From emails, to application letters, to proposals and speeches, the Situational Essay is about adapting your writing to suit these various purposes. Are you addressing your teacher, your schoolmates or your uncle? Depending on who your audience is, you will need to write in a way that appeals to them. Should it take a more formal, professional tone, or are you able to adopt a friendlier, warmer approach? What are the concerns of your addressee? These are aspects of the context you need to consider.

In this post, you will learn to tackle the situational essay with 3 strategies.

Three Strategies to tackle the situation essay

The 3 strategies will be demonstrated with this question:

Your older brother, who works abroad, is concerned that you will forget about keeping fit while you are studying. He has offered to buy a gift for you which will improve your activity levels. He has asked you to look at the webpage and choose one of the options, which all cost the same.

Write an email to your brother to thank him and tell him what you have decided. In it you should:

  • thank him for his offer and for his support
  • say which option you have chosen
  • explain why you think it is the best choice for you
  • give details of exactly how you plan to use his gift.

You may add any other details you think will be helpful.

Write your email to your brother in clear, accurate English. Your tone should be warm and enthusiastic to convince him he is spending his money wisely because you have made the best choice.

You should use your own words as much as possible.

(2017 ‘O’ Level Paper 1 Section B)

1. Analyse the task

Start by identifying the Purpose, Audience and Context (PAC). The purpose is about why you are writing the email, in this case to thank your older brother for his gift, tell him what you have chosen and explain why and how you will use this gift (make reference to the bullet points).Your audience is clearly your brother, a close loved one, which means you naturally adopt a personal, warm and endearing tone. The context is an informal one in which you should sound warm, enthusiastic and assuring, since you need your brother to know he has made a wise “investment”. You should also acknowledge his concerns about your ability to stay active while studying, and be mindful to show how your use of his gift can help to relieve his concerns.

2. Amplify the given information (in the stimulus)

illustration regarding the way to Amplify the given information (in the stimulus)

Taken from: O Level English Language Yearly Edition
Published by Singapore Asia Publishers Pte Ltd

Notice that at the end of the question, it states to “use your own words as much as possible”. This is why you ought not to simply lift information from the stimulus, but modify and illustrate the points with examples. This is what we call “amplification”. A good starting point is to ask yourself the 5W1H questions in relation to the information given.

Let’s take the “Personal Trainer” for example.

First Given information
Work out at home or in the park

In Your own Words
Exercise/ Sweat it out at home or in the park

5W1H question

Home is most convenient and comfortable (if you have ample space). The park is an alternative when you need a change of scenery and some fresh air.

Second Given information
Receive a varied programme from your trainer

In Your own Words
Receive a customised fitness regime from your personal coach

5W1H question
What? (give details)

Allow your trainer to do a body composition analysis, determine your fitness goals (e.g. build strength, improve cardiovascular fitness and/or flexibility), and have a customised exercise regime designed for you.

Third Given information
Discover you can achieve more than you think

In Your own Words
Discover your potential, challenge your limits

5W1H question
How? Why?

You are assessed both on how well you use the given information and value-add to it. So do not neglect using the stimulus, while ensuring you add your own details (“amplify”).

Ask yourself the 5W1H questions on a different option (Keep Fit Tracker or Gym Membership) and try to amplify the given information!

3. Apply the appropriate tone

This final step is about writing the email (or whichever situational type is required in the question). How do you present your information in an appropriate manner to suit the PAC? Let’s find out by studying this sample. It is a paragraph about point 4 in the question (give details of exactly how you plan to use his gift). The column on the right explains how the paragraph achieves the PAC.

You must be wondering how I will be using my time with the personal trainer. I plan to have him/her do a full body assessment for me so that he/she can first identify my fitness needs and goals. Since I will only have six weeks with him/her, it is probably wise to be targeted in my training by zeroing in on my problem areas and doing exercises that are suited for my body type and fitness needs. I am sure with the personal attention and coaching, together with my discipline and determination, I will be able to improve on my fitness levels within the six weeks. Hopefully, I will also learn tips and tricks as well as be motivated to exercise beyond that!So you can be assured that this gift will help to kickstart a more active lifestyle for me.

Addresses the reader (older brother) directly by considering his concerns

Adopts a reassuring tone (“I am sure”, “I will be able”) …

…while reiterating plans to continue active lifestyle (“learn tips and tricks”)

Based on your amplified points done in the previous section, write your paragraph using the appropriate tone — to address your older brother’s concerns and assure him.

We have seen how you can use these 3 strategies of analysing the task, amplifying the given information and applying the appropriate tone. Follow these steps and practise them on different questions/task. In the next post, we will learn how to adapt our tone to suit a more formal context. Stay tuned!

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