I'm writing an article which is part of an IGCSE English question paper. In the paper, you're basically given two passages (or sometimes more) with a common theme (but not necessarily in the same form of writing) and you've to write a newspaper article, letter, report, or speech on a similar topic. The main point is being able to extract all the information for the write-up from the given passages. Of course, direct copying will be penalised.

In this case, the first passage was the personal narrative of a young Medicine student, who has freshly graduated and has been "awoken with a start" to reality.

The second is a newspaper article which deals with the typical struggles of the first day at work and is about how you can make the experience easier and more productive.

Now, the task is to

Write an article for a school or college magazine entitled "The difficulties of starting work and how to overcome them". You are advised to write approximately 300 words.

This is how my one starts:

Most of those, who have reached the end of the golden era of gum chewing and doodling out exceedingly creative illustrations of you-know-who while itching your neck at the back of a stuffy classroom, are to be pitied. Along with the “Adult” tag being superglued onto their very identities, a plethora of responsibilities get heaved onto their shoulders, all with one vicious thrust. They bite their nails—there’s more. A job.

I'm aware that it is laden with imagery, and that's what worries me the most. I'm afraid this might come off as too juvenile and wordy for a short, to-the-point article for a school magazine. And this much isn't even close to one paragraph. At this rate, I doubt that I might even be able to stick to the word count, let alone cover all the content points in the passages.

And I wasn't really sure how to address those who are "starting work". Am I supposed to directly interact (in second person "you") with them, my target audience? However, that doesn't seem much of a good idea because I can't pretend they're my fellows. I, being someone sitting for the IGCSE exam, would obviously be junior to people who have already probably finished high school in the least. Who am I to advise them about something I'm far from needing to tackle myself?

  • Okay, all good. – Amadeus Jun 27 '18 at 22:20

Everything else aside, if the writing style you use is going to make the piece exceed the maximum length, then I would change your writing style.

The writing style you used to compose this question is succinct but also conveys all necessary information and flows well. It's a remarkably different style from the example that you quoted.

I suspect that when you composed your question you didn't want to use a style similar to the example because you wanted to keep things simple and to the point. So, you abandoned the use of longer adjectives and phrasing in order to just get your point across.

I would recommend using the same style of writing for the article that you used in writing this question. Ideally, it will come in under the maximum length, and it will address all of the content points.

If the problem is that the passages you're borrowing from use such verbiage themselves, then you'll need to paraphrase them in a way that the language is simplified but the essential meaning remains.

If you find that you then have "extra room" to play with, you can consider adding some phrases and changing some words. It's easier to add than it is to remove.

My personal opinion, and not part of my objective answer, is that while I was interested in your question, I wasn't all that interested in the paragraph from your article. And while I'm not going to offer any proofreading advice, I think that some of your grammar suffered in order to accommodate the imagery that you were attempting. Some imagery can be good, but excessive imagery can sometimes be worse than none.

So, keep it simple, see how much room you have to work with, and then "pick and choose" your imagery battles; add some in key places where it makes the most sense, but not in every sentence.

One last piece of advice involves the fact that I'm sure you've had to struggle with several things yourself. Methods that you've used to meet and overcome those struggles can be used analogously for your audience. Overcoming obstacles is at least as much about confidence and perseverance as it is about the specifics of an individual's situation.

Even asking this question on this site is an example of how you're trying to cope with your assignment. Perhaps suggesting that they ask for the help of their colleagues when they need to is a piece of universal wisdom that you could write about . . .


Jason is right about style.

At the risk of sounding like Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap. The people setting the paper know you don't have any direct experience and it sounds to me more like an exercise in journalism than creative writing (the two should be different, whatever impressions the media might give to the contrary). The people setting the paper will be looking for how you have interpreted and revealed to your readers the views of your interview subjects (the two passages) and whether you've presented this in a way that would be suitable for a school or college magazine. You're the everyman, and the writers of the passages are your experts. If you come across as speaking with authority on the subject, your readers will smell a rat.

Many professional journalists haven't really got the hang of this. Having spent longer than I care to mention in scientific and engineering fields, there aren't many days that pass without reading something about a technical subject where a journalist has approached it as if they knew everything about what their interviewees were saying, and ends up coming across as a bit of an idiot.

While you might get bonus points for presenting possible solutions to the problems in the first passage and for identifying the problems the writer of the second passage has solved, it's wise to keep your distance - emotionally and creatively - from this piece. Put your readers first and your interviewees second, and approach it as if the writer isn't important at all. While a school or college magazine might be the perfect place to play with florid imagery, the nature of the question - about starting work - suggests the examiners are probably looking for something else.

The question isn't an opportunity to show that you can write beautiful evocative prose - it's about knowing when you shouldn't.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.