What are directions?

No doubt you have already had to tell someone how to get somewhere many, many times in your life. You have probably also been annoyed when trying to follow poorly explained directions. Being able to give accurate and clear directions is a very useful life and language skill. We all need to be able to explain how to get somewhere.

What are some of the features of directions?

  • You use the imperative (or command) form of the verb, as if you are ordering someone to do something: for example: Go left; turn right; walk one hundred metres.
  • You write/speak as briefly and accurately and simply as possible, but take care that no step is left out. The audience must not be confused or distracted by fancy words or irrelevant description.
  • Directions are presented chronologically. That is, one after the other in the order of the parts of the journey. Imagine the route unfolding. Then describe it each step in logical, chronological order, without leaving something important out. It is confusing for the listener if you interrupt yourself, as in this example: “Oh wait, I forgot that there is a Y junction before that.”
  • They include the location and/or name or address of the starting point and of the destination.
  • Give approximate distances when appropriate (or exact ones if possible). For example, “… about ten metres later …” or “Drive 25 kilometres.”
  • Where possible give useful hints such as how many streets to cross until the destination street or a turn is arrived at.
  • Use landmarks (things that are easy to notice) such as koppies, buildings, trees, unusual objects, well-known shops, colours of fences. Insert them into the directions as in, “When you get to the Chicken Licken on the right, you are almost there.”
  • Accurately use specific words of direction and location, such as: at the intersection/T-junction/Y-junction/stop street, turn right/left, head north, go half way across the park, keeping going straight, follow the curve until…
  • Write logically and very concisely. The Grade 12 examination memos currently say that full sentences are not needed and you can use point form. However, to be safe use short sentences such as, “Turn right at the intersection. Walk about one hundred metres.”
  • This is a shorter transactional text so depending on your grade you will use between 50 – 90 words. Check the word length required.
  • In exams at FET and senior phase you are usually marked out of 20, like this, for directions: Content, planning and format (12 marks); Language, style and editing (8 marks). These categories tell you what you need to think about, and for example, that you must show you have planned and edited properly, using process writing.
  • Note that the current FET and Senior Phase curriculum and examination questions say that, “No marks are awarded for sketches or maps.” Therefore only include these if they are specifically asked for by your exam question.

The layout of directions

Directions can be in point form or in a paragraph. Check whether your exam question asks for a specific layout.

Examples of examination questions

Here are some examples of questions, including from past examinations:

  • You are sick in bed and a friend wants to visit after school. Give him/her directions from your school to your house. You must include landmarks, distances and specific directions. NOTE: Do NOT include illustrations or drawings.
  • Your school is hosting a debating competition at the town hall. A teacher from another school knows his/her way only to the museum. He/She needs directions from there to the town hall. Write out the directions you will send to the teacher. In your response, you must refer to streets, intersections, turns, buildings and other landmarks on the route.
  • Your friend is visiting your home and has run out of airtime. Write down directions to the nearest shop where she/he can go to buy more.

How to plan writing directions

Plan your content like this:

  • Think about and visualise the route. Jot down short notes.
  • Check over the route in your mind again, to make sure your steps are logical and nothing is left out.
  • Plan what direction, distance and landmark words to use.
  • Remember to include your starting point and destination.

Should you choose to write directions in an exam?

This is a good choice for an examination if the question suits where you live, or you are very familiar with the sort of environment described. Look at the sample questions – would you be able to visualise and write about the one that includes the Town Hall and Museum? Do not choose this type of question if you struggle to write logically and briefly, or if you know you are bad at giving directions!