Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tips on Directed Writing

Tips on directed writing


PAPER 1 of the SPM English 1119 is of great concern to most students and their teachers. This concern is understandable as it not only carries a significant portion of the marks for the whole paper but also tests the more difficult skill of writing.

This paper comprises two questions: directed writing and continuous writing.

Let’s start with directed writing. A total of 35 marks are allocated for this question – 15 for content and 20 for language.

The marks for content include marks for format.

The total for the latter varies, depending on the text type. Only one question is given and students do not have the luxury of choice, which they are given in the continuous writing section.

Most students find this question manageable. Even weak students can cope with it, for several reasons.

Firstly, students do not have to worry about content as points are provided.

In fact, students can actually score full marks for content, and even format, if they have been taught the format for different text types.

Secondly, this question does not make excessive linguistic demands, unlike the continuous writing question.

Thirdly, the question usually revolves round the experiences of students.

Teachers and students are usually able to predict the type of question that might appear by analysing questions asked in previous years, some of which are shown below:

General guidelines for directed writing

· Always read the question carefully and highlight what you are required to do.

· Use the 45 minutes allocated for this question wisely.

· Plan your essay and organise your thoughts (including what to write and how to elaborate points).

· Always read through what you have written and make amendments where necessary. Rectify grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors.

· Use all the points given. It is advisable to cross out the points you have used to be sure none is left out.

· Include points of your own only if you are asked to. Otherwise, do not waste precious time doing so because you will not get extra marks.

· Elaborate on the points given. Remember, a crucial aspect of this paper is language and your ability to write can only be tested if you provide sufficient language for the examiner to gauge your linguistic ability.

· Use a variety of sentence structures so that your essay is not dull and monotonous.

· Include an introduction and conclusion and make sure your paragraphs are well organised.

Common pitfalls

· Poor time management. Some students spend more than the allocated 45 minutes on this question. As a result, they have little time left for the second question, which carries a substantial 50 marks.

· Lengthy essays. Some students write too much. Remember, writing more does not mean your essay is better. The points have been provided. All you have to do is to use them and provide a sentence or two (maybe three) to elaborate on them. I always advise students not to write more than one-and-a-half to two pages. After all, the more you write, the more mistakes you might make. Some students write one paragraph for each point. If you do this, your essay is going to be very lengthy. Save your time and energy for continuous writing

· Usage of informal language. This paper tests your written English. Do not use slang, contractions, and informal idiomatic expressions or informal phrasal verbs.

Let us now look at report writing. Read the sample question below:

Before you start writing, ask yourself these questions:

Many of the students in your school have voiced their dissatisfaction with the facilities in the school library. As the head librarian, write a report to your school principal. In your report, include the following complaints and suggestions:


  • torn books
  • outdated books
  • books with missing pages
  • limited reference books
  • not enough tables and chairs
  • limited computers
  • poor Internet access.


  • buy new books
  • buy more reference books
  • subscribe to magazines
  • buy new furniture
  • buy new computers.

When writing your report, you should remember to:

  • address it to the principal of your school
  • include all the points given
  • set it in the correct format.

Before you start writing, ask yourself these questions:

· What am I required to do?

· What is my role?

· Who is my audience?

· How many points have been provided? Do I need to include other points?

This task requires you to write a report in your capacity as the head librarian. The report is to be addressed to the principal, which means he/she is your audience. As such, make sure your tone is formal, yet polite. A total of 12 points have been provided, which leaves three marks for content. The marks for format can vary but in this instance, they are allocated as follows: one mark for addressing the report to the principal, one mark for the subject matter/title of your report and one mark for the name and designation of the writer.

The format of a report can take several styles. Two are given below.

Style 1

Style 2

A sample of a good answer for linguistically competent students is given in Sample Answer 1 on E15.

If you are a weak student, remember there is no harm in using simple English. I would suggest you adhere to the KISS principle – keep it simple and short (refer to Sample Answer 2 on E15).

General guidelines to remember when writing a report

  • Address it to the person concerned.
  • Use the points given in a systematic manner – use transition markers to enable your audience to follow the flow of your thoughts.
  • Elaborate on your points with examples or illustrations.
  • Conclude your report in an appropriate manner.
  • Maintain a formal yet pleasant/polite tone.

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