ENB5 - Editorial Writing

Important: 2008's packs will be released on 10th June.

The longest exam you'll face at 2.5 hours, and soon to be scrapped from the syllabus completely. However, we lucky lot have to do it...

You'll get two packs between 14 and 7 days before the exam, and it'll be your task to prepare them. Once in the exam, there are four questions, two on each pack, and your task is to write a piece of text to match just one of them. The written text you produce should be approximately 1,000 words, though you can get away with a range between 900-1,100 words (10% either way). The exam might ask you to produce something written, such as a newspaper article, or something spoken, like a radio transcript.


In the weeks before the exam, you'll receive your packs of information. Both will be around 20 pages long, and filled with extracts from a variety of sources on the particular subject of the pack.

In order to have most flexibility in the exam, it's important that you prepare both packs... not just the one that you find most appealing. If you get into the exam, having only prepared one, to see that both questions are horrible, you'll be in trouble. (Not that there is such thing as a good exam question, I know.)

To prepare them properly, each pack should take at least three hours, so make sure the weekend before the exam is free for it!

Do the least interesting first...that way, you'll have *some* motivation to keep going, hehehe.

On the first read through (yep, got to read each at least three times, I'm afraid), just read to get an overview of the pack. No annotations, just reading.

On the second read through, it's time to get down to the detail. Consider each text individually, and annotate as needed. Be careful not to write too much though: not only will it get confusing in the exam, there could be a danger of your pack being taken away...

You should first GRASP the text, from ENB1. Note down the genre, register, audience, subject and purpose.

From genre and register, when it comes to the exam, you may be able to use them as a style guide for your own piece if you think they are appropriate...and if they're too high/low a register, you'll have a quick reminder to change them appropriately.

If the purpose is to persuade, look for anything that might be bias or opinion and underline. It's not that likely, but it might be possible that facts in the packs may be contradictory... anything underlined will need to be checked, later, against other texts.

After you have the subject, look at dividing the text into individual subheadings and write these in the margin. They will allow you to locate specific detail quickly in the exam.

Finally, make a note of definitions of any technical language or things that you don't understand. Highlight key facts in the text, but make you highlight no more than one sentence per paragraph.

It might also be useful to write down a summary of each text separately. Although you won't be allowed these in the exam, they're a good way of seeing how much of the pack you've taken in!

On the third read, look for links. Cross-reference and check any options and views. If you wish, you can reorder the pack into a more logical order, though if you do this, make sure you do an index so that you don't get lost in the exam!

The last page of the pack is blank. It might be useful to draw up an overview chart:

Text Subject Purpose Genre Audience Register Date Opinion Links to
A Crop Circle Formation Inform Magazine article General Informal 23/07/05 Para 2, first sentence Text B
Text F

If you do all this, you should be well prepared by the time you get into the exam.

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The exam will ask you to produce a text that matches a specific purpose and audience. For the high marks, it wants to see that you're able to change your language, kinda like I am right now. If you've ever written web sites or newspaper articles, you should be well practised in shaping your language for an audience...

The exam could ask you to write either a written or a spoken text, so practise both. Of the four questions, one will always be a spoken text.

In terms of genre, you may be asked to produce:

Spoken Written
  • Prepared speech (unlikely)
  • Radio script: BBC Radio 4 / Local radio / Specialist radio (very likely)
  • TV script (unlikely)
  • Audio guide (likely)
  • Advice
  • Soundtrack for a web site / info CD
  • Newspaper or magazine article
  • Web site
  • Leaflet / booklet
  • Display board text
  • Encyclopedia entry / extract
  • Guide to a museum/attraction
  • Diary / blog / email (unlikely)

As always with English, the best idea is to read widely and get familiar with the genres and their common conventions. Here are a few ideas:

Radio Scripts

There have been a number of Radio 4 scripts in the past, so it would be useful to listen to BBC Radio 4 a couple of times. It can be okay at times, honestly! Listen online here. If you decide to do a radio script, here are some technical terms for your commentary:

Presenter - does the introduction and holds the show together.

Edited interview - a pre-recorded interview, from which points are taken and incorporated into the text.

Voice piece - a single speaker, at some length.

Scripted links - these move the text on. There are several types:

  1. Front cue - like a headline.
  2. Link - set the scene, summarise and move to the next section.
  3. Back announcement - rounds off the information.

SFX - sound effects, such as music or relevant recordings.

The general discourse of a radio show is to tell the listener what they are about to here...tell them...and then tell them what they just heard. The Presenter always begins, welcomes the reader and introduces the show. He or she then introduces the other speakers, and keeps things together using links and back announcements.

If you've ever listened to BBC Radio 4, you'll know that it does have a fairly high register, lexically. But sentence structures are usually short, in order to avoid overloading the listener. Other radio stations may adopt a more colloquial style.

SFX are one of the most important things to consider when doing any type of spoken text. Like graphology in written texts, they add variety and colour to the piece. Different speakers, age and gender, intonation, appropriate background noises can make the text more interesting.

Beware of overusing sudden noises, though, because you don't want to startle the listener. If speakers shout or whisper for long lengths of time, the listener will just adjust the volume of the show.

In order to set out a radio script or TV script, divide the page into three sections: a narrow one for the speaker's name, a wide one for text, and a narrow one for SFX.

Presenter: Hello and welcome to Word of Mouth. On today's program, we'll be looking at Language Change: what's causing recent changes and where is English headed in the future? To answer these questions, we'll be hearing from Paul Coggle, a linguist from the University of Kent, who came into the studio earlier.

SFX: two second intro, program music, fades to silence as Presenter begins.

The thing to remember about interviews is that they'll always be pre-recorded, because you can't script a live interview. Don't include anything live.

Audio Guides

If you've ever been dragged on any kind of school trip, you've probably heard an audio guide.

In terms of discourse, they usually begin with a welcome (to make sure you've come to the place you wanted!) and then instructions on how to use the guides:

Narrator: Welcome to Thomas Rotherham College. Today, we'll be taking a look around the majestic grounds and beautiful buildings you see before you.
Before the tour begins, however, it's important you know how to use your tour guide. At the end of every recording, there will be directions for the next area, and a number to key in there. Simply press the number on your keypad when you arrive and press play. If you type a number incorrectly, simply press stop to end the recording. To pause at any point, just press the pause button.
Remember, there's no rush with the guide. Enjoy the pleasant atmosphere here, and then just type in the number and press play when you're ready.
SFX: bird chirp, two seconds, fade as speaker begins.

Although the how-to to the guide is important as an audio guide convention, try not to spend too many words on it. You only have 1,000 words. The above example is 129 words, and you should aim for no more than 150 words.

As with the radio script, the audio guide often uses a sandwich style: telling you what you'll hear, telling you, and telling you what you heard. Dates and timeline building words should be used to help the listener fix events in their minds: earlier, ten years later, after this, etc...

Sentences are again quite short, to avoid overloading the listener, and the register is a moderate one - personal (talking to the listener), but not colloquial. SFX are just as important as the radio guide, perhaps having direct 'quotes' from past historical figures.

In an audio guide of something like a place or a display, you can also direct your listener about what they see. "If you look to the left, you'll see a large piece of polished bronze. This was part of a Roman spear, recovered in the 19th century."

Written Texts

When it comes to almost any type of written text, graphology is your master (something I clearly fail upon).

Use appropriate pictures to break up the text, though remember, you always need to label them, and if the labels are already there, those count on your total word count! Although you have scissors and glue, it's probably better to refrain from using them. Just draw a box, and write in what should fill it.

Always give your piece a title. If it's an extract from a book, this can be as simple as Chapter 4: The Evacuees. If it's a newspaper or magazine article, you'll need to be more creative, if you can...use alliteration at the very least, a pun if one comes to you.

In addition to the title, you must break your text up into subheadings. Partly discourse structure, partly graphology, subheadings make it much easier for the reader to follow.

Other graphological features you could include:

  • bullet point lists
  • numbered lists
  • short paragraphs
  • timelines
  • graphs
  • different sizes, fonts and colours

Don't worry about setting it out as you write. Draw up a separate plan to show how it would appear on a page. If it's a newspaper article, writing in columns isn't necessary - it'll just make life hard for you and the examiner.

Syntax and lexis depend upon the audience and register. Although you have more a little more freedom here, most pieces are written for a general audience. This means dumming down your language a little, if you're used to being highly eloquent and using long sentences. Pieces written for children need to be even simpler. Think about how you explain any technical lexis you include. Do you write the definition in parentheses (rounded brackets), or do you create a separate glossary?

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The first thing we do when you look at the questions, is to read them all and decide which you want to do.

A question might look something like this:

"You have been asked to produce an article for a parenting magazine, to give new parents basic knowledge of what to expect from their children's linguistic development in the first three years, and what they can do to help."

When we've decided to do this, we look closely at it, and note down the key ideas:

Genre: magazine article
Register: Conversational? Humorous?
Purpose: inform - give "basic knowledge
Audience: first time parents
1. Stages of Language
2. Caretaker language
3. Linguists' theories

You may wish to extent the content part of the plan further, but this gives all the basics from the question. Why not try it? It'll be good practice for ENB6, too.

To see an answer that received an A grade, click here.

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Although commentary writing only accounts for ten marks, they are ten marks that very few people actually gain. Yet, it's a bit weird as to why, because the aim of the commentary is to tell the examiner about all the decisions you made earlier while writing and while.

So, central to your commentary will be the audience of the piece.

"I chose to adopt a personal register, using personal pronouns like the second person "you" and the collective "we", in order to involve the reader, as this was written for a young audience."

"As this particular section of the web site involves instructing the reader on how to pass their ENB5 exam, I decided to fill it with imperatives, hopefully encouraging the to act as instructed: "Conclude with how successful..." "Draw up a separate plan..."

"To add a little variety and make the examples more eye-catching, I chose 'Comic Sans MS' for the examples. This font style echoes real handwritten examples, and suits its purpose."

You make a point of what you did, support it with evidence from your text, and explain why.

If you write about a side, covering the wide range of things you did to make it engaging and accessible, and you should be on to really good marks. Conclude with how successful you think the piece is.

If you write convincing in your commentary, the examiner might notice good things about your text that they didn't spot before. It might lead them to re-read your piece, and perhaps even give you a few extra marks. So commentaries are definitely important!

To see a commentary for the question above, click here.

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DO's and DON'Ts
  • Always make the text interesting. Even if it's a dull topic, you won't get any marks for putting the examiner to sleep!
  • Always split up writing somehow.
  • Always read the questions carefully, and underline all the key parts.
  • Always write a commentary... but get to 1,000 words, first!
  • Don't ever write one long piece of continuous writing. No matter what you're writing, it should be broken up somehow!
  • Don't copy and paste large chunks of text from the packs. This is plagiarism. Always rewrite stuff in your own words!
  • Don't do a written piece if it asks for a spoken piece. And vice versa. Read the questions carefully!
  • Don't answer all four questions. You only have to answer one. You have 2.5 hours, not 10!
  • Don't go into the exam unprepared. You won't have time to look through the packs and write!
  • Don't go over or under the word count by more than 10 per cent.

Finally, good luck! On this exam, people generally do either very well or very poorly. As long as you avoid all those mentioned before, you should be on to great marks! Try to have fun in the exam, too.

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