Commentary Writing Tips
∑ If you have a choice of passage, donít automatically choose the one which is easier to understand Ė there may be less to say about it.
∑ If, once youíve made notes on the passage youíve chosen, you feel like you are getting nowhere, consider changing to the other passage. Donít do this, however, after anything more than about ten minutes because you will begin cutting into your time on the other extract. In that case, stick with your original choice, and youíll find that more ideas come once you start writing.
∑ Youíve read the passage several times, but you still arenít wholly sure that youíve grasped its central meaning (this is more likely to happen with a poem) then start with what you do know (details of the setting, then the characters etc) and trust that your grasp of what the whole thing Ďmeansí will grow as you work. But you should leave the first half-dozen lines of your answer page blank. Then if you do come to a fuller understanding of what the passage is about, overall, you can return and add in an introductory paragraph. If you donít get round to doing that, well the examiner will never know why you left the space, will he?
∑ What you will not have time to do is write your commentary in draft form and then copy it out again. So write carefully.
∑ Quotations and examples: In theory, every point you make should be supported by a piece of evidence. That could become a bit pedestrian after a while (one heavy footfall after another) and interrupt the flow of what youíre saying. So be sensible about it: make sure at least that youíre proving your major points by reference to the text.
∑ Keep your quotations brief. If you need to refer to a longer section, give the beginning and the end, joined by a few full-stops.
∑ Donít use a long word if a short one will do.
∑ Donít write a long sentence if you can say the same thing in a short one Ö or two short ones.
∑ Donít use slang.
∑ Donít pass judgment on the behaviour of the people in the passage or the Ďgreatnessí of the author: ĎThis magnificent piece of writing demonstrates why Dickens is a famous author.í