Friday, November 11, 2011

Writing a Report 3

Look at this task:

An English friend of yours is working on a series of articles called “Young and Old Around the World” which looks at different towns and cities through the eyes of teenagers and senior citizens. She has written asking for your help and this is an extract from her letter.

What I want is some first-hand information about what it’s like to live in your town from the point of view of the two different age groups. You would need to interview, say, ten people in each category on the main topics of public transport, entertainment, and shopping and write me a brief report. Could you also include a short introduction about your town and give a little summing up at the end?

Write your report in about 250 words.

A report is a formal document prepared by one person or a group of people who have been studying a particular subject. There are two basic kinds of reports:

  • The first simply provides information on a topic and gives a brief conclusion or summary at the end. Example: a report on the educational system in a particular country, written to help someone research the subject.
  • The second sets out to identify strengths and weaknesses in a particular situation and make recommendations for improvement. Example: a report on the library facilities in a college written at the request of the principal.

Language and register
Reports are the most impersonal kind of writing and it is usually best to avoid expressing personal opinions or feelings, except, perhaps, in the conclusion. Instead of I think that … or I found that… for example, you can use the impersonal “It” construction and a passive, eg It seems that… It was found that …

It is also advisable to avoid making very definite statements unless you’re absolutely sure they’re true. Instead of saying It is for example, you can use a modal verb eg It could/may/might be or a more tentative expression such as It seems to be or It tends to be.

Layout and organisation
Reports should have a clear factual heading and may also have subheadings which divide the writing into shorter sections. The information should be organised and presented as clearly and logically as possible, with a short introduction explaining the aims of the report and how the information was obtained and a suitable conclusion, summing up the information and making recommendations if necessary.

Useful language

Introduction:            The aim of this report is to..                                    It is based on…
                                    This report is intended to..                                      It draws on 
                                    This report looks at / describes..                            It uses..

Reporting an
observation:            It seems/appears that..                                            It was found that..
                                    The majority / minority of …                                    It was felt that ..

Quoting:                    According to …         As X said…               In the words of …

Speculating:            It may / could / might (well) be that ..

Generalising:           In general      On the whole                        In the main

Commenting:          Interestingly              Curiously             Oddly                    Strangely      
                                    Surprisingly              Predictably
                                    As might be (have been) expected           It is interesting that

Making a recommendation:         It is recommended that ..
                                                            (Perhaps) it would be advisable for X to (do)
                                                            (Perhaps) X might /should consider

Summing up:           To sum up / To summarise On balance               In short

Study the following example carefully:

Leisure Facilities in Grimthorpe

The aim of this report is to describe and assess the leisure facilities available in Grimthorpe. It is based on information made available by the Grimthorpe Tourist Office, and on views expressed by local people who were interviewed.
Grimthorpe has a wide range of sports facilities, both public and private. There is a large modern leisure centre in the High Street and facilities include a swimming pool, a sports hall for judo, fencing and other activities, and tennis courts. The centre runs courses in all these sports and these tend to be very popular. Membership costs £150 a year, which was felt to be rather expensive, but a special temporary membership is available to visitors. The public swimming pool on the outskirts of the town is older, less attractive and often overcrowded, but entry is only £1.50.
There are two theatres in town, the Kings Theatre in Bee Street, which offers mainly “serious” drama and has a good reputation for its productions of Shakespeare, and the Little Theatre in Sea Street which specialises in lighter entertainment and the occasional pop concert. In general, it seems that the Kings Theatre is more popular with the older members of the community while the Little appeals more to people in their teens and twenties.
Museums and Art Galleries
The City Museum has an extensive collection of maps, pottery and other articles connected with Grimthorpe’s history. The attendants are said to be very friendly and helpful, and there is also a small café with reasonably priced home-made snacks. Interestingly, few of the local people interviewed had ever been to the museum but it was recommended highly by several tourists.
Grimthorpe is well provided with leisure facilities for a town of its size and these are well used by the townspeople on the whole. Sport seems to be the most popular leisure activity, while cultural activities like visiting the museum or art gallery appeared to be the least popular among the Grimthorpians who were interviewed. Perhaps the  City Council should consider launching a publicity campaign to show how much these facilities have to offer.

Now use these tips to help you write your answer to the task above.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Writing an Article 4

Look at this task.

You have a friend who works for an organisation that arranges study exchanges for school and college students. The organisation produces a regular magazine, which features articles about exchange countries, experiences people have had abroad, etc. Here is part of a letter from your friend.

there’s been a big increase in the number of people applying for study exchanges to your country – nearly double last year’s figures, in fact. Almost all will be staying with local families and, as it’ll be the first time most of them have been to your country, we thought we ought to put an introduction to the basic customs in the next edition of our magazine. So I was wondering – you’ve guessed it! – if you could possibly write a short article on the topic. You could explain any special habits to do with greeting, eating, being a good guest, etc, and also include any points about family or social life which you think they should be aware of. I know you’d do a brilliant job and I’d be really grateful.
Hope to hear from you soon

Write your article in approximately 250 words.

An article is a piece of writing on a particular subject which is written for publication in a newspaper, magazine or newsletter.

A wide range of approaches is possible, depending on the subject matter. A light-hearted or humorous topic might be given a fairly personal treatment, for example, while a more serious topic would be treated in a more neutral, analytic way.

Articles should have a heading which makes the subject matter clear but which also catches the reader’s eye and makes him or her want to read. Newspapers and magazines often use dramatic statements or word play in headings for this reason, and sometimes add a sub-heading which gives more information.

Layout and organisation
As with any other kind of composition, it’s important to have an interesting introduction and a suitable conclusion to “round off” the piece, and to organise the information into paragraphs which help the reader to follow the argument or understand the different aspects of the subject. In addition, articles often include an outline of the story or the topic near the beginning so that the reader begins with a general picture and then reads on to find out more information.

Your CAE coursebook will certainly contain many examples of different types of articles, taken from English-language newspapers and magazines. Look at each one carefully to see how the writer uses organisation and style to create interest.

Now look at the example below:

Screaming Tyres
By Tracy Cole

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sit behind the wheel of a racing car? Are you looking for a really imaginative birthday present for a car-mad friend or relation? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”, then you may be interested to hear about a course I took at Stoke Lodge Racing School recently.
            My day as a racing driver was the first prize in a newspaper competition I had entered, and I must say that it was the most exciting prize I’ve ever won. The day began with theoretical instruction covering all aspects of safety. This was followed by practical tuition in a high-performance saloon car. With no traffic to worry about, I was able to practise controlling the car on bends and prepare myself for the ultimate experience – the chance to drive a single-seater racing car.
            And finally, with crash helmet on and full harness seat belts secured, I was able to rev up the engine and edge my way out onto the circuit. Six breathtaking laps later, my dream had become reality.
            For those not lucky enough to win a day at the racing school, the cost of the introductory course is £120, which includes all equipment and also an impressive certificate to hang on the wall. Anyone who can drive a car can enjoy the experience, regardless of age. The oldest participant so far has been 85, and I understand that he has booked a second course!

Note in particular the following points:
  • heading – short, dramatic
  • Opening – catches the reader’s attention by asking a question
  • Separate paragraphs for different aspects of the subject
  • Ending – rounds the article off suitably with a joke.

Now, plan your answer the task above, like this:

-       Think of a title, perhaps one with a touch of humour.
-       Make a list of the topics suggested in the question and jot down any ideas you have for each one. Imagine yourself as a visitor to your country and your family. What would seem strange? What mistakes might you make?
-       Decide on the best order for the topics.
-       Make your article readable. Remember your readers’ ages. How can you get their attention to begin with? How can you keep them reading? What would be a good ending?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Writing a review

Look at this task.

You have been asked to write a short film review for a school /college magazine. Choose any film which you think might be of interest to your fellow students. The film can be in any language and it can be of any type: comedy, thriller, science fiction, romance, historical drama etc.
Your brief is to include a clear description of the story/contents, to comment on what you think the most successful and least successful features are, and to give an overall recommendation. Write about 250 words.

First, choose a film to review. It doesn’t have to be a new film, though it is helpful if you have seen it recently, and you don’t have to have enjoyed it. Sometimes it’s easier to pinpoint what you don’t like about something than what you like! Think about what you liked or didn’t like about the film.

The purpose of a review is firstly to give factual information about the subject, and secondly to give an opinion about it which will help the reader to decide whether to buy the book, see the play or film or visit the exhibition.
Reviews normally contain three main ingredients: overview, pros and cons, and verdict, which are described more fully below. A review may not always fall into three neat sections, however. The writer may decide to describe an aspect of the subject and comment immediately on strengths and weaknesses, for example, before going on to describe another aspect of the subject.

Overview – a description of the subject

Book – non-fiction:
What is it about? Who is it for? How technical is it? How is it organised? What topics are covered? What special features are there? How much does it cost? etc.

Book – fiction
What kind of book is it? (thriller, historical novel, science fiction etc)? Is it different in any way from other books of this type? What’s the story? etc (You can give an outline but don’t give the ending away!)

Play / film / TV programme
What is it about? Is there anything special / unusual about the production? Play / film: Where is it on? Are there any well-known actors? Who is the director? TV programme: Which channel? Is it part of a series? Who is the producer?

Pros and cons – detailed comments on the successful and unsuccessful features of the subject.
Your comments will probably include both objective views (the photographs in a book were poor quality or the costumes didn’t fit the actors properly, for example) and subjective views (based on personal feelings) – the story wasn’t interesting or the film was too violent. Make sure, however, that you give reasons for your comments.
You may have strong positive or negative feelings about the subject of the review and this is no bad thing. A strong opinion, clearly argued, is often more interesting to read than a carefully balanced assessment. Even so, try not to be completely one-sided.

Verdict – summing-up and recommendation
The last paragraph should sum up your feelings and make it clear to the reader whether you recommend the subject without any reservations, recommend it with one or two reservations, or don’t recommend it at all. In real life, readers often look at the last paragraph of a review first to see what the general verdict is. Make sure your review gives a clear verdict.

Example of a film review.

Crazy Plumber – Plaza Cinema

If you have seen the advance publicity, you might imagine that this was a funny film. Wrong. It’s a film which tries very hard to be funny and fails consistently. The story concerns a plumber who isn’t very good at his job. When his customers desert, and he can’t pay his bills, he decides to turn to crime. He tries a little shoplifting (he isn’t very good at it, of course) but then he gets involved in bigger things.
            Wayne Gibson, who plays the hero, has one or two good lines but most of the time he’s struggling with a terrible script. There are a few good moments – the car chase sequence is memorable – but the storyline is very slight and the director seems to have run out of ideas very quickly. As the film progresses, the level of violence increases. Despite the publicity, this is not a film for young children.
            A great deal of money went into the making of Crazy Plumber but in the end spectacular effects are no substitute for real humour.

Useful language


The book / film / programme  concerns …                                   a study of
                                               deals with …                          a survey of
                                               shows …                                            a history of
                                               describes …
                                               tells the story of …

It contains      a chapter on
It includes      a section on

Pros and cons

really              extraordinary             quite   interesting                 really              boring
                        fascinating                            amusing                                            unimaginative
absolutely      amazing                     fairly   entertaining              completely     humourless
                        beautiful                                exciting                                              hopeless
                        stunning                                informative                                        amateurish
                        superb                                    attractive                                            over the top
                        brilliant                                   successful                                         predictable


All in all          In the last analysis               In conclusion                        To sum up          On balance

Tuesday, November 8, 2011



Look at this task.

You work in a fitness centre. The centre would like to encourage more business people to use its facilities after work. There are many companies in your town which have English-speaking employees and you have been asked to prepare the text for a leaflet aimed at them.

You should:

1. introduce the fitness centre and its facilities.
2. emphasise the benefits of regular exercise.
3. give brief general advice on ways of avoiding stress in daily life.

Write the text for the leaflet using about 250 words.

First, you will need to think about the content of your leaflet.
-       make a list of possible exercise and other facilities (such as a shop, café etc)
-       make notes about the benefits of regular exercise (and the dangers of inactivity)
-       think about what to include in the “general advice” section.

Layout and organisation
Information sheets, leaflets and brochures are intended to inform, persuade or warn. The two main aims are therefore to catch the reader’s attention and to present the message as clearly as possible. To do this, layout and organisation need to be as effective as possible. Short paragraphs with clear headings are much easier to read and absorb than long blocks of text, for example. The best approach is to imagine yourself as the reader and to ask what you would want to know, and in what order you would find it easiest to absorb the information. Consider these points:

Main heading:
-       Is this as direct and eye-catching as possible?
-       Does it give the reader a clear idea of what the subject is?
-       Does it make the reader want to read on?

-       Are these short and clear? Asking a question in your heading may be more interesting than stating a fact.

-       Is the information broken up into short, easy-to-read sections?
-       Is the order logical?

Visual help:
Can you help the reader, for example:
            by indenting small sub-sections so that
            they stand out as small blocks which
            are clearly separate from the main text?
-       by putting important points on separate lines? Or
6. by numbering your points? Or
  • by putting “bullets” in front of main points? Or
by using different STYLES and sizes of writing? Or
by underlining or putting boxes round important words.

You won’t be marked on your design skills, of course, but you may make a good impression on the examiner!

Look at this example of a leaflet which gives information about looking after your heart. Here we have reproduced only the text of the leaflet, as this is all that you are required to produce in the exam. A real-life leaflet would of course contain visuals as well.

Look After Your Heart
A Simple Guide To Feeling Fitter
Looking Better
And Living Longer

Why do I need to look after my heart?
By looking after your heart you can feel fitter and look
better – and you’ll be protecting yourself against heart disease too.
England is one of the worst countries in the world for heart disease.
It causes one in three of all deaths among 55-64 year olds.

What causes heart disease?
Your heart needs a supply of oxygen that comes from the blood
 in its arteries. Over a number of years these arteries can get clogged up
and the supply of blood to the heart can stop. This causes a heart attack.

I’m fit and healthy. Why should I worry?
Heart attacks usually happen to people in middle age, but the damage
 to your arteries can start long before that, without you realising it.
It can even start to develop in childhood.
So it’s important to look after your heart now, whatever your age.

Isn’t a heart attack a quick way to go?
Not always. Heart disease can cause years of pain, discomfort and worry.

How can I avoid getting heart disease?
There are no guarantees, but the best way to avoid heart disease is:
Don’t smoke
Eat healthily
Take regular exercise
Go easy on alcohol
Avoid stress if you can
If you have heart disease in you family you may have a greater risk of
getting it yourself so it’s especially important to follow this advice.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Personal Notes and Messages

Look at this task.

You are working as an assistant in the offices of an English company. You are finishing some work after your colleagues have left when the phone rings for you. As a result of the call, you need to take the following day off work.
Write two notes explaining the situation, one to your boss, and one to a colleague and friend, with whom you had a lunch date. Write 60-80 words in each note.

A task like this will be more realistic and more successful if you decide on some concrete details before you start. If you can use true facts, it’s very easy, but if you can’t, invent some interesting and believable ones!

Decide on answers to the questions below.
Your work:                What kind of work do you do for the company? How long have you been with the company? How will you be able to make up for the time you will miss?
The phone call:         Who was it from? What was the message? Why is it important? Why was there such short notice?
Your boss:                Male / female? How well do you get on with him / her? How are they likely to react to your being away?
Your colleague:        Male / female? How long have you known him / her? Have you had lunch together before?
The lunch:                 Where were you going to go? Will there be any problem about cancelling? When could you have lunch instead?

Notes and messages are usually even more informal than informal letters, although the
exact degree of formality will depend on the specific relationship. Decide which phrases
from the list below would be more appropriate in the note to your boss (B) and which in
the note to your colleague (C)

I received a telephone call  __                               out of the blue  __
rang me  __                                                   such short notice  __
I’ll gladly make up the time  __                              I’m really sorry  __
In the circumstances  __                                        I apologise for any inconvenience  __
Some other time?  __

There are no fixed rules about the layout of notes and messages. Look at these examples
and the comments which follow.

Just to let you know that I managed to get 2 tickets for the Flaming Lips concert at the
Ensemble Theatre on Tues. It starts at 7.30, so shall we meet outside the theatre at about 7.15?
We could have a bite to eat afterwards if you like.
See you soon

Hastings 7/11

Dear Clare,
A quick note to thank you for helping me with the job application. Your advice was much
appreciated. I’ve sent it off now, so let’s hope I get an interview.
Saw Frank yesterday. I’ll pass on the news when I see you.
All the best,

·         The day, date or time is normally somewhere at the top.
·         You can begin with Dear …, with a first name or just an initial, depending on your relationship.
·         Informal language is often appropriate.
·         You need not always write in full sentences
·         Finish with your name or initial.

Beginning a note

No special introductory phrases are necessary but notes often begin with expressions like:

Just (a note) to        let you know / tell you / check that ….
A quick note to        ask / see if ….
                                thank you for / apologise for / about


Sorry I couldn’t / wasn’t able to / forgot to ….
I (would like to) apologise for missing the meeting.

Ending a note

No special fixed phrases are needed but notes and messages may end with expressions like:

See you soon
Speak to you soon
All the best

Now write the two notes for the task above.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Formal Letter 1

Look at this task.

You are attending a course in London. Last week, because the trains were delayed by bad weather, you were late for college every day. On the worst day, the train was 1 hour 20 minutes late and you missed two classes.
This is an extract from an information leaflet you have picked up at the station.

We hope you have a pleasant journey with Capital Rail, but if you have any comments or complaints about our services, please write to the Customer Care Manager at the address below.
What we promise to do when things go wrong:
  • If you are delayed for more than one hour you may claim rail vouchers to the value of 50% of the journey made.

Write a letter to the Customer Care Manager at Capital Rail complaining about the poor service you have experienced and asking for compensation. Use your own words as far as possible. Write about 250 words. You do not need to include addresses.

Read the instructions carefully and highlight the key points. Ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of your letter?
  • What do you want it to achieve?


Your letter should include the following points.

  • Why you are writing
  • Which of your journeys were delayed
  • How long the delays were
  • What happened as a result of the travel delays
  • What compensation you require


Decide how you will organise these points into about four paragraphs. What kind of things can you say in each paragraph?

Style and register

Thinking about what you want the letter to achieve, consider these questions:

  • Should the letter be formal or informal?
  • What tone is appropriate, eg angry, humorous, sarcastic, cool and factual?

Layout of a formal letter

This is how we organise a formal letter, although in the CAE exam it is not necessary to write addresses.

                                                                                                                        22 York Street
                                                                                                     BR8  450

The Principal                                                                                        24 November 2006
Clifton College

Dear Sir,
         I am interested in applying for a place on a computer course at your college and I would be grateful if you could send me full details of the courses you offer and the fees, together with an application form.
          I look forward to hearing from you.
          Yours faithfully
             S. M. Gilchrist
             S. M. Gilchrist  (Ms)

Letter of complaint

In the first paragraph explain the reason for writing.
In the second paragraph explain exactly what the problem is. Give all the necessary details about where and when it happened and who was involved. Give other relevant information in further paragraphs if necessary.
In the final paragraph  explain what action you want to be taken.

Useful language
I am writing to complain about …
                   to express my concern about the fact that …
                   to express my annoyance at ….

I must insist that you ….
I must urge you to ….
I feel I am entitled to a refund. 
I feel I am  entitled to some compensation for the inconvenience I have suffered.
I hope you will consider the points I have raised very carefully.
I shall expect a written apology at your earliest convenience.


It is usual to end letters which expect a reply with a sentence on a separate line. The most common ending is:
I look forward to hearing from you.