Remarkable Sketches: Volume 8

How well would we describe the wonderful amusement park we visited last week? Well, whatever our review be, this child’s is certainly a well-thought out one. From all rides, recreations, cuisines and ambience, to location, tickets, amenities and staff traits, the young author covers all the fascinating facets as well as the hard core details about the holiday destination, in one go.

Personal touch is strongly felt. There’s precision and honesty in all the opinions shared. From a brief introduction to a detailed delineation, you see a systematic progress through the course of the write-up.

All in all, the rating is presented wisely, taking into picture all that makes the venue perfect for a getaway.

How to Write a Good Review

Writing a review ought to come effortlessly to us. After all, the revolutionary age of information has made critics of each one of us. We love to form and, more importantly, express our opinions and judgments on every subject under the sun. Be it on any social media platform, reviews spur endless discussions and are good for business.

Yet when it comes to writing a review for a school assignment or exam, pens stumble and words falter. Precious moments of hesitation are followed by a writing that is too sprawled, that oscillates between a story and a descriptive piece, neither of which a review is.

A review provides valuable information to prospective users. Your critical assessment shapes the choices made by people. Like other genres of writing, reviews follow requisite conventions, structure and style.

Following are the essential ingredients of an A+ review:

1. Striking Opening

Dramatic openings are the fundamental law of writing: a review is no exception to this rule. Your opening words should make your purpose clear (what you are reviewing) and let the audience know that you have something interesting and different to say.  Avoid the familiar and drab opening such as "I am going to review" or "This review is on." Beginning straightaway with the description of the product cannot be called eye-catching either.

If you are reviewing a book or a movie, you can begin with a memorable or funny quote from it. You can also startle readers with some interesting trivia or pique their curiosity with a favourite scene. Summarising your experience in a few memorable lines works best for reviews on restaurants, theme parks, tourist places, toys, gadgets etc.

There may be a hundred and one great places to eat in London, but it’s rare that you come across somewhere so fantastic that you begin plotting your return whilst still paying the bill.  (Rosie Paterson, Review of 45 Jermyn St)

When the strains of "You've Got a Friend in Me" swell up in "Toy Story 3," Randy Newman's now-classic song speaks for the toys, as always—for Woody, Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head and all the other treasured playthings who have basked in the love of their owner, Andy, and given the little boy their devotion in return. . . Fifteen years after "Toy Story" burst upon the scene as the first full-length animated feature created completely on computers, the third film of the trilogy turns out to be gorgeously joyous and deeply felt.  (Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal)

2.  Personal Tone

A review is a personal point of view on a topic or a product. Generalisations have no place in it. Readers relate with specific personal experiences, not with bot-generated verdicts.  The "I" should be pronounced right at the beginning or in the introductory paragraph with confidence and authority. You can tell your audience a small anecdote to explain why you like or don’t like a particular product or service.  Be careful that the entire review doesn’t take the shape of a story.

A few weeks ago, I ate the second-best steak of my life. (Toby Keel, Review of The Pointer, Brill)

It took the fourth book in the famous Harry Potter series to turn me into a Potterhead.

 3. Opinions

Now, what I want is, Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else.” (Hard Times, Charles Dickens)

Fortunately, not in a review. As a piece of evaluative writing, a review is less concerned with the presentation of facts. What matters is what you think and feel about those facts. Detailed descriptions of the product under review should be restrained to a paragraph or two at most. If you are writing a review of a book, don't reveal the whole plot. If you are reviewing a restaurant, don’t write the entire menu. Instead, write about what makes the book a lively read, a toy your new best friend or the restaurant a place to visit again and again. 

I've had many a Nando's during these last 14 years yet I couldn't tell you a stand out nor disappointing dish because this is one of the most consistent restaurant chains you will ever go to. (Lynda Moyo, Nando’s)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire had me entranced from the very first chapter: the book is dark, complex and mysterious.

4. Descriptive Language  

A review is your personal space. Use plenty of precise descriptive words and figurative expressions to paint a vivid picture of your experience and make your writing compelling.

Metaphors, hyperbole and alliteration are powerful persuasive tools that catch readers' attention and evoke interesting comparisons by drawing a parallel between a product and an image or idea.

A carnival of flavours burst into my mouth with the first bite of the perfectly grilled salmon. (Metaphor)

The time spent in the queue at the famous theme park seemed to stretch forever. I could not feel my legs after some time. (Hyperbole)

 5. Balance

Remember nothing is perfect. Be fair and reasonable in your writing. Gushing praise should be checked by a few shortcomings as well. Similarly, outright condemnation can seem savage and unrealistic. Give equal emphasis to strengths and weaknesses to sound believable.

Despite the exquisite food, there was one thing amiss: quality service. (Review of a restaurant)

The innovation behind the toy doesn’t match its longevity. The materials used are cheap and flimsy at best. A five-year old will take it apart with great delight. (Review of a toy)

 6. Comparison

Familiarity with other products often becomes an instrument of judgement. Before you conclude, place the object of your review in a larger context. Compare and contrast your product with others of similar nature to understand how well it fares.

What a shame that the sequel doesn’t live up to its predecessor in cinematography and sound effects. (Review of a movie)



Remarkable Sketches: Volume 7

A complaint letter to the local council. It’s a detailed explication of the social, health, hygiene related or other hazards that residents of a community are constantly encountering. The writer represents the voice of the citizens. Let’s see how this young child from year 5 has agreeably accomplished all and more of this.

The piece is framed in the proper format befitting a formal letter. It begins with a clear statement of all the hazards being struggled with and goes on with a thorough discussion. To achieve the purpose, the author has utilized a number of tools - compelling vocabulary, effective similes and persuasive rhetorical questions.

Overall, the letter addresses the authorities suitably, gives them sufficient time to administer to the problems and seeks hope in their resolution.

Six Mistakes You Might Be Making in Formal Letters

Why do we find penning a formal letter daunting? When given a choice between a letter and a story, why do students often opt for the latter? This shying away from formal writing in fact manifests at all ages. The reasons behind it are not difficult to comprehend.

The informal genres such as stories and recounts conform to the natural, less pretentious and less fussy spoken language. Formal writing, on the other hand, observes decorum. Unfortunately, in a texting-crazed world, the boundaries between formal and informal writing have broken down. Colloquial styles of expression have entered the formal arena of writing to the dismay of our literary forefathers and linguists. 

Here are seven common formal-letter-writing mistakes: 

1. Unclear Pronoun Reference

This one is the most frustrating for the reader. Finding the correct referent for pronouns such as this, that and it is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Symptoms of informal writing, these ambiguous pronouns  indicate a transition or flow between ideas. However, they confuse rather than clarify.

Frequent streetlight outage has led to an alarming increase in attempted thefts and road accidents. This can no longer be ignored. (What is 'this' referring to? Outage? Alarming increase?)

To avoid any confusion, write the noun or the implied idea (what "this" refers to) immediately after the pronoun (this, that, it etc.). 

Frequent streetlight outage has led to an alarming increase in attempted thefts and road accidents. This issue can no longer be ignored.

2. You

The colloquial pronoun 'you' is so comfortably entrenched in our daily vocabulary that it is often impossible to avoid it a formal letter. The appearance of 'you' at certain places (such as an appeal to the addressee in the conclusion) is appropriate.  However, using 'you' in hypothetical scenarios and rhetorical questions can be impolite, if not downright offensive. 'You' supposes the exclusion of the writer from a particular context and makes the writing appear snooty.

Would you find your lunch appetizing if the cutlery were filthy? (Letter to the head teacher complaining the lack of cleanliness in school)

Research shows that self-defence classes can enhance your confidence, muscle coordination and social skills. (Letter to request for self-defence classes at school)

The whole idea of a formal letter is to make your point without becoming personal (first example) and sounding presumptuous (second example). To correct the statements given above, we can use the universal pronoun ‘one’ or the interrogative pronouns ‘who.’

Who would find their lunch appetizing if the cutlery were filthy?

Research shows that self-defence classes can enhance one’s confidence, muscle coordination and social skills. 

3. So

Don't we so love the intensifier ‘so’? ‘So’ as an adverb means to ‘a great extent’ or ‘very.’ It is a regular feature of spoken language and informal writing. In a formal letter, it is unpardonable. 

The rise in violence against children is so disturbing. (Informal)

The rise in violence against children is disturbing. (Formal)

4. Exclamation Points

An exclamation mark is a shouty punctuation. It screams and begs for attention. Expressive of strong emotional states, exclamation marks are inappropriate in a formal letter. They can make your writing look desperate and amateurish. What works best is the familiar and reliable period.  

Newspapers are inundated with crimes against children! (Inappropriate)

Newspapers are inundated with crimes against children. (Correct)


5. Numbers

Numbers might form the new alphabet. They seem to be displacing words in  text messaging (as 4 replaces 'for' or 2 replaces 'two'). Writing numbers in figures or numerals is a sign of lazy and informal writing.

Write numbers up to one hundred (e.g. fifteen, sixty-five) and rounded numbers (e.g. two hundred, one thousand, three million) in words. Of course, this rule applies to the body of a formal letter (not the address details or the date). Further, use a hyphen in a compound number (formed by joining two words). Examples: twenty-one, thirty-five, ninety-nine etc.

6. Contractions

Contractions have no place in formal letters. Formed by joining two words with an apostrophe, contractions are seen as casual writing. They can often cause serious grammatical errors in the choice of homophones, such as the confusion between your, you are and you're.  So what do we do? Write 'is not' or 'they will' instead of 'isn’t' or 'they'll.' It is that simple. 

Writing a formal letter is an art that can be practiced and perfected. Keep these six mistakes in mind the next time you write one.


The Misunderstood Colon

Red alert! We punctuate our regular series on creative writing with some disturbing breaking news. There have been reported sightings of PML (Punctuation Mark on the Loose). We are specifically talking about the colon (:). This devilishly slippery mark has been observed at almost every position in a sentence of student writing.  It seems to flout the laws of English language mechanics and refuses to be pinned down despite repeated admonishing and lecturing. Who knew these two little vertical dots could give us so much trouble?

No need to fret. We are here to set the record straight: once and for all. Pay attention students! Take notes if you wish, because the colon cannot be misunderstood anymore.

Let’s first start with understanding what a colon is and what it does to your writing. Yes, this sounds theoretical and boring, but be patient: you will be rewarded.

A colon is the calm before the storm. In other words, it is a pause before you make a major announcement or dive into an explanation. It always points the way ahead, that is, it puts the spotlight on the words that follow it. Colons introduce lists of items, make announcements and explain or elaborate points. Consider the following examples for each of the aforementioned purposes:

What makes your book a bestseller depends on three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (List)

Despite being old and derelict, the cottage was everything Emily wanted: a place to call home. (Announcement)

I’ve always hated the summer season: it is sticky, it is hot, and it smells. (Explanation)

A dexterous use of the colon takes your writing to another level by creating variation in sentence structure and evoking a pleasant cadence or rhythm (rise and fall of language).

Now, we come to the tricky and ‘misunderstood’ part: where to place the colon? Take a look again at the examples given above. What do these examples have in common? They all have the colon coming after independent clauses.

Students often get intimidated by the rather bombastic sounding expression, an independent clause. In simple words, it means nothing but a group of words which make a complete or meaningful sentence.  Let’s look at some examples:

Jim finished his homework. (Independent clause)

When Jim finished his homework. (Incomplete)

The second example is not a complete sentence. It does not tell us what happened when Jim finished his homework. By adding an independent clause (complete sentence) to it, we can turn it into a complete sentence:

When Jim finished his homework, he went out to play cricket with his friends. (Independent clause)

He went out to play cricket with his friends. (Independent clause)

Here’s another example:

Jim went to the airport. (Independent clause)

In order to see his friends off.  (Incomplete: what did he do in order to see off his friends?)

Jim went to the airport in order to see his friends off. (Independent clause)

Let’s go back to our subject of discussion today. A colon can be placed only after a complete sentence (an independent clause).

A bestseller depends on: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (Incorrect)

To make a bestseller you need: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (Incorrect)

In each of the examples above, we don’t have a complete sentence preceding the colon. A bestseller depends on what? To make a bestseller you need what? These examples can be corrected in the following way:

  1. By writing a complete sentence before the colon

 What makes your book a bestseller depends on three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (The underlined part is a complete sentence)

 A bestseller depends on the following three things: imagination, diligence and a bit of luck. (The underlined part is a complete sentence)

  1. By removing the colon

A bestseller depends on imagination, diligence and a bit of luck.

To make a bestseller you need imagination, diligence and a bit of luck.

So, what do you think now? Have we cleared some misconceptions? We end this post with a small test. Can you pick the sentence with the correct usage of the colon?

Copy the mail and send it to: the director, the assistant manager and the recruiting team.

Life is a game: you either win or lose.

As your new leader, I only desire: what is best for you all.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 6

The below description of a chair in a waiting room stands out for some of its unique qualities. The young 5 year author starts off with the chair’s candid assertions about its appearance, the look and feel of the airport waiting area and its amusing opinions about the different people it has to deal with on a daily basis. The choice of making the chair the first person narrator is commendable.

Outstanding personifications well balance the descriptive vocabulary used throughout the article. Humour is another amazing hallmark of this piece. In the conclusion, the chair-narrator enters a self-reflective mood making engaging observations about its ‘job’ and life as a whole, which sort of ends the write-up perfectly.

Ideas for Striking Titles in Story Writing

A title is like a prologue to a work of art. It gives us a brief insight into the kind of world the author intends taking readers into.

Titles are the biggest creative bait writers offer to readers. The decision to pass over or decide to read on a piece depends primarily on its title. Needless to say, a title of sorts must be sufficiently attention grabbing and catchy.

Here we present a few revelations about what makes spectacular titles for the genre of story writing.

1. Intriguing

Readers love the uncanny, the mysterious. You can tap on the eerie and craft something deliberately enigmatical. This is true particularly for the genre of fiction where fascinating titles may be a foreword to supernatural storylines soon going to unfold before their eyes.

Lewis Carroll’s ‘Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There’ (1872) and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ (1865) are renowned novels in children’s literature with mystical titles and plots.

 You may come up with something like:

 A foray into the Fairyland (Story with the given openings – “I opened my eyes and realised where I was!”)

 A Topsy-turvy World (Story with a red car, a dragon and a school in it)

 A World of Incredulities (Story with a duck, a goose and a pumpkin in it)

2. Wordplay

Rhyming, punning or other forms of wordplay are every writer’s skill. You can put on your creative hat and create a mix and match of complementary words.

Drizzles that Fizzled (Story based on a picture - rainy day)

The Doomy, Gloomy Day (Story based on a flashback – late for school Again)

3. Reference to the protagonist

Titles may be based around and give us a sneak peek into the central character. You can disclose your protagonist’s identity in a number of interesting ways.

Create your own Lilliputian world of small and large creatures with a title such as:

What’s big and small? A Matter of Scales (Story from the point of view of an object - A doll’s house or toy car)

My Tried and True Buddy (Story based on a picture - piggy bank)

An Act of Valour (Story that ends with: Do, you want to be a superhero?” asked dad.)

The Sinister Sister (Story from the point of view of another character - one of the ugly sisters from Cinderella)

4. Symbolic

Words or language may represent something instead of directly naming an entity. It can be too bland to refer to an object by its ordinary identity. One may concoct epithets such as:

A Vestige from History (Story from the point of view of an object – a grandfather’s clock)

A Voyage along the Shore (Story with seaside as the setting)

5. Premonitory

Foretelling the bad or ominous is a recurrent motif in literary writing. Authors whet the reader’s anxiety by dropping a figurative word or expression which is supposed to predict something dreadful going to happen.

The Wrath of Nature (Story based on a picture – flood)


Your title must be your own brainchild. An author ought to give a free vein to his creativity and design something unique. Repeating humdrum terminology does not work and must be debunked. Being original means trekking through the unprecedented and giving a shot to absolutely novel, path-breaking titles. You may attempt anything from being informative, inspirational, motivational, sardonic to whatever comes to your mind, depending upon your theme and storyline.

Hope the above pointers come handy when you are struggling with titling your next story write-up. Stay tuned as we bring you techniques for titling for different genres in our upcoming blogs.

Remarkable Sketches: Volume 5

This post talks about this week's chosen student assignment - an arresting persuasive speech. Its merits include: effectual vocabulary, appropriate rhetorical expressions and sufficient supporting statistics.
The child directly exhorts the audience in favour of her argument by hurling multiple rhetorical questions at them. Other relevant data is presented to substantiate her statements, importantly packed in compelling diction.
The long term repercussions of flippancy in youngsters are predicted along with advocating suggestions to counter the same. The overall tone of appeal is strong throughout the piece, keeping the readers glued to the writer's entreaties till the end.