Writing about Texts



Paper 1 of the English A2 examination (IB Diploma) requires students to write a “Comparative Commentary”.  This is an essay comparing two very different types of text, on a related theme (e.g. a poem and a magazine feature, both about flying).  It is important to be familiar with a range of text types, understand how audience and purpose affect the creation of a text and discuss the various stylistic features of texts.

In addition, students must write two "Written Tasks"; these must be accompanied by a “rationale” that makes reference to the purpose, audience and stylistic features of the students’ own texts. 

To complete the above tasks effectively, students need to learn the language of textual analysis, including literary criticism. The following exercises are designed to familiarise you with the relevant terminology.


[For questions 1-3, draw a three-column table with the headings “Text Types”, “Audience” and “Purpose”.]

Text types

1.     In your group, make a list of 10-20 different text types. Your classrooms, the corridors, your school bags and even your heads are full of texts!  Be as precise as possible – for example, not just "Newspaper article", but Newspaper report, describing a car accident or sports report (golf tournament) or lifestyle feature (topic: kitchens).

Note: the word GENRE can also used when describing text types. This is especially true of novels; we speak of "the detective genre", "the horror genre", the "romance genre", "the historical genre" and so on.


2.     For each of your texts identify the audience. Again, be as precise as possible. It may be helpful to consider factors such as: Age; Sex; Class; Occupation; Level of education; Nationality; Culture; Personal Interests; Political views; literary tastes; Historical period (e.g. Audience = "nineteenth century slave-owners").


3.     Suggest the purpose of each text type.  NB: purpose should always be expressed as a verb – to …  (e.g. to inform readers about …; to explain how …; to entertain readers; to persuade …).


Talking about Texts

4.     What do we call a short piece of writing taken from a longer text? (Think of two different words.)

5.     What do we call writing that is not poetry – for example, the sort found in this worksheet, newspaper reports and letters?

6.     What is the adjectival form of the word in (b)?

Note: We can use this adjective to describe any kind of writing that is very plain, with hardly any imagery or vivid language. We can even use it to describe a poem!

7.     What do we call the words of a song?

8.     What do we call a poem of 14 lines (usually divided into stanzas of 8 and 6 lines and usually rhyming)?



9.     List some adjectives you might use to describe the tone of each of the First World War poems below.

"If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face […]

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory

The old lie: Dulce et Decorum Est

Pro Patria Mori.

"Dulce et Decorum Est", Wilfred Owen

"Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!

There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,

But, dying, has made us rarer gifts of gold.

These laid the world away; poured out the red

Sweet wine of youth …"

"The Soldier", Rupert Brooke

10.           What is the tone of each of the following prose extracts?

"More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to. It would be charitable to say that the results are sometimes mixed."

"Mother Tongue: the English Language", Bill Bryson

"I guess looking at it, now, my old man was cut out for a fat guy, one of those regular little roly-poly fat guys you see around, but he sure never got that way, except a little toward the last, and then it wasn’t his fault, he was riding over the jumps only and he could afford to carry plenty of weight by then."

"My Old Man", Ernest Hemingway

"It may be said that there are three main conditions to be considered by anyone wishing to cultivate a garden in Singapore or Malaysia. They are the soil, the sun and the money, and we will consider each of these in turn."

"A Gardening Handbook for Singapore and Malaysia", Singapore Gardening Society

Note: when looking at longer texts, be alert for changes of tone. For example, a text might start with a humorous, tongue-in-cheek tone but then turn serious later. Or a bitter, angry tone might change to a calmer, more accepting one.


11.           How do we describe a text dominated by the pronoun "I"?

e.g. "The year the war began I was in fifth grade at the Annie F. Warren Grammar School in Winthrop, and that was the winter I won the prize for drawing the best Civil Defence signs."

“Superman and Paula Brown’s New Snowsuit”, Sylvia Plath


12.           How do we describe a text which uses the pronouns "He" or "She” rather than "I"/"We"?

Note: There is more to viewpoint than just identifying whether a text is written in the first or third person. For example, a narrator ("I") often has views that the author does not agree with. The author may use a racist narrator as a means to pour scorn on racism.

13.           What adjectives might you use to describe the poet’s point of view in the following excerpts?


"They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you."

"This be the Verse", Philip Larkin


"may you remember, as the years go by

and you grow slowly towards maturity,

that life consists in the receipt of life,

its fun and games, its boredom and its grief;

that no-one, sons or daughters, fathers, wives,

escapes the rough stuff that makes up our lives"

"The Yaddo Letter", Derek Mahon

Note: Viewpoint and Tone are obviously very closely related. You can think of TONE as something created by the language (you hear it) whereas VIEWPOINT is essentially the author’s attitude towards what s/he is writing about.

14.           What adjective do we use for the point of view of a text which tells us about the thoughts and actions of all the characters?


15.           What adjective do we use for the point of view of a text which is told from just one character’s perspective?



16.           What is the basic structure of the following poem?

"What are days for?

Days are where we live.

They come, they wake us

Time and time over.

They are to be happy in:

Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question

Brings the priest and the doctor

In their long coats

Running over the fields."

"Days", Philip Larkin

17.           A piece of prose is usually divided into paragraphs. What do we call the sections of a poem?

18.           What do we call stanzas that are just two lines long?

19.           What do we call a stanza of four lines?

20.           What do we call the two parts of a sonnet? (8 + 6)

21.           What is the rhyming scheme of the Philip Larkin poem, "This be the verse", in 6 (c) above?

22.           How do we describe the kind of rhymes contained in the Derek Mahon poem in 6 (c)?

23.           What aspect of a poem can we use these words to describe?

uneven, jerky, staccato; slow, ponderous; upbeat

24.           How would you describe the sentence structure of this prose extract?

"Of the seven hundred thousand villages dotting the map of India, in which the majority of India’s five hundred million live, flourish and die, Kritam was probably the tiniest, indicated on the district survey map by a microscopic dot, the map being meant more for the revenue official out to collect tax than for the guidance of the motorist, who in any case could not hope to reach since it sprawled far from the highway at the end of a rough track furrowed up by the iron-hooped wheels of bullock carts."

"A Horse and Two Goats", R K Narayan

You may find the following words/phrases useful: main clause, subordinate clause, relative clause, syntax, inverted.

25.           What can you say about the syntax of these lines?

"Our culture rub skin

against your own

bruising awkward as plums

black music enrich

food spice up"

"Fear", Grace Nichols

26.           If you were quoting the first three lines above, how would you lay them out on the page if you wanted to save space? Do it!


Note: "Imagery" is uncountable. However, "image" is countable (an image, images).

27.           Underline the images in the extracts below.

"The high gray-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot."

"The Chrysanthemums", John Steinbeck


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed."

"A Berlin Diary", Christopher Isherwood


"Engineers in Singapore are moving from construction sites and factory floors to research laboratories to carve a slice of the burgeoning market for medical devices, estimated to be worth billions."

"Singapore Eyes Big Market for Medical Devices", Straits Times (30/08/99)

 "The economy of modern Russia is haemorrhaging cash: every month, US$2 billion (S$1.7 billion) to US$2 billion slips out in wire transfers, phony import-export documents and insider price manipulations."


"Jong Song Ok won North Korea’s first ever athletics world gold medal as she survived a duel in the midday sun for the marathon title at the World Championships here yesterday."

"North Korea’s First Ever Athletics Gold", Straits Times (30/08/99)


"The last leaves fell like notes from a piano

and left their ovals echoing in the ear;

with gawky music stands, the winter forest

looks like an empty orchestra, its lines

ruled on these scattered manuscripts of snow."

"Forest of Europe", Derek Walcott


"Inside, the hammered anvil's short-pitched ring,

The unpredictable fantail of sparks

Or hiss when a new shoe toughens in water.

The anvil must be somewhere in the centre,

Horned as a unicorn, at one end square,

Set there immovable: an altar

Where he expends himself in shape and music.

"Door into the Dark", Seamus Heaney


"The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap

Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge

Through living roots awaken in my head."

"Digging", Seamus Heaney


28.           Identify the types of image used above (e.g. simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia).



29.           What is alliteration? Can you find any examples of it in the extracts above?



30.           How would you describe the diction of the following extracts?

"Frank What are you doing here? It’s Thursday, you …

Rita I know I shouldn’t be here, it’s me dinner hour, but listen, I’ve gorra tell someone, have you got a few minutes, can y’ spare …

Frank My God, what is it?"

"Educating Rita", Willie Russell


"It is a most miserable thing to feel ashamed of home. There may be black ingratitude in the thing, and the punishment may be retributive, and well deserved; but, that it is a miserable thing, I can testify."

"Great Expectations", Charles Dickens


"They say you should always pick your travel companions carefully. Look what travel-buds-from-hell Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis turned out to be for David Duchovny in Kalifornia. Or what soul-mates Susan Sarandon’s Louise and Geena Davis’ Thelma became. Okay, that’s reel-life, but you get the picture."

"The Ski’s the Limit", 8 Days (28 Aug – 4 Sept, 1999)


"Sip cooling drinks by a palm-fringed swimming pool, a gentle breeze wafting through the air … step onto your private balcony and watch the sunset over the South China Sea, the summit of Mount Kinabalu looming on the horizon … witness orang-utans playing in the lush rainforest of Borneo’s hinterland, one of the world’s last untamed frontiers – all this and stay at the high quality 5-star Tanjung Aru Resort, part of the prestigious Shangri-La group."

"Discover Borneo", advertisement, The Guardian (28/08/99)

31.           Comment on the diction of the other extracts in this worksheet.


A Little Extra

32.           What term do we use for spoken language in a text?


33.           What is hyperbole? How do we pronounce this word?


34.           Who is the protagonist in a story?


35.           What term do we use for the place, time and cultural environment in which a story takes place?


36.           What is a pun? Find some examples in newspaper headlines (or elsewhere).