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Writing techniques

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Some techniques and activities to develop reading and writing language skills.

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Writing techniques

  1. 1. Writing TechniquesWriting well requires that you learn a variety of techniques used for different writingpurposes. We suggest that you learn each of the following writing techniques.NarrationThe narration technique for writing is used when telling a story. The elements of astory include the setting, time, problem, and resolution to the problem, a maincharacter and often supporting characters. A novel is an example of a long story anda children’s book would be an example of short story. Movie and play scripts are alsoexamples of narrations.DescriptionA description is a simple yet very important writing technique. You will mostfrequently find descriptions in magazines, books, newspapers and many other formsof writing. The purpose of a description is to help the read use the senses of seeing,hearing, feeling and smelling to experience what the writer experiences. Descriptionshelp the reader to understand things about which the writer is writingPersuasionThe technique of persuasion is used in writing to try and change the reader’s point ofview on a particular subject or topic. In this writing technique the writer presents in acompelling format facts and opinions in order to convince the reader. Persuasivewriting is most commonly found in editorials, newspapers, magazines and politicalpublications.ExpositionThe purpose of exposition is to inform, explain, expound or clarify the writer’s ideasand thoughts. While similar to descriptive writing, exposition provides the reader
  2. 2. greater detail and depth of understanding about the writer’s thoughts and ideas.Expositions are most commonly found in newspapers, magazines and books.Comparison and ContrastThe purpose of the writing technique is to show the reader the similarities anddifferences about a something. Comparison is used to show or explain how what isalike or common. Contract is used to show what is different. When the writer asked tocompare and contrast the Civil War with World War II would show the similarities anddifferences between these two wars.Employing the correct writing technique that helps you accomplish your purpose willenable you to communicate more effective and become a good writer.Reading TechniquesPreviewPreview the text to be read by skimming it. Skimming is the technique ofallowing your eyes to travel rapidly over a page, stopping here and there toregister the main idea. When skimming, you should follow the procedure below,adapting it to your purpose• Read the title.• Note the writers name.• Note the date and place of publication.• Read the first paragraph completely.• Read sub-headings and first sentences of remaining paragraphs.As you read, pick up main ideas, key words (words that tell you who, what,when, where, how many, and how much), and transition markers (words likehowever, alternatively, additionally, and so on), which suggest the direction ofideas in the text.
  3. 3. QuestionEffective reading is active reading. To turn reading from a passive into an activeexercise, always ask questions.To do this, you must be clear about the purpose of your reading. If you arereading a text which you will be critiquing in detail, your questions will bedifferent from those you would ask if you were reading a number of texts forbackground information. If you are gathering material for an essay, formulatesome tentative ideas about the approaches you might take, modifying them asyou accumulate material.During the preview, note as many questions as you can about the content. Forinstance, turn headings into questions and try to anticipate possible answers thewriter may offer. Always actively look for connections and relationships. Look atthe ways ideas are structured and developed.The object of the preview and questioning steps is to determine the writersthesis, that is, her/his main idea and purpose in writing.As you read, list all the words about which you are uncertain; look them up inthe dictionary and write down their definitions.Take notesSome reasons for taking notes are:• to maintain attentiveness as you read,• to focus your attention,• to familiarise yourself with primary and secondary material on a givensubject,• to analyze the assumptions and rhetorical strategies of the writer,• To provide you with a summary of the material.Some hints for taking notes:
  4. 4. • Always record bibliographical details of the text from which you aretaking notes.• Write on one side of the paper only.• Leave a wide margin for comments and cross-references.• Use headings, subheadings, and diagrams.• Keep notes brief but full enough to still make sense to you in six monthstime. Make sure theyre legible.SummarizeA summary is a collation of your notes, recording the main points the writermakes. Making a summary from your notes has two main benefits.• It allows you to test yourself on your understanding of the material youhave been reading - sometimes it is only when you try to put the writersideas into your own words that you uncover difficulties.• It provides you with a compact account of the text for further reference.Review and reflectTo capitalize fully on the time youve spent reading an article or chapter, itsimportant to review and reflect upon what youve read. This enhances yourunderstanding and helps you to commit important facts and ideas to your long-term memory.Here are some review and reflection exercises you may find useful:• Test your understanding of the material by trying to answer your previewquestions without referring to your notes.• Write down the meaning and usefulness the material has forunderstanding other concepts and principles. Indicate what other ideasthe material substantiates, contradicts, or amplifies.• Evaluate the text in terms of its informativeness, soundness of argument,relevance, and so on. If you are gathering material for an essay or report,
  5. 5. decide which points you want to use and think about how you can usethem.• Start a reading journal in which you keep all reading, review, andreflection notes.Abstracts, Summaries and OverviewsReading the abstracts or (executive) summaries of articles and overviews ofbook chapters prepares the mind for the content to follow, and should always beaccomplished in advance of reading the article or chapter itself. From thispreparatory step, one can generally get a feeling for the familiarity, approachand importance of the reading assignment, as well as its role in the course (e.g.,detail technique to be mastered, key concept to be learned, broad phenomenaof which to be aware, examples or exemplars of course concepts, events andpractices) and relationship with other assigned readings. In many cases, thereading is already familiar to the student and can be scanned. In other cases, allof the pertinent information can be gleaned from the abstract or summary (thisapplies more to articles and cases than to book chapters), so the article itselfmay not need to be read at all, or may need only to be skimmed. In other cases,only certain, key parts of the reading need to be addressed in detail, which canlimit one to reading only 20-25% of the total text. Students are expected toread the abstract, executive summary or overview of every assignedreading, as an absolute minimum.Figures, Graphics and TablesFigures and graphics represent rich media for communication. A picturecontains several hundred thousand pixels, and figures and graphics cansummarize and convey much information in a short amount of time. Make surethat you understand every important figure or graphic in an assigned reading;that is, if the figure or graphic appears in a section that you have deemed to beimportant (see the guidelines above), then you should examine the figure or
  6. 6. graphic first (i.e., before reading the corresponding text) and attempt tounderstand it. If you can understand the figure or graphic, you may not need toread the text itself. Tables do not present information with the same richness asfigures and graphics, but they are very effective at summarizing the content ofsubstantial text in a short, concise, quickly-perused format. As with the figuresand graphics from above, one can also try to understand tables prior to readingthe corresponding text.Anticipate Hills and Shift GearsNot all reading requires the same level of effort and attention to detail. Try toanticipate the role and importance of each section in an assigned reading. Muchprose is devoted to summarizing background information, detailing alternativeconsiderations in the authors decision-making process, and exploring theramifications of approaches not taken, decisions not made and events that didnot occur. Unless such summaries and considerations are critical tounderstanding the article, they can generally be skimmed, in which case thereader can "shift to a high gear" for an easy, "downhill run." The backgroundinformation in many cases and textbook chapters can be approached in thismanner. Similarly, many readings are assigned simply to provide exposure to abroad array of programs and acquisition techniques, in which case detailedreading may not be necessary. Alternatively, some information is key to thearticle, detailed and technical, or must be analyzed in depth. Such an "uphillclimb" requires considerable mental power and cognitive processing, so thereader should "shift to a low gear" and work slowly through the reading. A goodunderstanding of the course objectives, requirements and grading criteria canbe extremely useful for differentiating between essential and ancillary readings.Reading TeamsThe ability to summarize and integrate a reading represents a well-acknowledged sign of its understanding. When one person understands areading, he or she can often convey the key information in much less time than
  7. 7. would be required for another person to read and glean this same informationon his or her own. This time-savings effect can be leveraged through the use ofreading teams, as the time savings grow linearly with team size (up to certaincommunication and learning limits). By dividing responsibilities for ancillaryreadings among team members, each of which provides a written and oralsummary of the readings key elements, the net reading load can be reduceddramatically; that is, following a summary and discussion of such non-essentialreadings, team members may not have to read the article at all, or may be ableto quickly skim it. However, for essential readings, each team member shouldalso plan to read such essential material in detail; that is, the summary canhelp, but summaries are not effective for communicating essential details. Oncematerial has been read and understood, summaries can also provide a usefultool for review.Summarization and Inter-relationshipImmediately upon completing a reading, one can try to summarize a half-dozenor so key concepts, ideas, points or events. These pertain to the grist of thearticle, and written summaries provide a useful tool for review. Additionally, onecan try to place each article or chapter in relation with the other assignedreadings, asking the question: Why is this particular reading here? and Howdoes it draw upon past readings or contribute to future assignments? Bydrawing a conceptual map of assigned readings, one can often fill-in missingdetails from a particular article or chapter simply by extrapolating from otherswith which it is related.ApplicationApplication represents another well-accepted sign of understanding. When onecan effectively apply the concepts or techniques from assigned readings, forexample to case analyses, exams, project briefings and in-class discussions,his or her understanding of the assigned material can increase substantially.When reading an article or chapter, one should ask the question: How will thisparticular knowledge assist me in completing an assignment of interest orimportance (e.g., exam, presentation, meeting, decision)?
  8. 8. SummaryMany of the techniques above appear to be obvious and self-evident. If youalready find yourself reading at a rate that reflects several hundred pages perhour, then you probably have little to gain from guidelines such as these.Otherwise, as you read, ask yourself: Am I preparing for, summarizing andintegrating the reading? Do I understand the figures? Does this particular articleor chapter represent ancillary or essential reading? Am I utilizing the leverage ofreading team mates? How will this particular reading be useful?Reading StrategiesStrategy 1: Knowing what you want to knowThe first thing to ask yourself is: Why you are reading the text? Are you readingwith a purpose or just for pleasure? What do you want to know after reading it?Once you know this, you can examine the text to see whether it is going tomove you towards this goal.An easy way of doing this is to look at the introduction and the chapterheadings. The introduction should let you know whom the book is targeted at,and what it seeks to achieve. Chapter headings will give you an overall view ofthe structure of the subject.Ask yourself whether the book meets your needs. Ask yourself if it assumes toomuch or too little knowledge. If the book isnt ideal, would it be better to find abetter one?Strategy 2: Knowing how deeply to study the materialWhere you only need the shallowest knowledge of the subject, you can skimmaterial. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions and summaries.If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan thetext. Here you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You maythen speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding
  9. 9. key words and concepts. At this level of looking at the document it is worthpaying attention to diagrams and graphs.Only when you need detailed knowledge of a subject is it worth studying thetext. Here it is best to skim the material first to get an overview of the subject.This gives you an understanding of its structure, into which you can fit the detailgained from a full, receptive reading of the material. SQ3R is a good techniquefor getting a deep understanding of a text.Strategy 3: Active ReadingWhen you are reading a document in detail, it often helps if you highlight,underline and annotate it as you go on. This emphasizes information in yourmind, and helps you to review important points later.Doing this also helps to keep your mind focused on the material and stops itwandering.This is obviously only something to do if you own the document! If you own thebook and find that active reading helps, then it may be worth photocopyinginformation in more expensive texts. You can then read and mark thephotocopies.If you are worried about destroying the material, ask yourself how much yourinvestment of time is worth. If the benefit you get by active reading reasonablyexceeds the value of the book, then the book is disposable.Strategy 4: How to study different sorts of materialDifferent sorts of documents hold information in different places and in differentways. They have different depths and breadths of coverage. By understandingthe layout of the material you are reading, you can extract useful informationmuch more efficiently.Reading Magazines and Newspapers: These tend to give a very fragmentedcoverage of an area. They will typically only concentrate on the most interestingand glamorous parts of a topic - this helps them to sell copies! They will often
  10. 10. ignore less interesting information that may be essential to a full understandingof a subject. Typically areas of useful information are padded out with largeamounts of irrelevant waffle or with advertising.The most effective way of getting information from magazines is to scan thecontents tables or indexes and turn directly to interesting articles. If you find anarticle useful, then cut it out and file it in a folder specifically covering that sort ofinformation. In this way you will build up sets of related articles that may beginto explain the subject.Newspapers tend to be arranged in sections. If you read a paper often, you canlearn quickly which sections are useful and which ones you can skip altogether.Reading Individual Articles: Articles within newspapers and magazines tend tobe in three main types:• News Articles: Here the most important information is presented first,with information being less and less useful as the article progresses.News articles are designed to explain the key points first, and then fleshthem out with detail.• Opinion Articles: Opinion articles present a point of view. Here the mostimportant information is contained in the introduction and the summary,with the middle of the article containing supporting arguments.• Feature Articles: These are written to provide entertainment orbackground on a subject. Typically the most important information is inthe body of the text.If you know what you want from an article, and recognize its type, you canextract information from it quickly and efficiently.Strategy 5: Reading whole subject documentsWhen you are reading an important document, it is easy to accept the writersstructure of thought. This can mean that you may not notice that importantinformation has been omitted or that irrelevant detail has been included. A goodway of recognizing this is to compile your own table of contents before you open
  11. 11. the document. You can then use this table of contents to read the document inthe order that you want. You will be able to spot omissions quickly.Strategy 6: Using glossaries with technical documentsIf you are reading large amounts of difficult technical material, it may be usefulto photocopy or compile a glossary. Keep this beside you as you read. It willprobably also be useful to note down the key concepts in your own words, andrefer to them when necessary.

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