Sunday, August 15, 2010

How to write a commentary


You need to write a commentary on some random piece of literature. Great, you now know that at least two hours will be spent at the computer typing, deleting and retyping, all whilst you're trying to channel into the author/poet's mind, trying to express exactly what were they thinking when they've written "...the pentacle of sorrow".
Fear not. I shall tell thee how one doth write a commentary (for homework purposes only- where there's no time limit).

1.Read the given piece. What's the pace? What is the piece about overall? What's the format of the piece?

2.Annotate baby! Whatever ideas you have, let them spew out of your mind. Even if it sounds a bit weird, just list keywords and short sentences. What connotations do certain words carry (positive or negative?). Is the author's tone changing?

3.Hunt down those literary devices. Identify what's their point in the written piece. Does it add rhyme or give a continuous flow in reading? Is it to provide greater detail (identify the form of imagery)?

4.Note down the punctuation (more important in poetry than plain ole' text from a novel/play).

5. Start writing!

This is how I usually set out my commentaries:
- Introduction (author's name, the given piece's title, the overall context of the piece, list some literary devices used, the tone of the piece)
- Body (if it's poetry, then I usually do one paragraph for each verse. If it's prose, then each point with it's evidence [a quote from the piece] and affect on reader in a paragraph on its own)
- Conclusion (state the tone at the ends of the piece, the reader's reactions, summarise what happened in the piece, i.e: someone died, a man cried, etc...)


There is no 'perfect formula' for writing a commentary. There are many ways to go about. You can write it sequentially (start from the beginning of the piece til the end). Or you can write it in themed paragraphs (i.e: paragraph one discusses literary devices, paragraph two is about the author's perspective, tone and mood, paragraph three details certain examples of imagery and its affect on the reader, etc...). However, you must remember to be clear and eloquent in your writing, and must remember to explain the affect on the reader. A commentary is not a rewrite, it's an explanation and discussion of the thoughts and language in the written piece.

Here is a much lengthier Wikibook guide on writing a commentary (an excellent resource, no doubt).

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's effect not affect.

bluejeans said...

This is very useful! I am currently in my third year in the IB MYP programme, and we are just starting to learn about writing commentaries. Thank you for the helpful tips! :)

Anonymous said...

You are a legend
Have been struggling on how to write a commentary ><
you know its really hard for people that their first language is not english, anyway thanks, you are a champion :)

Anonymous said...

thanks buddy ! extremely helpful !

Anonymous said...

This is okay.
Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

I think you'd also want to comment on the narrations and transitions of literary text as noticing them would give high marks in the IB and MYP programme.

Anonymous said...

truebrit: exceedingly helpful thanks alot

Bhanu Praneeth said...

Thank you for the article....it was quite useful for me to wrap up things quickly and effectively!

Aman said...

it should be effect not affect

vmseptember said...

yup. you definitely saved my butt. thanks for taking the time out to post this!

Anonymous said...

THANKYOU SOO MUCH! normally its hard for me to keep my commentary going hehe :D thx xP

Anonymous said...

THANKYOU SOO MUCH! normally its hard for me to keep my commentary going hehe :D thx xP

Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm in 9th grade in the IB MYP Program. We've just been introduced to writing commentaries, so I Googled how to write one and was surprised to find your blog!Fantastic really, a whole blog dedicated to IB, haha! Nice work! :)

- Hannah

Anonymous said...

Thanks! This was really helpful!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot! I looked this up to summarize before my 1st year IB final... We have to WRITE a commentary in 2 hrs -_- Well, anyway, good job! :)

Anonymous said...

nice, thanks
hehe

Anonymous said...

nice, thanks
hehe

Tuesday Shanice said...

Very helpful! Thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

heey man ive been in IB for 2 years now and i think it needs more oin depth if u know what i men just a little more descriptive. thanks :) sabrina

ibstudent said...

I'm glad people find this useful :)

Sabrina: Thank you for your feedback. I'll see what I can do.

SoTired said...

I've got an IB mock this morning and I'm glad I found this because they haven't even tried to teach us how to set it out, so thank you!

Anonymous said...

thankyou soooooooo much!!! IB has just been alot easier :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the blog that is easy to understand and visually appealing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks! This really helped.
- NA

Anonymous said...

Some nice tips, but in general, I would NOT recommend doing it in a linear fashion. In other words, try not to write one paragraph for one stanza. If done in this way, one has the danger of losing the overall tone/message.
Remember, examiners do not want to see the same exam paraphrased; which will inevitably happen if writing in a linear way, as the same literary devices in the stanzas are mentioned to an effect that might not encompass the whole piece.
Rather, a nice way to write a commentary would be to locate and separate the various themes in a passage; for example, in a poem, some common themes might be identity, emptiness, music, danger, etc. Using these to centre your topic sentences, you will give your commentary structure (criterion D).
You can then begin to demonstrate your knowledge of the piece (criterion A) by using quotations and your personal response (criterion B). It is this that will lead to development of different ideas that will appeal to the examiner and less likely bore him/her after 200 similar exams.
Of course, it goes without saying that you must lace literary devices throughout in your paragraphs; preferably with the quotation as well as the name of the technique and an explanation. Although this may seem repetitive and juvenile, this will make it explicit, which is crucial (criterion C). If you mention approximately 4 or 5 devices in each paragraph, you will easily achieve full marks in this area. The good thing about this is that even a passing mention, like "the lack of punctuation in lines 6-8 demonstrate [some effect particular to the poem]" DO count; not every instance need be as completely explicit as the major ones.
One thing that I would most definitely avoid is writing paragraphs on ideas/content, and then separate paragraphs on just literary devices. That suggests a lack of structure and presentation (criterion D). Try and weave the devices throughout your discussion. Mostly, a persuasive formal tone that tries to argue a point will be the most effective; think of the topic sentence regarding the themes/ideas as the points and the literary devices and quotations as the evidence with which you make your case.
On the other hand, in my experience, criterion E isn't as straightforward as the others, in which full marks can be achieved by: A) using key quotations and explaining their meaning; B) mentioning the effect of such messages (obviously without using the personal pronoun); C) explicitly stating and explaining 4-5 literary devices; D) planning the commentary into paragraphs, whether you do it by theme as I recommend, or otherwise. The things the examiners are looking for include a wide vocabulary, complex and varied sentence structure/syntax, use of formal register etc. Unfortunately, it seems most students who achieve the best in this area are those who read and write regularly.
My final advice to students is that you should ALWAYS read both passages at least twice, even if, and indeed as many students are predisposed to do, you have a preference to either prose or poetry. It really depends on the year; once there was a poem in which there were essentially no literary devices; which admittedly is one of itself, but is only that; one. Not really sufficient to demonstrate knowledge in criterion C.

Yeshi Lhamo said...

THANKYOU.
I'm in grade 9 prebac and this is deff going to help! much appreciated! :)

Anonymous said...

this is really helpful and easy to understand :) u should correct or be careful w/ ur grammar sometimes though. still, thank you!
-aubs-

Anonymous said...

Thank you!!! You just saved my but and my grade in the IB:)

Anonymous said...

I guess if you add some adjectives to give more explanation, it would be much better. You should try to make your commentary sa short and sweet as possible :)

International IB said...

Good post, but in the body, you can add the literary devices used and in the ending, you can add how the passage takes the story or whatever you are writing the commentary on forward. You can also add whether if you would recommend the poem/story/novel to a friend or another reader in the conclusion.

Javaji Abhilash said...

Hey,
The commentary is one thing that you never know how to prepare for. I just end up doing nothing but decided I'd research on google this time.
This is a very basic but precise explanation. It was rather helpful and more importantly, the way you've written it just lightened my mood while I was preparing for philosophy :O
Thank you :)

GrandyXO said...

Thank you this was really helpful!

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful! Much appreciated :)

Anonymous said...

big deal its not effect and not affect -.-

Manuel said...

I am about to write a commentary for my Ib exam and theses tips are helpful :)