This is the last of several entries on writing at Intermediate Level. We have discussed some common errors we make at this level when first learning to write in English. We have mentioned grammar and vocabulary points. We last discussed some confusing punctuation issues.
In this entry we will go over some tips on how to plan the writing and develop the text. We said that, at this level we should be able to write simple correspondence such as letters, emails, and postcards. We should also be able to write about personal experience in essay format. We may be asked to write a descriptive essay or an argumentative essay on a certain topic using specific grammatical structures and relevant vocabulary. There is usually a specified format that we have to follow and a number of words that we should cover. Read the task carefully. Follow the instructions closely. Respond to the questions provided thoroughly.
Some general things that we should keep in mind, regardless of the type of text we write in English, are:
1 Always plan your writing. Although it seems like double work, your outline will save you time in the long run.
2 Always keep your writing simple and clear. If you're taking a test, you will not be able to use a spell checker. Don't use vocabulary and punctuation that you are unsure of.
3 Support your main ideas with relevant arguments and examples. Give reasons and examples that clearly prove the point you are making.
4 Always leave time to review your writing. Go back and silently read the text to yourself. Check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Correct them if you find any. Always hand in a clean and correct final draft.
The following are examples of the format we should follow when writing these two basic types of text: formal / informal correspondence (letters, emails, and postcards) and a general essay format.
FORMAL, SEMI-FORMAL, AND INFORMAL CORRESPONDENCE
Writing letters, emails, and postcards is very similar. Of course letters are more formal than emails and postcards. However, all three are considered correspondence.
In class we spend a lot of time discussing and practicing the format of letters, which is usually more formal than emails, and certainly more formal than postcards.
FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS)
We write formal letters to our bank, an airline, or a company. Very often these are letters of complaint or queries. We rarely know the name of the person we are addressing.
When we don't know the person's name we begin formal correspondence with the salutation:
(This is the correct salutation if you don't know the name, but you know you are addressing a man.)
(This is the correct salutation when you are addressing a woman.)
You would use the most formal salutation if you don't have any information about the addressee:
Dear Sir / Madam,
If you decide to open with the most formal salutation,
use the most formal closing:
SEMI-FORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS AND EMAILS)
When writing to our landlord or our employer, whom we know, we use a semi-formal text. This could be either in letter or email format.
If you are writing to a man and you know his name (John Smith), the best way to start the letter would be:
Dear Mr. Smith (Mr. / Mr is the title for a man.)
If you are writing to an unmarried woman called Mary Jones, then you would address the letter/email:
Dear Miss Jones (Miss is the title for an unmarried woman.)
Dear Ms. Jones (Ms. / Ms is a title used for both single and married women.)
If you know that Mary Jones is married, you would begin with:
Dear Mrs. Jones (Mrs./Mrs is the title for a married woman.)
The correct closing for these would be
INFORMAL CORRESPONDENCE (LETTERS, EMAILS, AND POSTCARDS)
If John Smith and Mary Jones are your friends you can begin the letter, email, or postcard with:
Dear John, (Hi / Hello John,)
Dear Mary, (Hi / Hello Mary,)
For either of these salutations you can end with:
Love, (quite informal)
Depending on the task that you have been assigned, choose the best way to open the letter or email. Organise your ideas. Each new idea should start a new paragraph. Begin the paragraph with the main idea, and then support it with reasons and examples. Depending on the salutation you have used, end the letter with the correct closing. Sign the letter, email, or postcard with your name.
It's always a good idea to plan your writing first. Although it seems like double work and you don't like planning, make an outline of the main ideas. Ask your teacher to do some guided planning together in class first. When you get used to making an outline before you write, you will begin to write more effectively.
Click on the following link for an interesting video on how to open and close formal, semi-formal, and informal letters.
Essay writing usually takes more time and is more complicated.
The very first thing you should do is pay attention and find out what the purpose of the writing is, and who will read the final product.
The second step is to decide what you want to write about. What makes this easier is planning. We mentioned this previously. Getting used to planning your writing will help you tremendously.
Outlines and mind maps are the best way to organise your ideas before you write your first draft. Here is a basic mind map you can follow for essay writing.
Write the Subject / Topic in the middle of the page.
Draw lines branching out from the centre with the main ideas.
Main Idea 1
Main Idea 2
Main Idea 3
Each branch has its own sub-branches with the supporting ideas.
Main Idea 1
Supporting Idea 1
Supporting Idea 2
In the centre of the page write your Subject / Topic. This is the title of the essay in a sense. It is also the topic sentence which you can re-state in the introduction and conclusion.
Around the topic you can draw lines which represent the main ideas supporting this topic, or proving your thesis. For each main idea there should be at least two arguments or supporting ideas branching out. These are the examples that provide further relevant detail. When your mind map is complete use these notes to write the text.
Make your introductory paragraph interesting to engage your readers. State the topic that you want to discuss. Write in a simple and clear manner. Use vocabulary and punctuation that you are sure of. Show that you can use the underlying grammatical structures confidently.
Begin each new paragraph with one of the main ideas you mapped out. Use examples and reasons to support your point. Cover all sides of an issue.
End with a conclusion. Here you can re-state your topic. Finally, close with an interesting thought or idea.
Make sure you have supported your main ideas or, if this is relevant, you have proved your thesis. Go back and revise the text. Hand in a clean draft free of spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors.
You can train to use these methods by reading similar pieces of writing. As you read analyse the passage. Define the topic. Outline the main ideas and the supporting ideas. Find the grammar structures used in the text. Take notes on key vocabulary relevant to the subject. Practice the grammar structures and vocabulary. Follow the example and write a similar text. Use the grammar structures and vocabulary you practiced. Ask a friend, classmate, or family member to read the writing. Discuss it. If you find any errors, correct them. Hand in a clean final draft to your teacher and ask for further comments. These are some good activities you can do before sitting a writing exam, or participating in a writing activity in class.
For further information on planning an essay click the following link.
These are some of the tips I usually give my students before we begin a writing course, or a specific writing activity. I am sure you will find these very helpful. Prepare well, and you will do a lot better the next time you write a letter, email, or essay in English.
Thank you for reading.