Literary Genres, Elements, 1 and Techniques

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Questions to Ask About

Writing That Presents

Causes and Effects

1. What cause or causes does the writer identify? What effects?

2. Has the writer correctly identi­fied all the causes or effects?

3. Has he or she provided sufficient evidence to establish a causal


4. Are the causes identified by the writer necessary in order to bring about the effect or effects described? Are they sufficient, by themselves, to have brought about these effects?

An analysis essay is one in which a writer breaks down a subject into its parts and then shows how these parts are related

Questions to Ask About Writing That Classifies

1. Into what groups, or classes, does the writer divide his or her subjects?

2. Upon what is the writer’s system of classification based? Why did the writer choose to put an item into one class or group instead of another?


Lesson 5.3—Understanding Informative Texts 137

to one another and to the whole. An in-depth essay in a Sunday newspaper magazine about how a movie was made, describing the work done by the producer, the director, the actors, the special effects people, the makeup people, and so on, might be an example of an analysis essay if it concentrated on the contributions of each to the final film. It might be a narrative essay if it simply told the story of the making of the movie from beginning to end. Often, chapters in textbooks are simply extended analysis essays. For example, a chapter on the digestive system in a biology textbook would be an analysis essay, describing the parts of the system— the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach, the liver, and so on—and how they work together. When reading an analysis essay, ask yourself these questions:

Questions to Ask Abou~:

Analysis Essays

1. What is the whole subject being discussed?

2. What are the parts of the subject?

3. How are the parts related to one another?

4. What function does each part serve?

5. How are the parts related to the whole?


The essay of definition exists primarily to explain the meaning of a word or phrase. A teen magazine feature story called “What Is a Friend?” might be an example of an essay of definition, as might a feature in a business textbook called “What Does and Does Not Constitute a Contract?” A term

can be defined in many different ways, and often such essays make use of many of these. One way is simply to collect a lot of definitions from different people and compare and contrast them. Another way, the method used in dictionaries, is to write what is known as a genus and differentia definition. First, the thing to be defined is placed into some larger group (the genus). Then, the differences between it and other members of the group (the differentia) are presented. Here, for example, is a genus and differentia definition of friendship: “Friend­ship is a relationship between two people (genus) characterized by mutual admiration, affection, trust, loyalty and by a desire to communicate and to share activities (differentia).”

Other ways to define a term include giving a synonym (another word that has a similar meaning) for it; describing its appearance, parts, or functions; illustrating it; or giving examples of it. A particularly effective method for defining something is to present what is called an operational definition, one that turns identification of the thing being defined into a series of concrete steps or observations that can be carried out. Here, for example, is an operational definition of the term friend:

“A friend is someone who, when you say, ‘I’ve lost my car keys,’ will answer, ‘Can I

help you look for them?” Operational J definitions are particularly important in

science, engineering, law, medicine, and other professions that rely on precise observation or evidence. For example, a scientist might define the term meter as “the distance that light travels in one 299,792,458th of a second”!

When reading an essay of definition, ask yourself these questions:






138 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

textbook written in the early part of the

Mixing It Up

Writers are creative people, and so they rarely produce work that rigidly follows any of the descriptions given in this lesson. Typically, writers mix up the forms of writing that we’ve been discussing, using within a single work elements from each form—a little narration, a little analysis, a couple of definitions, a comparison or two, and so on. Nonetheless, the advice given in this lesson stands. When you encounter such elements, ask the corresponding questions presented in this lesson, and you will be well on your way to understanding what the writer is saying.

Evaluating Informative

.~ Writing


People depend upon textbooks to provide them with factual information, and so the standards for informative writing in textbooks have to be very high. However, if you were to look back at a science or history

twentieth century, you would probably be amused or appalled by some of what you would find there. The point is that opinion inevitably finds its way even into informative works such as textbooks or scientific papers. What today seems like fact might turn out, in the future, to have been merely mistaken conjecture, based upon unexamined biases or ignorance of facts later discovered. Therefore, whenever you read, you should do so with a critical mind. You should, to paraphrase the American poet Wallace Stevens, “read by your own light,” constantly evaluating the material you are reading to determine whether it is accurate and reasonable. Ask yourself questions like these:

Questions to Ask About Informative Writing

1. Which part, if any, of this material is fact, true by definition or prov­able by observation, and which part is opinion or conjecture?

2. Is the author knowledgeable about this subject?

3. Are the author’s sources reliable and up-to-date?

4. Is the author unbiased? Has he or she made a one-sided or partial presentation of the facts? Has he or she overlooked important facts or perspectives?

5. Do the general conclusions that the author draws follow from the facts presented? Does the author provide sufficient evidence to support his or her main idea, or thesis?

Questions to Ask About Essays of Definition:

1. What term or terms are being defined?

2. What methods of definition are being used (synonyms, genus and differentia, examples, etc.)?

3. Are the definitions concrete and precise?

4. Are alternative definitions discussed?

5. Do you agree with the definitions presented?

Lesson 5.3—Understanding Informative Texts 139

ur Turn

A Identify each of the following pieces of writing as an example of narrative nonfiction, process writing, classification, comparison and contrast, cause-and-effect writing, analysis, or definition. Once you have identified the type of each piece, find the corresponding questions about that type of writing in this lesson. Then, answer the questions about the piece, in writing, on your own paper.
A typical office computer network consists of the following parts: The center of the network is the server, a powerful computer with a great deal of storage space on which documents are stored. Attached to the server are desktop computers, which, as the name suggests, sit on the desktops of the workers. Usually, application programs, such as word processing programs and spreadsheet programs, are stored on the hard drives of these desktop computers. When an employee wants to work on a document, he or she connects to the server across the network, downloads the document to his or her computer, works on it, and then copies it back to the server for long-term storage.

The network itself, which connects the desktop computers and the server, is a system of cables, generally Ethernet 10-Base T wiring. In addition, most office networks make use of a device called a hub or router, which directs traffic on the network to and from the server and the desktop computers.

Finally, to ensure that the data stored on the server is safe, most office networks contain a backup system, such as a tape drive. Regularly, once a day or once a week, for example, the network administrator backs up, or makes copies of, all the data on the server, or all the data on all the computers on the network, using this backup system.
To create a woodcut, you use a block of wood with a smooth surface, a soft charcoal pencil, woodcutting tools, an ink roller, black ink, and paper. First, if the wood is not smooth, sand it down, using progressively finer pieces of sandpaper, until you have a very smooth surface indeed. Then, carefully clean away any dust created by the sanding. Next, draw your design as an outline on a piece of paper the same size as your wood block, using the soft charcoal pencil. Press this paper against the wood to transfer the design to the wood block. If necessary, after transferring the design to the wood, use a pencil to fill in details of the design.

You are now ready to begin the actual woodcut. Use your woodcutting tools to cut away all the places that you want to appear as white in the final work. Leave the places that you want to appear as black. When that is done, again clean the block. Next, use the roller to apply ink to the block. Finally, press the inked block onto a sheet of paper to transfer the design.









140 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

The weather phenomenon known as “El Nino” is a warming of waters in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño has produced wild weather all over the globe. As the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator become warmer, heat and moisture from the ocean rise into the atmosphere, altering weather patterns in far-flung places. El Nino has brought drought and forest fires to Hawaii, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Central America. It has created typhoons in Indonesia and caused flooding and landslides in California and the Pacific Northwest. It produced a heat wave in western Canada and ice storms in New England and eastern Canada. El Niño blew frigid Arctic air into Texas and Georgia and fueled tornadoes in Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee. Although El Nino did bring pleasant weather to places like North Dakota, most of its effects have been extreme and destructive.

Cricket, one of the most popular sports in England, is played on an oval-shaped ground by two teams of eleven players each. One player, called the bowler, throws the ball to try to hit the wicket, a set of sticks standing at one end of the central part of the ground, called the pitch. The batsman tries to hit the ball with a flat-surfaced bat. If the batsman hits the ball, he may run to the other wicket at the opposite end of the pitch and exchange places with the batsman there. Fielders try to retire the batsman. Points, or runs, are scored in various ways,

with as many as 300 or 400 runs occurring in a single match.

America’s “national pastime” is similar to cricket. There are nine players on each baseball team. The game is played on a large field, with four bases arranged in a diamond shape. The pitcher tries to throw the ball over home base, and the batter tries to hit the ball with the bat. If he hits the ball, he runs to first base. Points, or runs, are scored by running counterclockwise to all the bases and back to home base without being put out by the fielders. It is unusual for either team to score more than 9 or 10 runs in a game.
B Choose any topic of interest to you that might be appropriate for an informative paragraph. Then, choose any two of the types of writing described in this lesson—narrative nonfiction, process writing, classification, comparison and contrast, cause-and-effect writing, analysis, or definition—and write two paragraphs about your topic, one for each of the two types.
C Work with other students in a small group, doing research in magazines in your school or public library. Find and photocopy one example of each of the types of informative writing described in this lesson—narrative nonfiction, process writing, classification, comparison and contrast, cause-and-effect writing, analysis, and definition. Assemble these examples into a booklet called “A Field Guide to Informative Writing.” Label and define each type in your booklet.








Lesson 5.3—Understanding Informative Texts I 41

L~5SO~J Analyzing the Writing Prompt



you learned in Lesson 2.2, English language arts exams often contain

open-response-type questions that require you to provide written answers. These questions usually include directions for what you are to write. Directions that tell you what you are to write are called the writing prompt. To ensure success on exams that assess writing ability, you must be able to analyze, or break down and interpret, the writing prompt.

Identifying the Key Question

Consider the following example of a J writing prompt:

What seems to be the writer’s attitude toward the people and events he is

describing? Cite details from the

selection that reveal what the writer thinks about this episode from early American history.
This particular writing prompt consists of two sentences. The first is a question—the key question that the person taking the test is being asked to answer. The second sentence provides additional information about what should appear in the answer. The answer should contain details from the selection that support the test-taker’s answer to the key question. The key question may appear anywhere in the writing prompt—at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end. Often, but not always, the key question is signaled by a

question word, such as who, what, where, when, why, or how. Make sure that your written response contains a one-sentence, general answer to this key question and whatever specific details are required to back up your general answer.

Interpreting Action Words

in Writing Prompts

A common mistake among test-takers is to write good responses that don’t provide what was asked for by the writing prompt. Consider this example:

One Student’s Response

Dwayne read the following prompt on a standardized exam:

Based on information contained in the article, explain why scientists are planning a manned mission to Mars. Refer to specific details from the article in your response.
Dwayne wrote the following response to this prompt:
In the nineteenth century, the astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observe~I what he thought were canals on Mars. Then, at the en~i of that century, a I7usinessmnan nan1ec~ I’ercival Lowell, excite~l that there might ~‘e canaI-l7uil~ling people on Mars, pai6l to have a large telescope









(42 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment

carry out. If you have any doubts about

Dwayne’s response is an excellent summary of newsworthy events related to Mars, but it doesn’t do what the prompt asked him to do. The prompt asks for the test-taker to “explain why scientists are planning a manned mission to Mars.” Therefore, this response, even though it is a well-written summary, would receive a low score.

The moral of Dwayne’s experience is that you must be careful to figure out what the prompt is telling you to do and then to do that and nothing else. Don’t write a comparison if you are being asked to describe causes and effects. Don’t write a summary if you are being asked to explain the reasons for something. Be on the lookout, as you read writing prompts on the exam, for words like analyze, assess, cite, compare, contrast, convey, critique, decide, describe, draw, evaluate, explain, express, generalize, illustrate, interpret, judge, list, paraphrase, point out, respond, review, show, state, summarize, support, and tell that name the task or tasks that you are being asked to

what any of these action words mean, stop now and look them up in the glossary starting on page 242 of this text.
Identifying the Parts of a Complete Response

You just saw an example of the importance of carrying out the task that the prompt requests of you. Sometimes, a prompt will ask you to carry out more than one task. Make sure, when you read the writing prompt, that you identify everything that must be included in your answer. Consider the following prompt:

The author of this memoir tells about “a change of heart” that he experienced after witnessing the destruction of a mountain habitat by erosion due to logging. What change occurred in the author’s opinions about clear-cutting of timberlands? Explain the reasons for this change, and summarize the actions that the author took because of the change.
This prompt asks the test-taker to do three separate things:
1. Tell what changed in the author’s opinions about clear-cutting.

2. Explain why the author’s opinions changed.

3. Summarize the actions that the author took because of the change.
A complete response to the prompt must do each of these things. A response that did only the first or only the first and the second would be incomplete and would receive a low score.

erect&1 to stu~ly the planet. Unfortunately, the canals turned out not to exist, and unmanned missions to Mars in the latter part of the twentieth century found no evidence of life there. In isse, however, scientists at NASA announced the discovery of a meteorite from Mars containing what may b’e fossil l7acteria. Funding for a manned Mars mission remains in jeopardy, L7ut many scientists t7elieve that such a mission will take place within the decade.






Lesson 6.1—Analyzing the Writing Prompt 143

Identifying Evidence That

Must Be Cited

Often, a writing prompt will tell you what particular facts, or evidence, you should look for in the selection and include in your response. Consider this writing prompt:

You have decided to take a hiking trip through mountainous country in the

winter. What preparations should you

make for your trip? Support your

response with facts from the selections.

A complete response to this writing prompt will contain facts from the selection, but what facts? Reading the prompt closely, you will see that the main question that you are being asked is “What preparations should a person make for a winter hiking trip in the mountains?” So, the answer must contain facts from the selection that are related to such preparations. A response that contained unrelated facts or that left out the relevant facts from the article would receive a low score. Make sure, when you read the prompts on the exam, to ask yourself what evidence you need to find in the selection to support your written answer to the key question.
The chart on the next page reviews the strategies that you should use when interpreting writing prompts. Look over the chart before doing the following exercises.
Your ~furn

Read each of the following writing prompts. Then answer the questions following each prompt.

A Edgar Allan Poe is known for producing chilling effects in his fiction. What is the mood of this story, and how is that mood created?
1 What is the key question that the test-taker must answer? What question word signals this question?
2 What parts must a complete answer to this question contain?
B The author of this essay says that the crash of Flight 2843 could have been avoided. Evaluate the actions that the pilot and his crew took when he realized that the plane was in trouble. Do you agree with the author? Why, or why not?
1 What is the key question that the test-taker must answer?
2 What action word identifies the task that the test-taker must carry out in order to answer the question? What does this action word mean?
3 What parts would have to be included in a complete answer to this question? What evidence would the test-taker look for in the selection to support his or her answer?
C Working with other students in a small group, study the open-response prompts in the Pretest on pages 2—40 of this book. For each prompt, identify the key question that the response must answer, the question words and action words that appear in the prompt, and the parts that a complete answer to the question must contain.








144 AIM Higher! English Skills for Assessment


trategies for

Interpreting Writing Prompts
When you come to open-response prompts, do the following:
Decide whether the prompt calls for a short response or a longer response.

Plan your time and the length of your answer accordingly. (See the lessons ~

that follow for more information about this.)
ffr Read the prompt over quickly to get the gist of it. Then read it over again, very carefully. Ask yourself, “What is the key question that I must answer

in my written response?” I _____

Look for question words such as who, what, where, when, why, and how. A Often, you will find that the key question in the prompt is signaled by such

a word and that one or more statements before or after the question - . .‘ provide additional information about what you are to do. (Example:

“What is the nature of the conflict between the two brothers in the story?”) Note, however, that not all questions contain such words.
JAb Check to see whether the writing task you are being asked to do has more than one part. Make sure that your answer does each thing that the prompt requests that you do—that is, that it is a complete response to the prompt.
Look for action words like analyze, cite, compare, contrast, convey, critique, decide, describe, draw, explain, express, generalize, illustrate, interpret, judge, list, paraphrase, point out, respond, review, show, state, summarize, support, and tell that tell you what you are supposed to do.
Make a mental note of any specific kinds of evidence from the selection that you are requested to find. Make sure that you find such evidence in the selection and incorporate it into your answer.

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Lesson 6.1—Analyzing the Writing Prompt 145

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