Rules of Writing Letters and Essays

General Rules of Writing Letters and Essays

There are rules for writing letters and essays for WAEC and Senior Secondary School Certificate examinations, as well as other writings in the cause of business or various activities.

These guidelines are almost similar across the types of writing with minor modifications. When you are about to start any writing, note that different writings must include these parts:

Part 1: Introduction

Essays, stories, articles and letters must begin with an introduction. It does not matter if it is an informal letter. The introduction serves to present the topic you want to discuss or, in the case of an informal letter, it may be used for pleasantries. In story writing the introduction narrates the initiating incident before the conflict, climax and conclusion.

You can use this part to define the subject matter under discussion. Let your reader immediately have an idea of what you want to talk about.

If you are writing a story, you may begin with something that will pique the interest of the reader and draw him in, making him want to read more and find out how the situation resolves in the end.

Part 2: Content

Some students, and writers, stray from the subject matter that they have been asked or wish to write on. You must ensure that you stay within the context of what you have been asked to write on. If the question is on how you spent your last holidays, you can start from when the holiday began and stop at when it ended. Don’t continue to write on events that happened after the holiday. You could be asked to write about your visit to the local zoo. What is needed from you is a description of the zoo, your thoughts about the zoo, and any adventures or interesting occurrences that you encountered while at the zoo. Here, it is not necessary to write about events after you had returned.

The content of your writing should be contained in three or four paragraphs depending on the nature of your writing. A formal letter may not be up to the number of paragraphs stated earlier. If you are writing an argumentative essay you should dedicate these paragraphs to making your points to support your argument.

When writing the main content, that is, the body of your work, bear in mind the maximum word count specified by the examination. If you are writing for a personal or official issue, it is also necessary to control the length of your writing in order to keep the concentration of the reader. This will enable your points to be better understood and absorbed by the reader.

WEAC and Senior School Certificate English theory questions are usually assigned a word count of 750 words. An A4 or foolscap paper contains about 300 words. Therefore, writing three pages in your answer sheet is equivalent to about 750 words (in average lettering).

Part 3: Summary

After you have outlined and discussed your points in the body of your writing, the next paragraph should be used to summarize your narration/point of view. You don’t have to write all the points again just bring everything together to make sense. If it is a letter, for whatever purpose; employment, complaint, consent, condolence, a summary is necessary to marshal and pinpoint why you are writing.

Part 4: Conclusion

The last paragraph will be used to conclude your writing. It is imperative that you write a conclusion even if it a just one sentence. A conclusion is not just a rehash of the summary. The conclusion can be used to express appreciation, or appeal for consideration, etc.

General Rules of Writing Letters and Essays to Note:

  • Be conscious of your punctuation
  • Spell correctly
  • Don’t use informal language for any writing except informal letters and narrative essays

Exam Bodies Marking Guide

  • Content/Context:        This factor identifies whether you understood the question.
  • Grammar:                   Correct sentences.
  • Expression:                  Your use of English
  • Spelling/Punctuation:  Spelling errors will reduce your marks

How NOT to Write a Story for the WAEC English Exam (or any other Exam)

Rules of writing letters and essays

Corrections to Above Sample Story

  1. Don’t start telling long stories and repeating yourself. Everything the writer presented in paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 should have been written in one paragraph.
  2. Paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 ought to be contained in one paragraph. You cannot start paragraphs arbitrarily. A narrative essay of 1,500 words should be 5 or 6 paragraphs in length. A letter can be 4 or 5 paragraphs maximum, namely;
  3. The introduction – 1st paragraph
  4. The body of the letter – 2nd, 3rd and 4th paragraphs
  5. Conclusion – 5th paragraph

A narrative essay takes the same format except that the paragraphs will be more.

  • Take note of the story writing guide which requires that every paragraph must be concluded. You cannot carry over what you have in the second paragraph to the third paragraph, etc.
  • The writer should have stopped the story at the end of the journey. You should not continue writing about what you did during the holidays. That is out of context.
  • The story above better represents how the writer spent his holidays, which is not what he was asked to write.
  • When you are asked to write about the longest journey you ever made, you should start the story at the time you embarked on the journey and stop at when the journey ended.
  • “The longest journey” doesn’t mean that the distance would be far. It could be a journey of one hour, but so many things happened on the way and that made the journey seem longer. The things that happened on the way could be bad or they could be good. The bad things should not be obvious things like an accident or armed robbery. How about a pregnant woman delivering in the car?

Grading the Sample

On Content: the writer of above story would not score high points on content because he clearly veered off course from the subject of the story.

Grammar: The grammatical errors are many and have been highlighted in blue colour.

Expression: The errors are underlined.

Spelling: the bold texts are spelling errors

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