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.


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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.

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.