Unseen Text: Taiwan KOM Challenge – A Personal Account
Text Type: Travel Writing – Article – Website
Guiding Question: How do the formal and stylistic features of this text appeal to a particular audience?
Here is a perfect example of a typical Paper 1 text. Published on the internet, and falling loosely into the category of Travel Writing, it has some easily identifiable formal features, such as an image and tabs linking the reader to wider information. The perspective is easy to understand as well; the piece relates a personal journey and is even subtitled ‘A Personal Account.’ But most interesting is the use of language; sometimes dramatic, at other times descriptive, often informative and even a tiny bit persuasive to the right kind of reader. Read the extract first, then have a look at the model response which focuses on analysing the informative features of the writing and explaining the way the text appeals to a niche readership of competitive cyclists. Always remember, this series of model answers provides only one possible response to each text. You may have alternative ideas and approach your analysis in a way that is completely different, but equally valid: a great follow-up exercise would be to write a new analysis and share it with others to see what they think.
This passage is written by Daniel Carruthers, a writer from New Zealand, and falls into the category of travel writing in that it describes a faraway location from the point of view of an outsider, with the aim of letting readers picture the scene and revealing some information about another place, the ‘famous Toroko Gorge in Taiwan.’ However, the text is not aimed at the casual traveller. As the writer is himself a cyclist and the website specifically targets cycling enthusiasts (the tabs at the top provide ways to purchase biking equipment, sign up and join a wider cycling community) it would be fair to say the intended audience for this text is niche: cyclists. Furthermore, the writer describes a cycling adventure that would not be open to just any cyclist. The challenge described in the text is significant – the Tour de Formosa is a ‘seven day challenge’ and the route is featured in the ‘world’s top 100 most dangerous roads.’ What’s more, this particular race is ‘invitational’ and only open to ‘deaf racers.’ It is likely that, while amateur cyclists would be interested in the text, only the most committed competitive cyclists might be able to properly visualise the writer’s experience and fully appreciate the story he experience he recounts.
Firstly, formal features of informational writing provides some context about the race for interested readers. The text includes various facts and statistics, often in the form of numbers. The reader finds out about the ‘total ascent of 3,500m’ and discovers the length of the entire race is 100km. The writer breaks down these numbers into quite a lot of detail: for example, the 3,500m climb is not all vertical as ‘there was one 3 – 4km descent that was welcomed after 70km of solid climbing.’ The reader can map out the likely course of the race, as the writer tells us that ‘the first 15km was a neutral roll-out’ and we find out that the last 1km ‘got even steeper.’ This kind of detail is likely to appeal to competitive cyclists who can imagine how they might strategize if they were in the writer’s place.
Other uses of language are also directed at knowledgeable, enthusiastic cyclists. There is a use of jargon that only real cyclists would understand, making the text appeal more to members of the cycling community. For example, the writer mentions specific pieces of cycling equipment (a ‘28kg sprocket’ and ‘My Garmin’). He uses language that other cyclists would be able to interpret but which non-cyclists might find baffling (what exactly is a ‘neutral roll-out’?) and mentions the names of other famous cyclists with just a minimum of added information about who they are: ‘Taiwan expat pro rider Lee Rogers’; ‘Italian rider Orrico-Davide from the Atlas-Enervit.’ The text does not explain these terms or names further, suggesting the audience would be expected to know them already.
The way the text writes about other people who are not part of the cycling community also excludes them, creating a them-and-us opposition between cyclists and other people. He treats car drivers with particular hostility: ‘what made matters even worse is that traffic was allowed to pass by’. Cars are made to seem more dangerous than the trip itself when ‘a car nearly clipped me.’ Onlookers to the race are included as part of the in-group when they sympathise with the racer ‘the onlookers also yelled at the car as they understood my plight.’ Words like ‘clipped’ and ‘plight’ dramatise the incident and accentuate the them-and-us opposition between cyclists (the rider), cycling enthusiasts (represented by the shocked onlookers) and ‘others’ – epitomised by the indifference of the car drivers
The drama of the race itself might have particular appeal to cyclists who are used to competing. The third main-body paragraph contains dramatic diction such as ‘surged forward’, ‘l attempted an acceleration’ and ‘one of my trade-mark “suicide” attacks.’ These are phrased in a way that includes other cyclists (again, it would help to be familiar with what one of the writer’s ‘suicide attacks’ actually are to be able to visualise this image). In the next paragraph, the writer enjoys ‘picking off blown riders one by one’ and the reader can appreciate his feeling of victory, even though he is not an ideal build for this race. The writer took care to inform us that ‘as an 85kg cyclist, I am by no means of climber build’ and this detail serves to make his accomplishments seem even more impressive. Actually, when it comes to this particular aspect of the text, the success of an underdog against more powerful opponents is a storytelling convention that cyclists and non-cyclists can probably both appreciate similarly.
There are other elements of the text that non-cyclists might enjoy too, particularly in the descriptions of the scenery. The road is described in line 16 as ‘stunningly beautiful’ and lines 28 – 30 describe the scenery as viewed from a high point on the climb. Vivid adjectives such as ‘lush green native bush’ and ‘large twisted gaunt old trees’ combine with images, such as ‘straight out of the Goblin forest’, and information (‘drier alpine climate areas’) in a way that might be seen in more conventional travel narratives aimed at a wider audience.
In conclusion, though, it is evident that the text would have most appeal for those already in the cycling community. Even the photograph that accompanies the main story is not chosen for its aesthetic or descriptive quality. Although the gorge wall is high and dramatic, the composition of the picture following the rule of thirds focuses our eyes on the ‘pack’ of cyclists coming out of the tunnel mentioned in line 20 and occupying the centre of the image. Carruthers calls the journey ‘epic’ and uses superlatives to say it is ‘the longest and most varied climb.’ He repeats ‘bucket list,’ which is a common way of expressing something that people aspire to do at least once in their lives; because of the major challenges involved in this race it is likely only serious, competitive cyclists would add this trip to their list. Finally, the last paragraph states ‘keen cyclists’ – a direct acknowledgement of the intended audience for this text.
Categories:Paper 1 Analysis