some brilliant designers work on creating infographics, and the best examples of this text type are almost works of art in themselves. Once you’ve studied the key features of infographics, try your hand at analysing one or two of the samples below.
try for yourself:
- Audience: normally infographics are designed to reach as wide an audience as possible. As always look out for technical language that might indicate a niche audience.
- Simplification: the main purpose of infographics is to simplify complex knowledge or data. Look out for all kinds of simplification techniques including summary, bullet points, images with captions and more.
- Illustrations: they say a picture is worth a thousand words and nowhere is this more true than in infographics. Icons are simplified images that symbolise certain ideas from the text.
- Copy: infographics are multimodal, meaning there will be some brief text included. Look out for headlines, labels and snippets (brief chunks of text).
- Structure: good infographics are little visual narratives that tell a simple story, so look out for structural elements that help you decode the sequence of events.
- Design: infographics are supposed to be eye-catching. Colour, typography, font and other design features should combine to help you get information and also engage your interest.
A sub-category of magazine articles and sharing features with information texts (above), general interest scientific articles can be drawn from publications such as National Geographic, New Scientist, Cosmos, Nature and more. There’s an interesting investigation to be had in the study of language and literature into the tension between science and the arts and, by reading though the sample papers below, you’ll notice how these two disciplines are not necessarily as different as you might think:
try for yourself:
- Informative: the purpose of scientific writing is to share knowledge, so look out for informative features such as facts and statistics and clear explanations. Some articles will also simplify concepts for a more general readership.
- Diction: inevitably, writing about science and nature will involve using a specialist vocabulary of technical and precise terms.
- Comparisons: some scientific concepts are quite abstract or complex, so writers of scientific articles might use similes and comparisons to make them easier for a wider readership to visualise.
- Visuals: photographs, diagrams, charts and graphs are all likely to accompany and illustrate scientific concepts. Look out for more examples of simplification.
- Credibility: research, authoritative sources, and quotations by experts make far-out concepts more credible.
- Structure: look out for both linear and non-linear structures and layouts, depending on the content. A text might provide a timeline or historical overview. Boxouts, summaries, explainers, glossaries can all help communicate complicated ideas.
Newspaper front pages and reports belong to broadly three categories: tabloid, broadsheet and online, each of which have their own particular conventions. You can study the news media in more depth by visiting the courses on journalism, bias, euphemism and the impact of technology on the news.
- UK Weather Report
- 100 Meter Sprint
Try for Yourself:
- Masthead: a strip across the top of a newspaper front page containing the name of the newspaper, the date of publication and the price. Tabloid papers from the UK are called ‘red-tops’ because of the red colour of the masthead.
- Headline: the choice of words in a headline is essential to the tone and angle of the story. There are many techniques involved in creating headlines and you should definitely learn: slammer; pun; alliteration; elliptical headlines (which only include the keywords).
- Visuals: all newspapers make use of photographs to accompany stories. Tabloid papers are dominated by images while broadsheet papers tend to use smaller photographs. Look out for pictures of people’s faces, which reveal emotion and create bias.
- Copy: the main text of the article. Features you should be on the look out for are: sensationalism; vague language; emotive language and euphemism.
- Embedded interviews: you can expect to find witness recounts, expert opinions and statements from authority figures in almost all newspaper reports.
- Bias: all kinds of bias exist in newspaper reports, from selection bias (the choice of what content to include and what to exclude) to name-calling, to the use of certain facts and statistics and more.
- Figurative Language: anyone who still thinks the news is purely factual needs to go back to the start of the course! News reports are a rich source of metaphor, simile, hyperbole, sensationalism, and exaggeration, often distorting reality in some way.
Although descriptive writing is a major part of literary fiction, non-fiction writers may also write with the purpose of having you visualise a scene, event or person. Many forms of writing can be descriptive: autobiographies, travel articles, letters, diaries and blogs might all feature descriptive passages to one degree or another. Read through a sample response, then try your hand at analysing a descriptive passage:
- What is Poverty?
Try for yourself:
Key features of descriptive passages
- Diction: the aim of descriptive writing is to help you visualise what’s in the writer’s head, so vague language is not helpful. Descriptive writing employs concrete language in precise ways.
- Imagery: as writing which is drawn from direct experience, description always involves imagery. Humans perceive the world vividly using our visual sense – but don’t forget about other ways of perception: sensory images can also be auditory, tactile, kinaesthetic, and even olfactory (the sense of smell).
- Figurative Comparisons: similes, metaphors, and personifications are commonly found in descriptive writing.
- Modifiers: the function of adjectives and adverbs are to describe.
- Perspective: one of the most important features. For example, a piece from an outsider perspective will contain very different thoughts and feelings to a piece written from an insider’s point of view.
Arguably the most personal text type as the intended reader is usually… the writer him or herself. Almost since the advent of the written word, diaries have been kept by individuals to record daily events, reflect on personal experiences and try to make sense of the complex issues of society. A freeform text type, they tend to be more stylistic than formal, with each writer employing their own particular uses of language which reflects the way they see the world. That’s not to say you can’t prepare yourself for any eventuality – take a look at one or two of the responses below:
Try for Yourself:
Key features of diaries
- Viewpoint: as one of the most personal text types, diaries are written in the first person and always express thoughts and feelings.
- Perspective: diaries are written to be private as the reader and writer are the same person. Confessional is a particular form of diary writing that reveals a secret.
- Structure: diaries function as records of the day’s events and are largely chronological. Look out for flashbacks when the writer begins at the end, then goes back to explore how and why an event happened.
- Register and tone: most diaries are written in an informal or semi-formal register, using language the writer feels comfortable with. Look out for language which reveals the attitude of the writer (tone): it is not uncommon for diaries to be thoughtful and reflective, scathing and caustic… or anything in between.
- Colloquialism: the writer might write as if he or she is talking and may use figures of speech in an original or entertaining way.
It’s not often you’ll read a text that has a particular individual reader in mind, but letters are exactly that. Letters need reading carefully to discover the relationship between writer and reader and to uncover the purpose behind the writing. Here are ways to respond if you should encounter this text type:
- Dire Predictions
Try for Yourself:
Key features of letters
- Name and address: formal letters are posted to the recipient, so they normally contain both the sender and receiver’s address, allowing the recipient to reply. The sender’s address is traditionally placed on the right hand side, with the date below it.
- Purpose: people send letters for all kinds of reasons; to complain, to seek advice, to connect with a loved one or even to pass gossip. The purpose of this text type is completely flexible.
- Register: letters can be formal or informal depending on the purpose and relationship between the sender and receiver. The tone can vary widely too: compare a formal letter of complaint with an intimate letter between lovers.
- Salutation: a direct address to the recipient. Depending on context, they can vary from the formal ‘Dear…’ or even ‘To whom this may concern…’ to a quick ‘Hi…’
- Sign off: you can tell a lot about the relationship between the reader and the writer from the way the letter ends. Formally, ‘yours sincerely’ is used if the recipient’s name was used and ‘yours faithfully’ is used when the writer does not know the name of the receiver. Non-conventional sign-offs can be used for a variety of reasons; check the end of the letter to see if the writer expects a reply.
This kind of writing is less a text-type and more a category of writing. Travel writing can be as recognisable as a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide recommendation for a trip to a foreign country or city. Or it might take the form of an article, describing the experiences of the writer in a strange place, accompanied by photography, maps, or diagrams. It’s possible for Travel Writing to be ‘literary’ in tone and mood, full of imagery, vivid descriptions, and figurative language, recreating the characters and situations the writer met along the way like a novelist. Common themes in travel writing include the search for the self or one’s roots; curiosity about other people; the desire to be informed; the search for a religious, spiritual or abstract experience. If you want to find out much more about this genre, you can visit the course page for this unit of study. Or, simply browse this selection of Paper 1 materials from the category of Travel Writing:
Try for yourself:
Key Features of Travel Writing
- Viewpoint: travel writing often documents the personal experiences of someone exploring a new place or country so is often first person.
- Perspective: an outsider’s perspective is common when reading travel writing, particularly if the destination is new, exotic or remote. Alternatively, the piece might be written from an insider’s perspective and is inviting you to visit or share an experience in a different part of the world.
- Structure: look out for chronological timelines, past – present structures or a linear journey of discovery. Guidebooks will have clear headings and subheadings and will probably include box-outs and the like.
- Information: travel writing often seeks to be informative and can present you with facts and figures, names and dates, historical or architectural or geographical information and more.
- Description: if the writer is trying to make the destination tantalising, or to help transport the reader, you might find examples of visual imagery, vivid description, even figurative comparisons, helping you visualise a far-off place.
- Visuals: photographs, maps, or floor plans of famous locations are all visual features that you might encounter in travel writing, particularly guidebooks.
Since the 5th century BC, people have been giving each other advice in writing. Chinese general Sun Tzu wrote his advice on bamboo strips – now you can buy his collected works, The Art of War, in a bookstore. Newspapers and magazines feature advisory sections (in Britain, the writers of these columns are known as Agony Aunts or Agony Uncles). Elsewhere, institutions such as the medical practice, health services and even governments like to give advice. This means that advisory texts can take many forms: columns, articles, letters, posters or infographics are all text types that can give advice in one form or another. See for yourself by reading the sample responses to the papers listed here:
Try for Yourself:
key features of advisory texts
- Tone: authoritative, reasonable, commanding or trustworthy. Look out for opinions presented as if they are facts.
- Tense: the imperative tense (also called the command tense) can be recognised by the position of the verb at or near the start of the sentence.
- Modality: modal verbs such as ‘must’, ‘will’, ‘should’ and ‘ought’ transmit strength of feelings.
- Credibility: expert sources, research and scientific evidence might be used to establish credibility.
- Register: official advice will be formal and persuasive; friendly advice will be delivered in a reassuring or intimate way. Sometimes, advice will include a warning.
- Structure: look for cause-and-effect structures, step-by-step guides or linear structures that are easy to follow.
Texts for Children
More a category of writing rather than a text type, texts produced for young people have distinctive features of their own that you may want to keep an eye on.
- Tiktok and the Nome King
- Enid Blyton
Try for Yourself:
key features of texts for children
- Allegory: like symbolism, in children’s stories characters and objects often stand for things greater than themselves. The Wizard of Oz is a good example of allegory.
- Diction: it would be unusual for children’s texts to contain too much difficult vocabulary, although stories and rhymes often use synonyms.
- Visuals: look out for colourful visuals, vividly drawn people and places.
- Fable: a particular type of children’s writing that anthropomorphises animals, who stand in for human characters.
- Didactic: some texts for children are designed to teach a lesson or moral. You can look out for didactic messages in children’s texts.
(Literature students only)
Most novels and short stories fall into the category of prose fiction; if you’ve studied at least one novel on your course, you’ll most likely be aware of this most popular. of literary forms.
Literary fiction allows us to inhabit invented characters, hear their voices and see the world through their eyes. It is an important method for crafting empathy between people who are different. Literature is not concerned with transmitting information, but with the complex nuance of ideas and values that individuals hold dear.
Good fiction should move us with new ideas and unexpected happenings, challenge the preconceptions. we hold about the world and surprise us with new perspectives on what we thought we already knew. While prose fiction is normally read in long form, the constraints of the Paper 1 exam mean that some of these properties are captured in short passages extracted from longer works. Take a look at the materials below and try analysing one or two passages of prose fiction for yourself:
try for yourself:
key features of prose fiction
- Setting: at its most basic, where the novel takes place simply forms the backdrop to the novel. But great authors use setting for much more than simple backdrop. Setting contributes in a major way to the atmosphere of a passage, can create conflict with the characters, incite action, be symbolic, or even, through pathetic fallacy, reflect the emotional state of the characters in the story.
- Characters: the invented people who inhabit the world of the story. You should learn to analyse character using any or all of the STEALS methods: speech and dialogue; thoughts; effect on others; action; looks and appearance; symbolism. Look out for dynamic characters who learn and develop as opposed to static characters who don’t change.
- Conflict: a major driver of tension in stories of all kinds is the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, be that a person or an antagonistic force. Four types of conflict are: conflict with the self; conflict with another person; conflict with the environment; conflict with society.
- Perspective: one of the most important choices an author has to make is who is narrating the story: who’s point of view are we getting? There are only three possibilities: the point of view of a character in the story (first person); the point of view of the reader (second person, rarely used in prose fiction); the point of view of an outside narrator (third person). Look out for effects created by subdividing third person into omniscient; limited; objective.
- Plot: at its simplest – what happens in the passage. You will likely encounter actions, movements, or events that are unexpected to you or the narrator. Take note of these moments in the passage and learn how tension is created.
- Symbolism: a crucial component of all literary genres, in prose fiction a symbol is likely to be an object, colour, weather condition, sound, or some other clearly definable feature of the text that stands for an idea other than itself. Symbols that mean the same thing across different texts are called universal symbols (think a flower signalling beauty or a snake symbolising evil) while a symbol that appears frequently throughout a passage becomes a motif.
(Literature students only)
Poetry functions very differently to prose. While some narrative poems do tell stories (Charlotte Mew is a great example of a poet who tells little stories), and may use elements such as setting, other poems are more likely to present the thoughts and emotions of a speaker in a reflective, moving, dramatic or lyrical way.
Although the ambiguities of poems can be challenging, you can train yourself to unlock their secrets. Be methodical, especially if you see a poem in your Paper 1 examination. Read the poem three times: your first reading should give you an understanding of the poem’s overall ideas and the thoughts and feelings that it suggests. Second time through, try to clearly identify these thoughts and feelings and where, precisely, they begin and are developed in the poem. On third reading, look at the language in more detail, identifying the choices made by the poet to express their ideas and create effects. Keep notes at each stage of your reading.
Take a look at the poems here, and read through one or two of the sample answers. Then choose an unseen poem and have a go at writing your own response to this literary genre:
try for yourself:
key features of poetry
- Speaker: don’t make the mistake of thinking the writer of poem is communicating directly with you in every poem. Just as prose writers invent characters, so too might a poet craft a speaker (or persona) to speak in their stead. Listen to the voice of the speaker in your mind and try to hear the tone of the language: to misunderstand tone of voice is to misunderstand the meaning of the poem.
- Diction: poems are made of words, and no feature is more important than a poet’s choice of words. Also called lexis, words have denoted meanings and also have connotations: deeper meanings and associations. If you write about poems, spend some time paying attention to the meaning and implications of individual words.
- Figurative language: ‘why don’t poets just say what they mean?’ is a question I hear asked by frustrated students. Well, they do, but they might be using figurative language instead of literal. Learning to recognise a simile, metaphor, symbolism, or use of personification will help you get under the skin of most poems you’ll encounter.
- Imagery: every poem you read will create images in your mind. These images might be visual, but don’t neglect other sensory perceptions too: auditory, tactile, kinaesthetic (and even occasionally olfactory or gustatory images) help to bring the experience of the poem to life in your mind. If you don’t know what these words mean, you can find out here.
- Form and Structure: even before you read a word of a poem, the way the lines are structured on the page should make a visual impression. Is the poem written in regular stanzas, taking you through the speaker’s thoughts as if on a tour through rooms in a house? Or is the poem written in free verse, following natural patterns of speech? Whether or not you learn any unusual or specific forms during your poetry study, you should be able to recognise stanzaic form, blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), and analyse the properties of a sonnet, should you encounter one.
- Sound effects: poems are meant to be read aloud, not just looked at, and some of the most powerful effects of poetry come from the sounds of the words. Alliteration (repeated letters at the start of words) consonance (repeated letters at the start and within words) and assonance (repeated vowel sounds) are employed in almost every poem you’ll come across. Onomatopoeia might also crop up from time to time.
- Oppositions, contrasts and juxtapositions: much of the tension in poetry comes from clashing opposing forces together and seeing what happens. Whether light vs dark, noise vs silence, movement vs stillness, hot vs cold – whatever opposing forces you can think of – try to recognise when poets are making you think through use of contrast.
(Literature students only)
Diverse in form, prose non-fiction includes travel writing, biography, autobiography, memoir, essays, letters and more. Whatever the form, non-fiction always has its roots in real (rather than imagined) events, people and places. Despite this, the writing can be just as ‘literary’ as any other genre and all the key features that apply to prose fiction might just as easily be found in prose non-fiction passages. On the right are some important features common in this literary genre.
Once you have reviewed this literary form, practise your analytical skills by reading a sample response to a non-fiction passage, then have a go at analysing a new passage for yourself:
- Driving Over Lemons
try for yourself:
key features of prose non-fiction
- Perspective: this genre is most often dominated by the perspective of a single person, probably the writer of the passage. If the form is travel writing you can look out for the outsider’s perspective.
- Discovery: the theme of many prose non-fiction passages, the writer may be on a journey of discovery about an event, place, family, history, or another person. Just as likely is the theme of self-exploration and self-discovery whereby the writer examines an aspect of his or her own character, personality or transformation. You might look out for a moment of realisation in the passage, called epiphany.
- Truth and veracity: linked to the concept of discovery, the writer of prose non-fiction is often searching for the truth about something, somewhere or someone – even if the object of that search is his or her own self.
- Tone: it’s almost impossible to explore any literary genre without commenting on aspects of a writer’s tone of voice, and the same is true of literary non-fiction. Ranging from serious or tragic to self-deprecating and even outright funny, the tone of a piece reveals the writer’s attitude towards his or her subject matter.