Nurture the asset of writing for success

Any word on writing strategy in the civil services examination could mean writing on facts only too well known. That you should write legibly and clearly within the prescribed word limits and to the point without beating around the bush, are the facts only too well known and need no repetition.

What however, needs to be mentioned here is that before beginning to write an answer, the question should be read properly. This is a well known fact, yet it needs to be repeated because not reading questions properly is the most common mistake made by a candidate, whatever may be the cause of that: lack of concentration, haste or just a habit. Perhaps the reason for that kind of mistake is the psychological tendency to see and read what we wish to see and read. A candidate may have prepared a topic and luckily the question comes from that topic. However, the language of the question asked and the answer required is different from what the candidate had anticipated. Nonetheless, seeing the question from that topic, the candidate concludes that the same question that he had anticipated has come, and begins writing the answer without verifying the question again. A simple remedy for those who have been committing his kind of mistake is to read the question more than once and, in fact, the first 5 to 10 minutes in the mains should be given for reading the questions and deciding upon which question you wish to answer first. Therefore, make it a point to go through the questions properly.

Writing Style

Next, what should be the style of writing the answer? Style of writing is a personal matter. In the civil services examination, it is expected that the candidates will write precisely and to the point. Economy of words and depth of understanding are expected of the candidates.

In a sense, if you follow the questions correctly you would probably know how precisely you can answer the questions. For instance, questions have instructions at the top, at times. And within questions, often you will find a clear cut direction on the nature of answer to be provided by the candidates. If the question says, “Give reasons for and against,” and if you start writing in the point form giving reasons in favour and reasons against, without anything more e.g. introduction etc., your answer if relevant should be considered good. But if you write your answer in the discussion style which does not distinctly clarify points in favour and against, you have clearly not followed the question and in all likelihood you will lose marks for the same. Similarly, the question will clearly state you to ‘Discuss’, ‘Explain’, ‘Explain How or Why’, etc., and you should be particularly careful in noting the phrase used in the question, and must answer, accordingly. Here are some clues for various ‘tails’ generally found with the questions in the main examination, so that you should be aware of the broad meaning of each.

Elucidate/Explain: It refers to making the statement plain. In fact you have to explain it in such a way that it becomes intelligible.

Comment: It implies that you give a written remark, giving opinion or elucidating an event, a person, a situation, etc.

Examine: It refers to inspecting something closely and bringing out facts i.e. you bring “to light various aspects of the given statement.

Critically examine: It means inspecting closely and forming or expressing judgment. The latter is of greater relevance here. It may also include comparisons and contrasts.

Discuss: It refers to writing about something i.e. you are supposed to write about the various aspects of the given statement.

Analyse: It refers to taking various facts or parts of a given statement into consideration and bringing to light its nature or structure, you take each part one by one and examine.

Amplify: It refers to elaborating the statement. You add details, make it fuller.

Illustrate: It refers to explaining or making clear by giving examples.

Often, candidates to the civil services examination have a query whether the paragraph or the point form should be adopted in writing answers. There is no hard and fast rule to follow. Mostly, the question itself makes clear as to what form is to be adopted. If the question asks you to discuss or analyse, you naturally can give your best in the paragraph or essay style. Nonetheless, there are candidates, who even in these questions use the point format and lose their marks. Perhaps, they reckon the loss won’t be greater, had they adopted a discussion or analytical style of writing because of their poor language ability. But, it is expected of the UPSC candidates that they will be able to express themselves. And secondly, your language is only of secondary importance in the general studies and optional papers. You need not be the master of language to write an answer well. Therefore, if you are able to express yourself to the extent that the examiner can read and understand your answer, all is well. In that case you must adopt the analytical writing style, wherever the question demands that.

But the question does not always expect an analysis. For instance, in the question ‘what are the advantages of sending men to space”, examiner does not expect from you an analytical answer. “what” in the question makes that clear, and you are merely expected to point out the advantages, which can be done best in the point form.

There are, at times, compelling circumstances where point form becomes a wiser choice, and obviously so when you are hard pressed for time. For instance, suppose you have only fifteen or twenty minutes left and three complete or even two complete questions are left to be answered, you, obviously, have no choice but to adopt the point format. At least your answers will be complete and you will not lose as much marks as you might have, if you had left your answers incomplete. Also, at times you may have a lot of ideas on a particular question since you have prepared well, but you could inadvertently exceed the number of words required by a wide margin. In that case a combination of point and paragraph style even in an analytical question saves you completely from out of the word limit predicament.

Let us consider some Questions asked in UPSC Mains and Model hints for them:

  1. Mushrooming of Higher Educational Institutions was a matter of grave concern for Yashpal Committee. With reference to the relevant portion of that report give your views how to harmonise private investment and quality of education.

The model answer to such questions should be structured as follows:

  • Write about the genesis of Yashpal Committee.
  • After this, mention that portion of the report that deals with the private investment “in education particularly the higher education.
  • Then write about the need for the PPP model in education.
  • Since in the beginning the critical word “mushrooming” is used, also present a brief critical analysis of the ‘for-profit’ model of private universities in India at present and how this could be prevented by better regulation and facilitation.


  1. In the changing context of governance in the country, what should be the role of the UPSC?

You should answer the above type of question in the following manner:

  • Start from the Constitutional role that is allocated for UPSC.
  • After this, write the present state of New Public administration and how the society needs managers rather than administrators: facilitator rather than supervisor.
  • Elaborate on the new governance model in which the State is limiting itself from the non-core areas and is concentrating on central governance areas. In this elucidate the new recruiting model that can be imbibed by the Commission so that the newly selected bureaucrats are up for the job. Note of caution: Do not be overtly critical to any Constitutional-institution in such types of question. Appreciate the limited mandate that each institution has got and how they are producing their best result in that.


  1. Write notes on any three of the following (in about 150 words each).
  • India’s strategic interests in South Asia.

The model answer to such questions should be structured as follows:

  • Evolution of strategic interest in India regarding South Asia.
  • Briefly discuss the pragmatic approach that the nation is now pursuing in its foreign affairs.
  • Talk about the mineral, Hydro electricity, and oil and NG from this region naming also the respective nation that basically fulfils the respective needs. As today’s strategic interest revolves around energy security, so talk about it more.


  • China’s ‘peaceful rise’ doctrine.

Your model answer to this question must be structured as given:

  • What is the concept of ‘peaceful rise’?
  • China’s historical rise and how it has evolved from the Mao Zedong times till present day.
  • The soft diplomacy that China is now increasingly playing in the region as well as in global institution.
  • Also talk about the responsibility that comes with power and how China is walking on that line.


  • India’s ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ power strategy in foreign policy.

For model answer to this question you must focus on the following aspects:

  • A brief discussion regarding the IR-how IR can be pragmatically categorized in these two categories.
  • Evolution of India’s IR and foreign policy from the Nehruvian era to the present times a brief discussion.
  • Economical rise of India and how this is used emphatically and is affecting the foreign policy arena.
  • Idealistic approach to foreign policy giving space to pragmatic approach.
  • Future trend that can be logically deduced from the evolution in foreign policy.


(d) Critically assess the recent FTA entered into by India with ASEAN.


Any good model answer to such questions must be structured on the following lines:

  • What is FTA?
  • Indo-ASEAN trade in the context of FTA its terms and conditions.
  • How it will affect the internal market particularly the palm oil and the spices of South India.


  1. ‘In the WTO negotiation over the years of DOHA rounds, India appears to be diluting its stand on agriculture issues to pursue perceived gains in services’ Critically, examine this statement.

For model answer to this question you must focus on the following aspects:

  • Show the inherent strength of India’s negotiation power at the global forum and while critically examining state that India is always thinking about its concern particularly for the agricultural sector.


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