Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Writing Lessons for Students: Part One -- Pre-Writing Episode 6: Your Voice

One thing IB, AS, and IGCSE English examiners, as well as other examiners and teachers throughout the world, are going to mark you on is VOICE.  Your voice must be consistent and appropriate for your writing form.  
Nardvark is working on his voice.

Basically, your writing voice is what readers hear in their heads when reading your work.  Is your voice slow or fast paced?  Intelligent or dopey?  Educated or hick?  Mature or childish?  It may be any combination of anywhere on these and other continuums, but it must be consistent.  In other words, if your essay starts out using an academic voice, it must continue using an academic voice until the very last word.  Don't end an academic essay on the history of bread baking techniques in ancient Egypt with a line like "My favourite kind of bread is banana-raisin-nut loaf!  What's yours?"

Here are two sample paragraphs with the same topic, but one written by Nardvark and the other written by his nerdy alter-ego, the Nerdvark.  You can see the differences in their two voices:

Nerdvark writes:

Nerdvark's paragraph on cats.

Nardvark writes:

Nardvark's paragraph on cats
Obviously, these two paragraphs also have different registers -- Nerdvark's is more formal and impersonal, while Nardvark's is very informal and personal.  But you can also hear the different voices these two writers use and notice that their voices are consistent.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Writing Lessons for Students: Part One -- Pre-Writing Episode 5: Your Audience

Whenever Nardvark gets a new writing assignment, he feels like he's writing a personal letter to his teacher, because he knows that his teacher is the only person who will ever read it.

But if you think about the potential audience for anything you write, it will help you choose the best register and voice.

REGISTER = level of formality

Letters are a good place to think about register.  If you are writing a text message to your BFF, you will likely use the lowest possible register: 

Nardvark's text message to his alter-ego, the Nerdvark

Of course, if you are a nerd like Nerdvark, you will use a more formal register in your text messaging:

Nerdvark's text message is more formal.

A message to your mother on the fridge would be in a slightly more formal register:

Nardvark's fridge note

A thank-you letter that you're forced to write to Nana after every birthday and Christmas would be in a slightly more formal register:

Nardvark's letter to Gramma

A letter to a business or company would be of a high level of formality, because writing in more formal tone makes you sound educated and sophisticated, and is more likely to get you the attention you want from your audience.

Nard's letter to Krap Foods (written with the assistance of Nerdvark to achieve the appropriate register)

Whatever assignment your teacher gives you, consider who, in real life, would be reading it -- your audience -- so you can choose the best register to use.

Come back next time to learn more about VOICE.  Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Writing Lessons for Students: Part One -- Pre-Writing Episode 4: Your Writing Purpose Techniques Continued


Remember, to achieve these purposes you need to give more details.

You might INFORM someone (perhaps your teacher, or your avid blog fans) about some new information or research results you have recently learned.

To INFORM, you must
  • Write clearly and distinctly.
  • Address the reader directly.
  • Plan a logical order for your ideas.
  • Write well-structured paragraphs (i.e. PEE) and link paragraphs together (Okay, okay, make that PEEL)

You  might EXPLAIN some new concept or idea or plan to your readers.  You'd find some writing like this on websites like ""

To EXPLAIN, you must:
  • Write clearly and distinctly.
  • Show or demonstrate.
  • Develop detail to support your points.
  • Use examples to illustrate your points.
  • Pay attention to order -- step-by-step is usually logical.
  • Arrange paragraphs sensibly.

You might DESCRIBE something really interesting to someone who is not familiar with it.  DESCRIBE is one of the typical purposes on the IGCSE exams.  Read Nerdvark's descriptive writing here.

To DESCRIBE, remember you are not writing a story, but you could imagine you are writing a descriptive passage from a longer story if it makes it easier. 
Imagine you are sitting in one location and observing everything that goes on around you for a limited period of time, or walking slowly through and observing everything that you pass.

Use imagery, which can include vivid verbs and adjectives, and original figurative language

Pay attention to all five senses.  What can you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Taste?

Click here to read some really descriptive passages on litter boxes and other topics of interest to cats


These are harder because they require higher-level thinking skills, such as analytic thinking (obviously!), and evaluation.

You are often asked to ANALYZE on a long-answer test.  Analyze the character of Huck Finn.  Analyze the relationship between Othello and Desdemona.  Analyze the writer's use of diction to create atmosphere.  Analyze the structure of DNA.

To ANALYZE, think in terms of how? why? what is the effect?

  • Usually use the present tense, unless analyzing an author's technique
  • Usually third person, as this is more academic and less personal
  • Use evaluative vocabulary: This character is 'involving'; this story is 'engaging'

You may get more personal when you COMMENT.  This is your reaction or response to something. Many blogs are the writer's reaction or commentary on their life and experiences.  Check out the most popular blog in the world today, The Huffington Post.  

To COMMENT, you should give some background information followed by your own opinion.
  • Use some of the same techniques as for "REVIEW" (next)
  • Include your judgment -- effective or not and why?
  • May use phrases like "I expected" or "I was disappointed" or "It impressed me that..."

Finally, you REVIEW to share your opinion about something someone else has produced, such as a movie, book, song, album, video game, app, etc.

To REVIEW, you should show the strengths and weaknesses of something.   Your opinion, if well backed up, could help others make a decision.  This might be a good career for you if you enjoy, for example, playing video games and writing.  Just look at all the review websites out there, such as PC Gamer, which just happens to be Nardvark's favourite.

If you're more of a movie buff, read Kitty Meowvie Reviews on the Spot the Kitty blog!

Again, you're using higher-level thinking skills: analyze, give evidence, judge.

  • Pros use third person.  It is less personal.  Nobody cares what Nardvark thinks, but if he writes something that appears to apply to everyone, they might listen.
  • Use valid connectives to show how your ideas connect together: "as a result; however; consequently; therefore; although"
  • We review things that can be read/played/watched/done again and again, so usually use present tense.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Writing Lessons for Students: Part One -- Pre-Writing Episode 3: Your Writing Purpose Techniques

In the last post, Nardvark was considering various writing purposes.  Now, he needs to learn the specific techniques to use for each purpose.

Nerdvark is always happy to help, if it means he gets to make fun of Nardvark in a constructive way.


Remember, these are your purposes for fiction writing, or creative writing, as teachers like to call it.  You are IMAGINING a world, characters, situations; you are EXPLORING an idea, theme, or feeling; you are ENTERTAINING your readers or audience.

How do you do that?  If you write a story, whether it is in the form of a narrative, poem, song, or script, you need to include story elements:
-Characters, specifically a protagonist and possibly also an antagonist
-A problem for the protagonist to solve
-A setting - when and where
-A plot - inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution
-Usually in past tense
-Usually first person or third person - be consistent
-Atmosphere - pay attention to word choices
-Vary sentence structure to keep it interesting

For an example of an exciting adventure story written by Nardvark that exemplifies all of the above, click here.

Whether you are writing a story or exploring an idea, theme, or feeling through a poem or song, you need to make it deep by using lots of imagery, metaphor, symbolism, hyperbole, etc, and make it sound cool by using lots of alliteration, onomatopoeia, perhaps rhythm, rhyme, assonance, and so on.  These are all literary techniques.  For an example of a very literary poem written by Nerdvark to explore his pal Nardvark's various character traits, click here.

The Nardvark uses persuasive techniques to promote his new country, Banana Nation.  Come one, come all!
When you write to ARGUE a point, you are trying to make your audience agree with you.
-Make at least three distinct points
-Write a separate paragraph for each point
-Show possible counter-arguments and refute them
-Use examples, facts, statistics to support your points
-Use rhetorical questions, quotes, anecdotes to hook your audience

When you write to PERSUADE, you are trying to make your audience do something.
-Give at least three distinct reasons
-Use persuasive language including emotive vocabulary and imperative sentences
-Use shock or humour to emphasize a point
-Use persuasive techniques such as rhetorical question, triples, repetition, alliteration/assonance
-Use personal pronouns to involve audience

When you write to ADVISE, you are telling your audience how to do something.
-Reassure or challenge your reader
-Use imperatives
-Use modals 
-Make it clear with subheadings, bullet points, diagrams

Look at any advertisement for examples of persuasive writing.  Nerdvark gives the following example:

Save the Nardvark!
There is only one Nardvark in the world; if it dies, its species will be extinct.
What do you need to do to save him?
Nardvark is not a good hunter or scavenger, so he needs your donations.
Nardvark will eat anything, so whatever you donate will go on his pizza.  Donate tinned food, condiments, expired dairy products, old shoes and boots -- he appreciates and eats it all.

Can you find all the persuasive techniques used above?
-shock value
-rhetorical question
-personal pronouns
-emotive language

Check back next time for techniques for the other six writing purposes.  For now, Nardvark wants to ride a porpoise (ooh, wordplay!) and play his favourite online video game, Spot the Kitty!

Thanks for reading.  If you find my posts helpful, please help out by donating to our kickstarter campaign, buying Nardvark's products, or simply visiting my writer website.