16Writing with Specific Details

by Danny K. Howard, EAP Associate Director

Like most Japanese students learning English, your writing is probably too general. In fact, this is one of the biggest problems in students’ writing everywhere in the world. If your writing is too general, it will be difficult for you to achieve top grades on your paragraphs and essays at NIC or abroad.

I noticed this problem a few years ago and decided to do something about it. So I thought of a great idea: Detail Journals!!

Most journal topics ask you to write about general topics, such as

“What is your favorite country to visit?”

or

“Write about a time in your life when you were very excited.”

However, with the detail journals, you have to do something different. Here are the rules:

You must...

  • Write about a story that lasts a period of no more than 3 minutes!!
  • Use a lot of good adjectives to describe what the characters look like.
  • Use good adverbs to describe the characters’ actions.
  • Use a lot of description to make your story interesting.

Here’s an example of a detail journal:

A man about to enter a room to do a job interview

(The story happens over a period of 1 minute)
Charles had sweat all over his pale white palms. He was wearing his best navy blue suit with a soft colored shirt. His tie was almost as red as his face. He was so nervous that his hands were shaking a lot. He put his hand on the doorknob and paused. The steel on the doorknob was cold and firm. He was not able to enter yet. He was absolutely terrified to enter the room! Then he took three deep breaths. He kept telling himself that he was going to be all right. After pausing for 30 seconds, he decided that the time was right. He swung the door open with so much power! The man sitting at his desk in the office was startled by his entrance. Charles steadily walked over to the desk and strongly sat down in the seat. With a very strong grip, he shook the hand of the man at the desk. Finally, with confidence he said, “Hello, my name is Charles. I am here to apply for the new job.”

As you can see, everything happened in a time of only 1 minute. Because the time was so short, the writer had to add more adjectives, more adverbs and more descriptive words to make the 1minute interesting. Go back and read this paragraph again. Look at all of the good vocabulary in it!

Below are some specific situations that you can write about, too. Again, I did this with my class before, and we had so much fun with it! Try it out yourself:

Ideas for the Detail Journal:

  • The exact moment you received some good news
  • Your very first impression of meeting someone important in your life
  • Your first reaction when you found out some important news
  • The moment you were waiting for something surprising to happen Or think of some ideas on your own!

You can even e-mail me some of your stories for some comments! howard@nicuc.ac.jp
Good luck!!