Planning your Non-Fiction Writing

One of the challenges that my students face is developing their ideas so that they are not just skimming the surface. Asking them to ‘develop further’ usually leaves them unsure how they can extend their writing to give it the requisite depth.

Teachers often encourage students to mind map their ideas but I know I don’t always make it explicit why this technique (and using spider diagrams in particular) helps to train students to brainstorm ideas and turn them into honed, structured points.

Let’s take the following debate question as a starting point:

Is social media a good thing?

I am sure that this will bring out ideas on both sides of the debate. But how do we start to extend the initial thoughts into a meaningful argument?

First, a simple pro/con list (for and against):

As a user social media myself, I would naturally want to argue FOR it but looking at this list, I can already see that it is the AGAINST side that carries a more weighty argument.

So now I need to develop each of those points further. I do this using a slide diagram:

Within each main point, there are subpoints to be made to help strengthen the viewpoint.

Not only will this provide a great reference for writing under pressure in the exam but it also naturally organises the ideas into a sensible, cohesive essay which would work for an article, a speech, a letter or whatever form is expected in the exam question.


Writing to argue – Practice

In the writing section of Paper 2 of the English Language exam, you will be asked to write a non-fiction piece. You need to be mindful of the different aspects of the task:

form: what type writing are you being asked to do? An article? Letter? Speech? What style of writing would be appropriate?

audience: who would be the target audience for the writing? What style of writing would be appropriate?

purpose: What are you trying to achieve in your writing? Are you explaining your point of view? DO you need to argue your viewpoint? Do you want to persuade your reader(s) to agree?

‘People become too attached to their pets. Animals are here to be useful, not to be spoilt.’

Write the text to appear on a website about the treatment of animals in which you explain your point of view on this statement.

(24 marks for content and organisation, 16 marks for technical accuracy) [40 marks]

Writing about Structure

When it comes to revising for English Language, you need to focus on remembering each exam question and the skills required and on learning key terminology. For analysing language, this terminology will be more familiar because you will have covered it throughout your school career. However, the terminology for structure might not be so neatly labelled with specific techniques but is no less easy to learn.

Here is a list of structural choices which you can look out for when answering Paper 1 Question 3 and 4.

  • The Opening
  • Order of events
  • Timeline
  • Links between sections / paragraphs
  • Changes in perspective
  • Shift in focus
  • Pace
  • Repetition
  • Narrative Voice
  • Dialogue
  • Contrast

Additionally, it would be useful to learn some key verbs to use to discuss this kind of analysis:

  • The writer introduces
  • The writer returns to
  • The focus widens / narrows
  • The writer shifts away from
  • The writer changes the scene to
  • This contrasts with
  • This echoes
  • This emphasises
  • The pace increases (or slows)
  • The character in the scene is frozen
  • The writer takes us back (or forward) in time
  • We follow the character as …

Finally, it might be useful to check out this more detailed diagram of a story structure so you can track how an extract might fit in this and to understand how a writer is moving through the plot.

Writing to Argue


  1. Engaging opening
    • Anecdote
    • Rhetorical Question
    • Surprising Fact
  2. Single sentence paragraph to boldly state your point of view on the topic
  3. 2 to 3 paragraphs with developed reasons to support your POV
  4. Counterargument (which you may want to undermine depending on the form)
  5. Conclusion – refer back to your opening


Some example debate questions:

  • Should children look up to celebrities?
  • Is social media a good thing?
  • Is war a necessary evil?
  • Should the government provide free school lunches to all children in years 1 and 2, regardless of their parents’ income?
  1. Start by making a list of arguments FOR and AGAINST:
    Which list had the stronger argument? What do you personally think?Remember it is wise to choose the strongest argument to write even if this isn’t what you personally believe.
  2. Now pick 2 or 3 points from whichever column you have decided is the strongest.For each point, try to come up with 2 or 3 related section (like subheadings to that point) which will develop each main point fully.Draw a spider diagram if it helps like this:
  3. Now use the structure at the top of this post to write your article/speech/letter.


Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.12.03Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.11.18Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.09.17Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.08.33Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.07.58Screen Shot 2017-05-22 at 16.07.14

Useful Language for Analysis


  • Narrative voice
  • Emotive
  • Evocative
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Alliteration
  • Connotation
  • Anecdote
  • Repetition
  • Emphasis (noun)


  • emphasises…
  • underlines…
  • highlights…
  • shows…
  • illuminates…
  • communicates…
  • informs…
  • tells…
  • gives the reader the impression…
  • makes the reader feel / think…
  • mirrors
  • reinforces
  • compounds


More of the same:          A new / different point:

Furthermore                      Turning now to
Additionally                        By contrast
In addition                          Whereas
Similarly                               Moving on to
Moreover                              Alternatively

The Effect of Personification

From the extract in this post:

Ness uses personification in his writing to create tension. He writes ‘the waves toy with him’ which gives the impression that the waves are playing a  ‘cruel game’ with the boy. By giving the sea its own mind, it makes the sea appear more threatening to the boy. The reader feels that the boy is vulnerable and that his fate is in the hands of this powerful natural force. The metaphor is extended by Ness: ‘the game the sea seems to be playing…’. The adjective ‘cruel’ adds to the sense of danger because it implies that the boy is begging for his life and the sea is enjoying the torture that it is exacting on the boy.

Using Paragraphs to Control Pace

The extract of Patrick Ness’s book More Than This – the prologue of the book, in fact – uses paragraphs to control the pace of the writing and manages the reader’s experience.

Ness starts the prologue with a short, single sentence paragraph. This dramatic opening structure, along with the shocking content, has a huge impact on the reader instantly grabbing their attention. The crafting of this sentence is designed to have the maximum impact with the fairly innocuous start of ‘Here is the boy’ followed by a comma, adding a pause and introducing tension and finally a single word after the comma, the participle adjective ‘drowning’. The reader is under no illusion that this character is in dire peril.

He continues to use these short single sentence paragraphs, and sometimes even single word paragraphs, to slow the pace right down, forcing the reader to linger on what is happening in the action. In one section, there are three single sentence paragraphs in a row and these paragraphs voice the unspoken realisation of the boy that he is going to die and because of the structure, the reader dwells on this realisation too, thus increasing the emotional resonance of the piece.

The prologue ends as it begins, the circular structure bringing a short and brutal end to the dramatic action: ‘He dies’. This simple sentence is completely unambiguous and leaves the reader reeling.

Ness also uses long paragraphs to allow the pace to build up, not allowing the reader to rest or pause and thus mirroring the experience of the boy in the story who is struggling to breathe as the ocean spins him around. Looking at the second paragraph of the prologue, Ness also using longer sentences, lists of verbs (‘ spin him… topple him… force him’) and repetition (‘down and down’) which all add to the character’s desperate situation and makes the reader feel strongly for the fated boy as he fights against the might of the sea.


Extract here Extract_ More Than This by Patrick Ness _ Children’s books _

Sentences and Punctuation

A basic sentence has a subject and a verb:


Some verbs need an object too:


Simple sentences have just one main verb:

  • Suddenly, I saw the light.
  • I dreamt about cheese.
  • The ball fell to my feet, without a sound.

Compound sentences join two simple sentences with the connectives ‘and’, ‘because’ or ‘so’:

  • I couldn’t find my shoes so I was late.
  • He wanted to know and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
  • I was lost because I had never been here before.

Complex sentences are made up of a main clause (with a main verb) and a subordinate clause (also with a verb but the clause does not make sense on its own):


Comma splicing occurs  when two sentences are joined with a comma:

very_angry_emoji I went to the park, it was eerily quiet.

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened I went to the park and it was eerily quiet.

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened I went to the park; it was eerily quiet

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened I went to the park. It was eerily quiet.

Run on sentences are like comma splicing but no punctuation is used at all:

very_angry_emoji He wondered if he would win it seemed unlikely.

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened He wondered if he would win though it seemed unlikely.

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened He wondered if he would win; it seemed unlikely.

smiling_emoji_with_eyes_opened He wondered if he would win. It seemed unlikely.

As well as being accurate, you need to use a variety of punctuation.

 use a rhetorical question(s)

!  exclamation – do not overuse and only use one at a time!

 used to introduce an idea or a list

 used to link two independent clauses together

Colons introduce an idea or a list. When introducing an idea, the colon can be replace with ‘and that is/was’ or similar:

  • At that very moment, it all became clear: he must kill him.
  • I knew what was different about her: the bright green hair.
  • I didn’t have much to buy: bread, milk and a gun.

The part of the sentence that comes before the colon must make sense on its own (i.e. be a complete sentence in its own right).

Semi-colons link two independent clauses together:


Writing about Repetition

This is a technique used by writers, often to emphasise something or draw something to the reader’s attention. It is important that you read carefully the surrounding text in order to establish the context: what is the writer trying to convey here? Is there are particular tone or mood? Is the writer building tension? What exactly is being repeated as this will be significant?

Answering these questions will help you understand what the effect is on the reader – crucial for your Language and Literature GCSE exam responses.

Consider the repetition used in the opening to the BFG:

Sophie couldn’t sleep.

A brilliant moonbeam was slanting through a gap in the curtains. It was shining right onto her pillow.

The other children in the dormitory had been asleep for hours.

The moonbeam was like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face.

The house was absolutely silent. No voices came up from downstairs. There were no footsteps on the floor above either.

The window behind the curtain was wide open, but nobody was walking on the pavement outside. No cars went by on the street. Not the tiniest sound could be heard anywhere. Sophie had never known such silence.

You will notice that the extract has repetition of ‘no’ and ‘not’ to show how quiet it was in the dormitory. By focusing on just the nouns which follow the ‘no’, it helps you to notice that all the description is about sound which is then heightened by the final sentence of the extract.

When writing analytically about this extract, it is important to be specific about the effect and identify how it works with other devices or descriptions given in the extract to create an overall effect. A response which does this might be:

Dahl uses repetition in the extract to build tension and create atmosphere. By repeating the structure ‘no’+noun, he emphasises the lack of sound. This is reinforced by the final simple sentence of the paragraph: ‘Sophie had never known such silence’. The use of ‘never’ here further underlines how unusual it was for it to be so quiet.

The still and sinister atmosphere created in the dormitory by this repetition makes Sophie appear exposed and alone. This is further compounded by the simile ‘like a silver blade slicing through the room on to her face’ which adds an element of danger to the otherwise pretty description. The violence of the ‘blade’ which is ‘slicing’ at once makes Sophie appear vulnerable.

The reader, then, is intrigued by the unusual silence and anxious for Sophie as we anticipate that something is about to happen which might put Sophie in peril.