Writing skills is an important component required to score well in any descriptive examination. It is the medium through which you communicate your knowledge to the examiner. Based on your answers, the examiner will evaluate you on knowledge, clarity of thought and ability to articulate your views.

In fact, beyond the examination, good writing skills will come handy for you at workplace as well. For instance, at work, you may be tasked with preparing a report or a chapter in an important report (for instance, the RBI’s Annual Report), write letters to stakeholders (including Banks, Government of India, State Governments, etc.) or issue circulars. Or, you may be tasked with preparing a draft speech for ED/Dy. Governor/ Governor. In fact, completing simplest of tasks at workplaces will require the use of good writing skills. So, naturally, RBI expects its DRs to have possess brilliant writing skills!

This post is intended to cater to anyone who is looking to understand the basics of descriptive answer writing. In case you feel under-confident of your writing skills at present, at this stage, I’ll communicate only two points:

  • Anyone can develop good communication skills by working hard in a planned manner.
  • Like many other skills, we can improve upon it only gradually. So, we have to make constant efforts (i.e., regular practice) and keep the spirit of learning, alive. For instance, whenever you read articles / books / reports, you should try to observe how it is organized and think of how you would’ve written the piece, if you were tasked to do it.

Let’s now discuss briefly talk about a few basics of descriptive answer writing for the upcoming DEPR Phase-II examination:

  1. Word Limit Matters: Be mindful of the word limit. While RBI may or not prescribe the word limit, you have to decide how many words you want to devote to each answer/short-note, since the time available is limited. In most cases, a good way could be to see the marks allotted to the question and then decide the time to be devoted to it. For example, if the exam is of 100 marks and 180 minutes duration, each mark gets 1.8 minutes. So, for a 5-mark question- write the answer in 9 minutes and for a 10-mark question in 18 minutes. And so on. This is what my under-graduation professor had told at University of Delhi, this is what I have tried to follow for all exams and this is what I recommend all candidates. Further, writing precise answers may be more rewarding than writing long ones. You should stick to your decided word limit while practicing any answer.

  1. Think of Your Story before you begin writing the answer: Before beginning to write any answer, think about what points you want to convey in your answer. For instance, if you were to summarise the Chapter-3 of Economic Survey 2020-21, one way  to organize it could be as follows: (Keep in mind that there is NO ‘model’ answer. It is just one of the ways of summarising the chapter)
  • Introduction
  • Overall, global trade has declined – give accompanying magnitude/facts
  • Substantiate how different regions have been impacted differently
  • Then talk about Indian scenario. Different sectors have been impacted differently. Substantiate this argument – mention the sectors that were more adversely affected and those that benefited (engineering goods, agri sector, pharmaceuticals, etc).
  • Then summarise – how overall merchandise trade and invisibles have fared compared to previous year (s). Have our export destination and import source undergone any change?
  • Impact on BoP: Current Account and Capital Account
  • Impact on External Debt
  • Conclusion: Don’t repeat the content which you have written already in the answer. The conclusion should be forward looking. For example, you can mention some specific measures through which the sectors which were adversely impacted can be helped to bounce back. Or, if you can make a case for some specific temporary assistance is required to be provided to any sector. Or, some specific structural constraint that need to be addressed to help it grow.

Of course, if you are covering so many dimensions, you need to exercise brevity in the choice of words. Trust me, it is not as easy as it may first appear. It will come only with practice. Diagrammatic representation can be useful here.

3. Some Other Suggestions: Some other general points to keep in mind while answering the question are as follows:

  • Draw a Diagram: Draw a diagram in as many questions as you can. In some questions, the diagram will be very obvious but in other questions, you will have to think of what type of diagrams can be drawn. For instance, if there exists a ‘list’, you can show it in the form of a diagram. Having such pictorial presentations/diagrams makes your answer much more reader friendly and reduces the ‘boring’ write-up. Remember, the examiner has many copies to check and the marking will (ideally) be competitive.
  • Underline important points.
  • Sub-headings improve readability: Having a subheading for points/sub-points improves its readability tremendously. An ideal subheading communicates to the reader the content of the succeeding paragraph. For example, ‘Contraction in exports exceeds that of Imports’ or ‘Impact more severe on Advanced Economies’.
  • Strengthen your arguments using ‘data’: ‘Data’ has a complementary role of giving strength to your argument. For instance, when you make a statement and support it with data, the statement has an added weight. However, providing only data or facts does not make a good answer.
  • The first sentence of your para should work as a trailer for the remaining paragraph: When a candidate prepares for SAT/GRE/GMAT exams (English/verbal section), an advise that she often receives for reading a write-up quickly is this: ‘Read the first & last sentence of the first paragraph and then read only the first sentence of all the remaining paragraphs. This should give a good grasp of the content of the entire essay/write-up’.

Let me assure you that this method of grasping an essay will NOT work in all cases. However, it still provides you a useful tip to put-together a write-up:

  • All major points can be the first sentence of different paragraphs.
  • Now, complete all paragraphs by supplementing the first sentence with arguments / facts/ case-studies / data.
  • Write an interesting introduction and a forward-looking conclusion.

I would like to end this post with a personal anecdote from the second-year of my under-graduation at University of Delhi. Now, I am a kind of person who enjoys mathematical subjects but at that time, I was terrible at reading descriptive text. So, in the second year, we had two subjects (‘Economic History of India’ and ‘Economic Development and Policy in India’ which I found scary. Co-incidentally, both subjects were being taught by the same professor. After struggling for a few lectures, I decided to have a conversation with the professor teaching these subjects. During the conversation, I jokingly said that perhaps the sole objective of having these papers in the syllabus is to keep our aggregate percentage (of marks) low (since I considered these descriptive papers to be far-less scoring than subjects like Microeconomics, Statistics and Econometrics). The professor just smiled and said, ‘There are many professions where you can survive even without the knowledge of Microeconomics, Statistics or Econometrics. But having good drafting skills is necessary, irrespective of whether you are in academia, industry, government service’. It was an eye-opener for a person like me.  I worked hard during the entire year, not only to score well in those papers, but also to build a skill that I know I will need as long as I am living.

Without digressing, I just wanted to communicate the following 2 points from this anecdote:

  • Good drafting/writing skills is a must for any profession.
  • If you have a scope for improvement in this or any other (say, Econometrics) skill, a few months of dedicated hardwork is adequate to become confident in it.

The path to most of the precious things in life is tough and competitive. Reaching the destination requires skills. It requires hard work. It requires perseverance!

I wish you all the best for this journey !

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