Category Archives: Question B

Advice on functional writing tasks (Question B).


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Here’s a video I made back in October 2012 discussing why I think blogging is a good idea. I’m putting it here to illustrate one of the points I make below, which is that blogs have the capacity to be more than just word documents

That said, they can just be text and nothing else, if that’s what you prefer!

What exactly is a blog anyway?

The word ‘blog’ is short for ‘web log’. There are two main types of blog

– a blog which discusses a particular subject
– a blog which acts as a personal online diary

Blogs are

  • maintained by an individual or a company
  • regularly updated
  • interactive, allowing visitors to leave comments

Multimodal communication

What makes a blog different to communicating by writing a letter, a diary or an essay, is the fact that a blog is “multimodal”.

This means that you can add other media, so the blog post is not just writing!

These include:

1. Photos
2. Videos
3. Podcasts
4. Hyperlinks
5. Comments section

Very few blog posts will contain ALL of these elements however. For example, this blog post has writing, an embedded video and a few hyperlinks. It doesn’t have any comments yet (that’s up to the readers, not the blogger) and I haven’t bothered adding any photos or embedding any podcasts.

How do people find your blog?

Obviously you’ll try to promote it using social media, which is why I have a Facebook page and a twitter account for the website. You can see these embedded on the right hand side.

You’re also hoping that once your blog becomes popular, people will subscribe to it, which means they get an automatic email every time you publish a new post.

You also want people to stumble upon your blog because other people recommend either a blog post you’ve written that they really like or the blog itself. If you ever get a chance to go on the radio or TV, make sure you take the opportunity to mention your blog – it’s free advertising after all!

If your blog becomes really successful it’ll appear high up on a google search (or any search engine). How does this happen? Well you can “tag” posts with the main words you think people would put into a search engine if they wanted more info on the topic you’re blogging about. However, this alone won’t move you up the search engine list. Having lots of links in to your blog, lots of visitors, lots of comments and plenty of relevant tags are the main factors combined which will push your blog up the list.

If you’re afraid people will write nasty comments, you can click “approve comments” before you publish so that no comment goes up without your say so.

As of Feb 2011 there were 156 million public blogs in existence.

The language used tends to be fairly informal.

If you are asked to write a blog about a personal event(s) in your life write it in diary style.

If you are asked to write a blog about a particular topic write it in the style of an article.

If you’d like to get a sense of what young bloggers blogs look like, check out the Irish Blog Awards shortlist for Best Youth Blog


Blogs can be a hybrid of a few genres! As the lady who pointed this out to me eloquently stated, she “find[s] the most engaging posts tend to be a blend… with some sort of personal story, reflection or insight plus useful information for readers and ideally a call to action (as illustrated in your post Open Gardens that is part diary and part article)“.

The end result of this, of course, is that you don’t need to stress too much about making your blogpost ‘fit’ one genre or the other…

QB – 3 sample questions…

Here’s the test my Leaving Certs are doing this morning:

Leaving Cert English QB – select ONE of the following

  1. Carpe Diem means “seize the day!”. You have been invited to speak on national radio about the importance of enjoying life. Write out the text of the talk/advice you would give.


  1. Compose a leaflet aimed at encouraging young people to be more open about their mental health.


  1. On behalf of the student body, you have compiled student suggestions for ways to improve the school experience for students. Write the report you will present to the Principal and board of management outlining your findings and recommendations.


If you want to practice, take a blank sheet, give yourself 45 minutes, and see what you come up with!



Think about the word for a second. The first thing that sprang into my mind was a marriage proposal. Asking someone to marry you involves proposing that you are the best possible person for them to spend the rest of their life with. No wonder people get nervous! To propose is to put yourself on the line.

The other scenario that came to mind was when you’re at a meeting. Someone will come up with an idea, propose it, need someone else to back them up by ‘seconding’ it and even then there will probably be a vote where people consider the relative merits of your proposal and decide whether or not they want to back it. So in making a proposal you are putting yourself out there, believing – or maybe just hoping – that people will support you on the strength of your idea or your persuasive personality. To propose is to be certain – but it also involves taking a risk.

So while there are no clear guidelines, a proposal falls more or less into the category of the language of information. You should get to the point, avoid any waffle or repetition, pay close attention to structure (make sure it’s well laid out and organized) and use clear, concise language to get your message across.

Remember however, that if this proposal is going to be selected from lots of other proposals it will need to be good. You need to argue your case, persuading your audience that you are the best possible candidate and/or your idea is the best possible idea for whatever it is that you are proposing.

In general follow the same rules you’d use for writing the content of a formal letter, but don’t put in addresses and you may want to use headings (in the same way that you use headings for a report) or you may decide to only have one overall heading which is the title of your proposal. There is no hard and fast rule here so don’t get hung up on it.
These are the basic content rules used for formal letter writing:
  • introduce your reason for writing immediately
  • in your middle paragraphs describe in detail why you or your idea should be selected
  • finish by saying what you’d like to happen next and possibly including details of your phone number, availability.
 If you are ‘selling’ yourself think about exploring the following:
  • relevant experience
  • qualifications and/or academic record
  • relevant hobbies or voluntary organizations you’re involved with
  • personality traits
If you are selling an idea, imagine you are on ‘Dragon’s Den’
  • focus on the unique selling points of your idea or product
  • show that you have done your research (handed out a questionnaire, given away free samples, tested the product or idea on a fairly large/diverse group of people)
  • make it clear that you know your target audience – the people who will buy your product or service –  and discuss their specific needs and how you can meet their expectations.
  • have a financial plan (a set of projected costs and profits compiled into accounts)
  • express a belief that this product or service is worth doing, either for financial reward, or for the good of the community or for altruistic reasons (to help others) or if possible all of the above.
Here’s a link to “How to Write a Proposal” – I just googled it. It looks pretty similar to my advice and it includes a few sample proposals which are worth a look.
Finally, for those cynics out there who jumped to conclusions when I said a marriage proposal was the first thing that sprang to my mind, it’s not because I’m waiting for one. My handsome husband is another committed blogger – you can find him here.
p.s. Here’s the checklist I prepared for my leaving certs when they were writing proposals recently:
 Proposals Checklist

 Who will do What? When & Why?

 Step 1: Introduce you idea. You begin with a brief sentence outlining what it is you propose to do / create and mentioning who it is aimed at.

 Step 2: Flesh out the details. The body of the proposal will first offer specific detail on the project, outlining exactly what you propose to do/create, step by step.

 Step 3: Include rationale. (1. selling points, 2. research, 3. expectations 4. expertise). This is where you explain why you believe this approach will be effective (in achieving whatever it is the people paying for this project want to achieve). Focus on the unique selling points of your idea. Have you tested this idea on a sample group? Discuss the specific needs of your target audience and how your project will meet their needs and expectations. You may wish to briefly outline why you are the perfect person to lead this project (relevant experience, qualifications, personality).

 Step 4: Timeframe and financial plan. Specify how long this project will take from start to finish. Include an estimated cost and mention that a detailed set of accounts for projected costs (and potential profits if applicable) is included in the appendix.


Question B advice

What do I need to think about before I start writing?

Imagine your answer is a SUITCASE – the examiner is looking for certain TAGS.

T = Topic. Stick to the topic. Have plenty of ideas. Identify problems but also offer solutions.

A = Audience. Who are you writing for? What kind of language is appropriate? (formal/informal)

G = Genre. Are you writing a diary/report/speech etc…? What layout is expected?

S = Style. What techniques will you use? Emphatic words, vivid imagery, address audience etc…?

If these elements are there then you should have everything you need in your answer.

You cannot answer QA & QB on the same text.

If you do you lose 25% of the marks for Paper 1.

What can I be asked to write?

Report / memo


Letter (may be based on the text)




Diary entries (may be based on the text)




How much should I write? 1½ – 2pgs

How long do I have? 45Mins

Do I need to read the text the QB follows?

Often you are asked to base your answer on the information in the text so you will have to read it quickly to get ideas.

The examiners will reward ‘creative modeling’.

This means you can use the ideas in the text BUT you cannot just re-write sentences word-for-word and pretend you’ve come up with them yourself (this is plagiarism.)

They are expecting you to model the same style – if the writer used quotes, you should too (but different ones), if the writer included an anecdote you should do (but your own anecdote…). You must add your own personality & imagination. Don’t steal the ideas, challenge them, add something new, model a similar style but different content. 

From word to paragraph…

When you brainstorm you’ll often just have individual words written down but if you want to turn a word into a paragraph of prose how do you do it?

I showed my leaving certs how the other day. I asked them for a word. They came up with ‘sex’ (hormones, hormones, hormones).

Then I wrote a list on the board as follows:

  1. Imagery = 5 senses = SIGHT   SOUND   SMELL   TASTE   TOUCH
  2. Rhetorical question
  3. Repetition
  4. Thoughts & Feelings
  5. Short snappy sentences
  6. Suspense
  7. Twist

As we used each technique we crossed it off.

Here’s the paragraph we came up with:

Does he seriously think I’m going to sleep with him? I’m really really drunk and I can smell the stale sweat of his armpits, see the yellow plaque on his teeth. I can taste the puke in my mouth and the thump of a dance tune hammers into my brain. He reaches over and grabs my ass. I’m definitely going to puke again. ‘Get me out of here’ a voice screams in my head. But I can’t leave. You see this is my job. And if I don’t sleep with him my children don’t eat”. 

As a rule I find students need to think less about what they write and more about HOW they write. Having a list of techniques written down forces you to be more stylish in your writing.

Now over to you. Pick a word, any word. Try to write 8 or 10 stylish sentences. As you use each of the techniques above cross them off.

You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised at the result but disheartened at how long it takes.  Practise writing one paragraph every day and you’ll get quicker at it.