Is it Effective?



The top A and A* criteria require students to evaluate poetry and talk about whether they find the techniques employed by a writer effective. This is one of the hardest things to do in essay writing and many students never really manage it well. Here are some ideas that can help you write about whether or not something is effective.


What does it mean to be effective?

What you will be able to say about whether a technique is effective will vary depending on the technique you are talking about but essentially it boils down to the working out whether the technique / literary feature in question actually did what the writer wanted it to. Did it have the desired effect? Did it affect me in the right way? Here are some questions you can ask to help work that out

  • Can you visualise the setting, characters, any images?
  • Do comparisons highlight precisely the important differences / similarities between things?
  • Do you find it amusing?
  • Is it relevant?
  • Does the technique work on a number of different levels?
  • Does it make a serious point?


Here is an example:


Achebe’s graphic descriptions of ‘blown empty bellies’, ‘washed out ribs’ and ‘odors of diarrhea’ force the readers to visualize the horrific conditions that the refugees in the camps had to endure during the Nigerian Civil War. Achebe’s use of ‘Unwashed’ is particularly effective as it contrasts with the pitifully ‘dried up bottoms’ in the subsequent line creating an impression that the refugees, caught between two extremes, have been worn down and exhausted and are gradually wasting away. The violently plosive ‘b’ sounds and the sharp consonants and sibilants accentuate the harshness of their suffering and contrast powerfully with the ‘other life’ introduced at the end of the poem where the softer vowels in ‘breakfast’ and ‘school’ are evocative of the life of simple comforts that we enjoy now: a life that the refugees no longer have access to. However, Achebe’s most effective method of evoking pathos for the refugees is in the tragic image of the ‘tiny grave’ that is emphasised in the final line, leaving the reader with little choice but to realize that this mother and child have no hope of a better future to look forward to.


The worlds in bold italics are the ones which show that the candidate is really evaluating how successful Achebe has been at summoning up an image of the horrific conditions in the refugee camps in Nigeria. The idea that we are forced and are left with no choice but to imagine this life clearly indicates that the poet has made us confront these awful images head on. Equally if something is effective or powerful this implies that it does its job well and finally pitifully suggests that the candidate has actually felt this emotion and suffered with the refugees, again insinuating the success of the poem.