Essay writing tips

Before you start writing your essay, you should spend five or ten minutes reading the extract, highlighting / underlining anything you feel is important and planning what you will write. Think about how you can break down your answer into logical paragraphs.

A good approach to begin with is to highlight any language or narrative techniques which relate to the key terms of the question. In the sample question the key terms you must think about are ‘the character’s feelings and reactions’, ‘how other characters react towards them’ and ‘the writer’s use of language, structure and form’.

Make sure you address each of these three areas and use the key terms throughout your essay. This helps to keep your answer focused as you create your argument.

Here are some questions which may guide your reading of this extract.

  • What is the extract about?
  • Where is the extract set?
  • How does the extract start?
  • What is the structure of the extract? Are there any links between sections?
  • How does the extract engage the reader?
  • How is character developed in the extract?
  • What is the tone and mood of the extract?
  • What narrative style is used? Is there an authorial voice?
  • What linguistic devices are used in the extract and why?
  • What style of language and form is adopted by the writer?
  • How does the author use punctuation? What is the effect?
  • How does the extract end? What is the significance of ending the extract at this point?

Language and stylistic devices

It is also important to include comments on the effects of the writer’s craft and the use of language and stylistic devices. Here are some ideas to look for:

  • structure of the text - beginnings, climax, sequential / chronological ordering, flashback, conclusion
  • descriptive techniques eg vocabulary choices, use of imagery and the senses
  • creation of setting eg time, place, atmosphere
  • creation of character eg through narrator’s descriptions, use of dialogue, actions
  • narration eg omniscient narrator, first person narration, multiple narrators’ use of persona, autobiography
  • cohesive elements eg repetition of words or ideas, climax, suspense, sequential ordering
  • disjunctive elements eg cliffhanger endings, flashbacks
  • use of punctuation and other typographical effects eg italics, capitalisation, suspension points

You should use short quotations from the extract to support your ideas.