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The “zoom in” part of your GCSE essay paragraph gives you the opportunity to be specific. You get to show off the fact that you know exactly which words and phrases have a particular effect on their text receivers.

If you had read my guide before July 2022, you might have seen that I was recommending the “PETAL” essay structure rather than PETAL. I added this step in once I started teaching full-time because I noticed that students were making their quotes way too long and not analysing them enough.

It was all well and good for me to tell students to shorten their quotes and only use the words they need. However, they still weren’t actually showing me which exact words helped to create the specific tone, feeling or message that they mentioned in the point sentence.

For example, let’s say that you’re answering a question on how Stevenson creates a disturbing and threatening atmosphere in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Many students would give me a long quote like this:

“the moisture of some strangling anguish; for his face was white, and his voice, when he spoke, harsh and broken.”

Any student who argues that this quote creates a disturbing and threatening atmosphere would be right. It certainly does! In fact, there are loads of things in that quote that make the atmosphere seem disturbing. If you analyse them all together, you have to say very general things.

That’s where the “zoom in” part of the PETZAL acronym can be really helpful. It boosts your writing by helping you to be specific and analyse important words one at a time. That’s going to help you hit the grade 8s and 9s!

What Does “Zoom In” Mean?

You should have already found evidence in the “E” part of your PETZAL essay paragraph. That evidence should have helped you to answer the question and prove the point you made in the first part of the paragraph.

Now, it’s time for you to pick your evidence apart. You’re going to select the single words and short phrases that are the most important parts of your quote. You’ll so this by asking yourself one question:

What specific word or phrase in this quote proves my point?

That will help you to show the examiner that you understand writers make word choices based on the effect they are trying to have on their reader.

Let’s look at the Jekyll and Hyde example I gave earlier.

“the moisture of some strangling anguish; for his face was white, and his voice, when he spoke, harsh and broken.”

Sure, the whole quote does create a disturbing atmosphere. However, there are specific words that add to this disturbing feeling. They are:

  • Strangling
  • Anguish
  • White
  • Harsh
  • Broken

So, these are the words that we would zoom in on. You’d pick one and explain why that word in particular that makes us feel disturbed.

Let’s look at the adjective “strangling”. It’s disturbing because it reminds us of murder and death. It makes it sound like whatever he’s thinking about is killing him inside.

Because I’ve zoomed in, I can explain in detail how the writer makes us feel the way he does. That gives me more marks than simply showing me where those feelings come from.

How Do You Zoom In Well?

When you’re zooming in, you need to make sure you’re adding useful information to your essay. Otherwise, you’re just wasting time you could have spent on something else. There’s no point in isolating a single word if you’re not going to explain why you chose to zoom in on it!

If you want to zoom in well, you’ve got to pick an important word. Then, you should answer at least one of the following questions:

  • What connotations do you get from the word? Positive? Negative? Neutral?
  • How would the word make the reader feel? Scared? Angry? Happy? Excited? Frustrated?
  • How is that word usually used? For example, people usually use the word “reap” to talk about farming (you reap what you sow) or death (the Grim Reaper).
  • What would the reader think about when they see that word?

You can answer as many as you want! In fact, the more you dive into the word, the better. If you have things to say about each of the questions, go for it. It’s going to help you get higher marks.

Then, there’s a big question that you have to answer:

How do your answers to those questions relate to the point you made in the “P” part of your paragraph?

Don’t worry if it takes you more than one sentence to answer the questions. In fact, it should take you multiple sentences to zoom in. Have you ever freaked out when a teacher told you that a paragraph should be at least 6 lines long? Well, you can get quite a few lines in from this!


Why is it Important?

The “zoom in” part of your essay is one of the most important, in my opinion. It gives you the chance to show off that you understand how to do close language analysis in detail. Plus, it shows that you understand how a single word can impact meaning. That’s a grade 9 skill!

Plus, most of your essay should be full of analysis. That’s how you’ll get the most marks. If you answer the questions I gave you above, you’re already doing a lot of the analysis you need to! That way, you can hit those top marks much easier.

The best GCSE essays say a lot about a little.

By that, I mean that you should dedicate most of your time and writing to single words and phrases. Way too many students quote massive sentences in their essays, which stops them from going into proper detail.

For example, let’s say that you’re doing an essay question on guilt in Macbeth. You decide to include the following quote:

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/Clean fom my hand? No: this my hand will rather/The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/Making the green one red”

Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2

Sure, that quote does show that Macbeth feels guilty. However, can you prove to me why it shows guilt? Well, not without pointing out the specific words that give you that feeling.

Once you start to pick out the words that give you a sense of guilt, then you’re really starting to sound like a high-grade student. For the grade 9, you might even choose the words that are less obviously linked to guilt, like “Neptune”. Explain why that shows how guilty Macbeth really feels.

That’s going to get you the marks you need to do really well.

Can You Choose More Than One Word?

You can absolutely choose more than one word for this part of the PETZAL acronym. There are two ways that you can do this:

  1. If you can’t separate the words without losing the meanings, make sure that your quote is as short as possible. It shouldn’t be over three words, but the shorter the better.
  2. If there is more than one word per quote that you’d like to explore, why not analyse them one at a time? That helps you to prove that you understand how multiple words help to make the meaning.

The second of these two options is going to help you get higher marks. After all, if you can say more than one thing about your quote, you probably chose pretty well!

On the other hand, zooming in on a phrase of up to 3 words should only be done if absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you’ll miss the point of zooming in entirely! 99 times out of 100, there is a way to stick to one word. You’ve just got to think a little harder about what that word is.

Remember that the point of this part of the PETZAL acronym is to keep things short and sweet. Show off your great close language analysis skills. If you’re already worried about not being able to choose one word before you’ve even tried, you might need to spend some time developing those skills more.

Combining “Zoom In” With “Terminology”

If you want to make sure that you’re achieving more than one assessment objective with your “zoom in”, adding a terminology word is a great way to do that.

It’s not just about killing two birds with one stone, either. Your “zoom in” sentence will flow much nicer and sound much more sophisticated if you add a terminology word in there. Plus, it stops you from feature spotting, which is something you should avoid at all costs.

How does it do that? Well, you have to follow the “zoom in” up with close language analysis. Otherwise, it would be a bit silly. You’d just be quoting something without explaining why it’s important. Since it forces you to analyse, it means you’re much more likely to explain why the writer uses the device or term.

Combining “zoom on” and “terminology” might look something like this:

The verb “be” in Hamlet’s quote is vague, which forces the reader to wonder whether he deciding if he should be a killer or is losing the will to live.

Word classes like “verb” or “noun” are great terms to use when zooming in like this. It helps you to be more precise with your language while making your “zoom in” sound less clunky.

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