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Writing guide

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Writing guide

  1. 1. EMAILS AND INFORMAL LETTERSAn informal letter or email is usually between people who know each other fairly well. In additionto giving news, they are often used to request information, congratulate people, give advice and askquestions. There are a lot of similarities between informal letters and conversation. Informal lettersask a lot of questions, show interest and enthusiasm, and imagine a lot of shared information.1 Titles and addressesWhen writing an informal letter you sometimes write your own address and the date (but not yourname) at the top right-hand corner of the page, then start the letter on the left-hand side. Addressesand dates are not given in an email, but emails do need a subject title. A subject title should be briefand should summarize the main point of the email.EXAM TIPMany exams do not require you to write your address and the date at the start of your letter, somake sure that you follow any instructions carefully.Start with Dear followed by the first name of the person to whom you are writing. In emails, youcan also start with Hi (and the persons name), or just the persons name.Informal letters sometimes have a comma after the persons name, and the letter starts on the linebelow and is often indented. However, because of the popularity of word processing and emails, therules on punctuation and layout have now become more relaxed. The important thing is to beconsistent with the style that you choose to use (so if you use a comma after the persons name atthe start of the letter, use a comma after the closing statement at the end).STUDY NOTEDont forget to use only the first name of the person you are writing to, not x Dear Mr John, whichis never used, or x Dear Mr John Brown, which sounds too formal.2 OpeningsWhen writing an informal letter, you are usually replying to another letter. You would normallystart with a greeting, then acknowledge the letter to which you are replying. It is often a good ideato acknowledge some key information given in the original letter too. You can also make acomment on your own reply.USEFUL PHRASESStart with a greeting: How are you? | How have the family been? | I hope you are well.Acknowledge the original letter: Thank you for the letter and parcel which arrived this morning. | Itwas great to hear from you again after such a long time. | I was so surprised to hear that you aregoing to university in America!Make a comment on your reply: I have so much to tell you. | Im sorry I havent written for so long.3 Covering all the issues
  2. 2. When you have finished your opening comments, begin a new paragraph and cover all theinformation that you want to mention. A letter that is written accurately and with a good range oflanguage will still not be effective unless you make sure that you say all the things you need to say.Make sure that your reply answers any questions that you were asked in the original letter or emailand takes into account any additional information that you have been told to mention.EXAM TIPIn many exam questions, you will be told what to include in your reply. There will also often beadditional notes which serve as prompts for your reply. It is important that you include these inorder to get a good grade.4 Using informal languageAn informal letter or email is an opportunity to demonstrate informal language skills. There are anumber of ways to make your language informal:USEFUL PHRASESUse intensifying adjectives and adverbs to show enthusiasm: Ive got a fantastic new job. | My newboss is an absolute nightmare.Use idiomatic language: Things have been getting on top of me at work lately. | Its been ages sincewe last managed to meet up. | What have you been up to lately? | Let me know what you think. | Illfill you in when we next meet.Use question forms to make the letter read more like a conversation: How are your studies going? |How does that sound to you?Use informal vocabulary: use get instead of receive, I guess instead of I thinkUse phrasal verbs and phrases: we get on well, write back soon, get in touch.Use contractions: I cant help thinking I shouldve told you sooner.5 RangeIt is important that you use grammatical expressions and vocabulary appropriate to the level of theexam. Even if there are no mistakes in your writing, you will not be able to get a good grade if youuse only the language and vocabulary that you learnt at elementary level. Even in informal writing,there is a good range of language you can use.USEFUL LANGUAGEUse the present perfect progressive to give news: Ive been helping my parents out at their shop.Use a future progressive for future plans: Im going to be staying at my grandmothers house allsummer.Use conditional sentences to make suggestions: If you let me have your number, Ill give you a callat the weekend.
  3. 3. Use polite question forms for requests: Do you think you could send me a copy of the photos? |Would you mind if we didnt go camping?Use question tags to check information: Nobody else knows, do they? | You dont mind, do you?6 ConnectorsAll good writing makes good use of connectors. However, many of the connectors you have learntfor other styles of writing are inappropriate in an informal letter or email. For informal writing, youneed to use some of the connectors that are more specific to spoken language.USEFUL PHRASESTo introduce a topic: Well, youll never guess who I bumped into yesterday. | I know how much youlove tennis, so Ive got us some tickets to Wimbledon. | By the way, did you know that Johns got anew job?To go back to a previous topic: Anyway, as I was saying earlier, I really wasnt very happy there. |Now where was I? Oh yes, I nearly forgot, Mary asked me tell you about the cinema.To introduce surprising or bad news: Actually, he came to the party after all. | Im really sorry but Icant make it. | To tell you the truth, I dont really like sports much.To summarise what youve already said: Anyway, we had a really nice time in the end. | Well, to cuta long story short, we didnt get there on time.7 Closing statementsThe end of your letter is as important as the beginning. There are some standard ways of finishingan informal letter or email.USEFUL PHRASESGive a reason why youre ending the letter: Anyway, I must go and get on with my work! | I guessits time I got on with that studying Ive been avoiding.Make a reference to future contact: Anyway, dont forget to let me know the dates of the party. | Illtry and phone you at the weekend to check the times. | We must try and meet up soon. | I cant waitto hear from you.A closing statement, such as Take care, Best wishes or Love should be written on a new line. If youused a comma after the opening greeting, use a comma here too. Your name then follows onanother new line. People often write an X below their name to indicate a kiss.If you have forgotten something important, add it at the end, after your name, after the letters PS.Sample emailsPart of an informal email:
  4. 4. Anyway, I was really writing to ask if you would like to stay a little bit longer when you come over.Youve already got the wedding invitation - I cant believe my sisters getting married in a fewmonths time! I was thinking perhaps we could spend some time together before or after thewedding. Let me know what dates would be good for you. Also, my mum would like to know ifyou wouldnt mind sharing a room. Were going to be quite busy, what with the wedding andeverything.I know this is your first visit to Britain, so please let me know in your next email what kind ofthings youd like to do when youre here. Were going to have a great time.Write back soon.JohnAn informal email in answer:To John@bullnet.comFrom Maria@winnet.comSubject - Your invitationDear JohnThanks for your email. Im glad to hear that everything is going well. Sorry Im a bit late replying,but Ive been really busy studying for my exams and I havent had time to check my mail for days.Thank you so much for inviting me to stay a bit longer. Id love to spend some more time with you.Ill really need a break after all this studying. My classes at university finish on 5th July. Is it OK if Icome on Monday 15th July and leave on Friday 26th? If these dates sound good, let me know andIll go ahead and book the flight.I need to ask you a few questions about your sisters wedding. What kind of clothes should I bring?Ive never been to a wedding abroad before. Also, my family really wants to get a small gift forJane. My parents are very fond of her. What do you think about some beach towels? They could usethem on their honeymoon.Finally, you asked me what Id like to do when I get there. Well, I guess the first few days well bebusy getting ready for the wedding. After that, though, there are one or two things Id like to do.You know Im a huge fan of modern art and I hear that the Tate Gallery has a fantastic newexhibition on. Do you think we could go there one day? Of course, a day sightseeing in Londonwould be great, too. Other than that, Ill leave it up to you.Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon.Take careMariaPS By the way, could you please tell your mother that I dont mind about the room? Whatever iseasiest for her will be fine.
  5. 5. STRUCTURING WRITINGThere are certain things that all good writing contains.Features such as paragraphing, cohesion and using complex sentences make a text easier or moreinteresting to read and will be given a higher grade by examiners.All writing should contain an introduction, main body and conclusion. The information you need toinclude in each of these sections will depend on the style of writing.1 ParagraphingSuccessful paragraphing is essential to good writing. Do not use too many paragraphs. If paragraphsare very short, the writer has either introduced ideas without developing them, or separated one ideaover several paragraphs.If paragraphs are very long, there is usually more than one idea in the same paragraph. Poorparagraphing is considered poor style and will not get a good grade.As a general rule, a paragraph should use a minimum of three sentences to develop an idea. It is notcommon to see paragraphs of more than six sentences, although there are some exceptions.There are ten easy ways to develop an idea into a paragraph. You can select from the following.1.1 BEGIN WITH AN IDEAIntroduce the topic of your paragraph clearly in the first sentence.USEFUL PHRASESIntroduce the main idea: I tend to think that a later date would be more suitable. | Many peopleargue that there is a strong case for capital punishment. | I would like to ask you a few questionsabout Johns birthday party.See Essay Activator, Giving opinionsThis sentence is often called the topic sentence, as the main idea of the paragraph is clearly stated.Although a topic sentence can appear anywhere in the paragraph, it is often the first sentence in theparagraph.1.2 GIVE MORE INFORMATIONIf something is unclear, you can give more information in the following sentence.USEFUL PHRASESAdd an explanation or further information: By young people I mean children under the age oftwelve who are not yet completely responsible for their actions.See Essay Activator, Explaining1.3 SHOW CONCESSION
  6. 6. Often an argument has two sides. Show that you understand the weaker side to the argument, butthat you are not persuaded or not able to accept this idea.USEFUL PHRASESAdd concession: Although I would be happy to come to your office, Im afraid that this will not bepossible until the end of the month. | While I understand that this may be difficult, I feel that it is theonly option. | Despite the high levels of unemployment in that year, crime did not rise.See Essay Activator, Linking parts of a sentence1.4 REJECT AN IDEAA strong way of making a point is to express your doubts about an argument, say what you do notbelieve, or state what is not possible.USEFUL PHRASESSay what you do not think: I am not convinced of the benefits of this proposal. | I do not believe thatthis level of service is satisfactory.State what is not possible or point out false conclusions: It is not necessarily the case that animmediate ban on smoking would have a positive effect. | I am afraid that I cannot accept the datesthat you have suggested.See Essay Activator, Advantages and Disadvantages1.5 GIVE EVIDENCE OR EXAMPLESGiving details about what, where, or when something happens makes your ideas strongerUSEFUL PHRASESAdd examples: There are several reasons for this, such as an increase in life expectancy, or a rise inliving standards. | A good example of this is my home town, where the city centre has been madeinto a pedestrian zone.Give evidence: This argument has been supported by many experts in the field. | Research suggeststhat a good diet may be more important to educational achievement than we previously thought.See Essay Activator, Giving examples, Quoting people1.6 GIVE THE REASON FOR SOMETHINGSay why something has happened.USEFUL PHRASESGive reasons or results: This would mean that many younger people would no longer have access tosports at school. | As a result of this, we have seen a rise in profits.Talk about the cause or effect: A key factor is the level of education in a society. | There may beserious repercussions in the future.
  7. 7. See Essay Activator, Giving reasons, Problems and Solutions, Causes, EffectsYou should pay careful attention to the construction of these words. You will need to be aware ofthe order of ideas (if the word is followed by a reason or a result), and to the word form. Some ofthese words are verbs and you will need to learn the correct constructions (result in something,cause something to happen etc), some are nouns (a factor, a repercussion), and some areconjunctions and come between clauses (because, therefore). The dictionary will give you guidanceon how to use these words and phrases.1.7 GIVE ADDITIONAL INFORMATIONGiving more than one reason, example or result is a clear way of building a strong point.USEFUL PHRASESAdd additional information: Not only were the staff unable to speak the local language, but theywere also extremely unhelpful. | Another good reason is the cost of this plan.See Essay Activator, Linking parts of a sentence1.8 GIVE THE CONSEQUENCES OF AN ACTIONSay what might happen next.USEFUL PHRASESGive consequences: If this is not possible, we will have to find an alternative date. | We must takeaction now, otherwise it may be too late.See Essay Activator, Effects, Problems and SolutionsYou should pay careful attention to synonyms of the word if. Not all of the words that are similar toif can be used all the time. You may have to use a first conditional, not the second or thirdconditionals (e.g., Provided that we act now, there is a chance that the environment will improve.)You may only be able to use an expression with a positive idea (e.g.: Provided that we continue toinvest in new technology, solutions will be found), or with a negative idea (e.g.: We must act now,otherwise it will be too late.)The dictionary will give you guidance on using these words, but check before you write them inyour essays.1.9 MAKE IMPORTANT ISSUES CLEARSome events or reasons are more important than others. Occasionally signaling important points canmake your ideas much clearer.USEFUL PHRASESIntroduce strong arguments and ideas: Besides, the hotel will be closed during that period. |Moreover, many people feel that this policy is unfair to the most vulnerable members of oursociety. | To make matters worse, the hotel room did not have an en-suite bathroom and we had toshare a shower with three other families.
  8. 8. See Essay Activator, Emphasizing1.10 REMIND THE READER OF THE MAIN POINT OF THE PARAGRAPHSay why the information in your paragraph is important, or what the reader must do next.USEFUL PHRASESRepeat the main point: For this reason, many people argue that hunting should be banned. | I amvery sorry for any inconvenience caused.Say what might or will happen next: Please could I have your response by the end of the week? |This will have a significant effect on the future generations.2 CohesionA paragraph is a group of sentences that are connected in terms of ideas, and also in terms ofgrammar and vocabulary. This is called cohesion.There are three effective ways of developing cohesion in your writing.2.1 PARAPHRASINGParaphrasing means writing the same idea, but in different words.USEFUL PHRASESUse a different part of speech: The number of smokers rose for three years consecutively. This risewas largely because of successful advertising campaigns.Use synonyms: More people bought video recorders that year compared to the previous year, whenonly 500 purchased a recorder.Use summaries: Junior managers tend to feel under more pressure to work long hours than theirsuperiors. This tendency is seen in many different sectors.2.2 SUBSTITUTIONSubstitution is writing a pronoun instead of a full name or phrase.USEFUL PHRASESUse he / they etc: I spoke to John and he said that you would tell him.Use this / this + noun: There were several repairs which needed to be carried out. This meant thatproduction was significantly delayed. | The figures were much lower in European countries. Thisdifference was largely a result of higher spending on education.Use that / those after a comparative form: The incidence of illiteracy among women in Africa wassignificantly lower than that of their European counterparts. | In general the results for Shanghaiwere more positive than those of the other five cities in the survey.
  9. 9. Use such +(a) + noun: A large minority of visitors felt that the museum did not provide value formoney. Such concerns were also raised by the leaders of school parties.Use auxiliary + so: We cannot continue to ignore the problem. If we do so, the effects may becomeimpossible to reverse.Change a to the after the first mention: There was an increase in the amount of pollution in Bogota.The increase was largely due to the rise in population numbers.Shorten names after the first mention: Dr Livingford refers to this in his book. Livingford arguesthat children need more time to play. | The Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) has come up with afew solutions. According to scientists at the ICR, we may need to look more closely at lifestyleissues than we have before.2.3 CONNECTORSThere is a wide range of connectors available to give the reader clues about how a sentence relatesto the previous sentence. They tell us if we are about to read the reason (because), somethingsurprising (despite), something important (moreover) etc. Many are already discussed in section 1paragraphing. However, you can also build cohesion by using relative clauses.USEFUL PHRASESUse a relative clause: Ice-cream, which was originally available from specialist stores, quicklybecame popular.Use a present or past participle: The factories located in the countryside were cheaper to run. | Thenumber of people buying leather goods fell.See Essay Activator, Linking parts of a sentence3 Complex sentencesGood writing should have a good mixture of sentence lengths. Longer sentences demonstratecontrol of language and are more interesting to read. Short sentences can be used to make adramatic point.USEFUL LANGUAGEUse complex noun phrases: The rise in the number of unemployed people in my country has lead tomany problems. | There have been a number of difficulties with the new system.Use relative clauses: We had a few concerns which we would like to raise with you now. | There aremany people nowadays who would like to take a month off to go travelling.Use connectors: Despite the many difficulties, we felt the weekend was an overall success.Add description with adjectives and adverbs: We had an absolutely amazing time visiting thespectacular mountains and admiring the beautiful scenery. | We walked hurriedly past the ancientwall to the empty fields outside the city.4 Using your own language and terms
  10. 10. It is never a good idea to copy phrases or expressions from the question or from any informationyou are given. Copying another persons words and using them in your own work is consideredplagiarism and will always be marked down in an exam.See Writing Guide, University end of term paper for more information on avoiding plagiarism.Try to find ways of rewriting this information so that it means the same, but with different words.USEFUL PHRASESUse synonyms: Explain why you are suitable for the job. I believe I would be perfect for thisparticular position as I have all the relevant experience.Change the word order of the sentence: Levels of obesity are rising. There is a rise in the levels ofobesity.5 Audience and purposeWe always write for someone in particular and with a particular purpose. Your writing shouldreflect this.USEFUL PHRASESBe consistent with the register of your writing: I just wanted to find out how it all went. (informal) |I am writing to enquire about the results of your recent tests. (formal)Use the formulaic phrases appropriate to your purpose: Hope to hear from you soon. (informalletter). | Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information. (formal letter)After you have finished writing, re-read your work. Would the reader be informed, persuaded orentertained? Have you covered all the points that are essential to make your letter or writingeffective? If the answer is no, you will not get a good grade, even if the writing is of a highstandard.6 RangeThe quality of the language and vocabulary that you use will influence the final effect of yourwriting on the target reader.USEFUL LANGUAGEUse an appropriate range of tenses: We have been experiencing some problems with the newsystem. | By 2001, the figures had fallen to 5 million. | Phone me on Friday - Ill have finished it bythen.Try to use a variety of ways to begin your sentences: I sent the package to you last week. Thepackage was sent last week. | Unfortunately, the package was sent last week.Learn phrases, rather than isolated words. That way, you can use them in writing: This has had anenormous impact on our business. | We have carried out a survey of driving habits.