Tag Archives: topics

“Appropriate” topics…

I recently received this email query and I think the answer might be relevant to lots of you out there.

The question was as follows:

I’m just wondering, what is your opinion on how personal a personal essay should be? Like if I was to include stories about growing up as a gay teen/ break ups/ family etc, does that just come off as a sob story or will it annoy the examiner? Also, in terms of articles, is it best to stay away from controversial issues like the church and gay rights? Obviously this is presuming its relevant to to the title given!”

And I replied:

A personal essay should be very personal. It should feel ‘real’ to the examiner. So yes, deal with your experiences of discrimination, relationships etc…
To avoid creating an annoying sob story, don’t just identify problems, offer solutions. Also, another way to get the reader onside and not sound full of irritating self-pity is to make fun of yourself. I love people who are willing to mock their own faults and failings, it makes them more human, more likable. What really matters is that your essay is WELL WRITTEN, regardless of the content, and as someone who is gay, you probably have an interesting perspective to offer that the examiner may not have read before.
However, remember, just because it’s TRUE doesn’t make it entertaining for the reader – again, self-mockery and offering some solutions as well as identifying problems are two ways to make your essay more enjoyable for the reader… plus, think not just about WHAT you write but also about HOW you write. List the techniques you intend to use, tick them off as you use them!
As for whether or not you should discuss controversial topics in your newspaper article, provided they are relevant to the title, absolutely. 
Again, however, it is vital to remember that HOW you write is as important – in fact MORE important – than what you write.
All journalists when researching a story will interview eye-witnesses and/or experts on the topic under discussion. They’ll include quotes from these ‘interviews’ they’ve conducted (feel free to make them up). They’ll also prove that they know their topic & have thoroughly researched it by including relevant statistics (for example, in your case possibly the number of gay people in Ireland v’s the number who are ‘out’, the percentage of gay people in long term relationships, the number who have children etc).
Again, you can make these up in the exam but they MUST sound realistic. A good example of a stat that doesn’t sound realistic is if you say that 87% of teenagers smoke. The real stat is closer to 20% and an examiner is likely to know this (just from paying attention to the universe…)
Hope this helps some of you about to launch into exams season.

Topic of the Week: Being Irish!

What does it mean to be Irish? It means we drink too much, swear too much, shout at the telly (especially when there’s sport on), love Taytos, have at least nine cups of tea a day, talk about the weather all the time (but none of us own a rainjacket!), have the Irish mark (left shoulder, two dots) and at least two scars from where we picked at our chicken pox, squirm whenever someone pays us a compliment (“this jacket? I got it in Penneys for a tenner“), love pub quizzes, love curry chips, love Fr. Ted, secretly wish we could win the Eurovision just one more time, think RTE is shite (but still watch it), think the Rose of Tralee is shite (but still watch it – but only because our parents have it on!), think Winning Streak is shite (it is – but still watch it when one of the neighbours is on!). We don’t like boastin’ though so I can’t tell you that we’re great craic, fierce loyal, give heaps o money to charity and wouldn’t see ya stuck if you were havin a rough time of it. ‘Cause if I said all that you might think I was gettin’ up meself like!

Sample exam questions:
Write a speech in which you argue for or against the necessity to protect national culture and identity.

Imagine you have a friend in another country which is considering the introduction of a ban on smoking in public places. Write a letter to your friend advising him/her either to support or not to support the proposed ban. In giving your advice you may wish to draw on the recent experience of the smoking ban in Ireland.

Write a personal essay in which you explore your sense of what it means to be Irish.

You have been elected President of Ireland – write the first speech you would make to the Irish people.

Write a letter to Martin Mansergh in which you outline your response to his view of young Irish people.