‘What is the effect on the reader?’ is the question that you will probably be asked most often when you are studying English Language – by both your teachers and your exams papers – so it’s very important that you know how to respond.
So what does the question really mean?
When someone asks you the effect on the reader, they are asking you what a particular piece of language makes you think, feel, or experience. This should be something that you weren’t thinking, feeling, or experiencing before you started reading: a book about a particular war might make you think differently about that war for the rest of your life; a story about something happy might make you feel a little brighter than you did that morning; an article about how all the little bones in your hand function might make you more aware of the tiny movements of each bone in your own hand as you type or write for the next hour.
What if I don’t feel any of these things when I read language?
If you don’t feel anything towards a particular piece of language, you must ask yourself what the writer wanted you to feel. Look closely at the context of the language. What is it about? What’s happening in the story when this language is being used? What would you be feeling if you were actually there, in that situation, in real life, and the characters were people you knew?
Let’s imagine you are reading about a dog who has fallen into the sea and is struggling to swim. It is very likely that the writer wants you to hope that the dog is saved. It is also very likely that the writer wants you to feel sympathetic towards the poor dog’s situation. It is also very likely that, while the dog is splashing around, the writer wants you to experience the sounds of the water splashing.
It is true that not all writers manage to make us think and feel these things, but it is definitely true that every writer tries to make us feel something through their writing: you must try and work out what that ‘something’ is.
How do writers create effects on the reader?
Once you have worked out what your writer wants you to think, feel, or experience, you need to work out how they have tried to do this. This is where language and structural devices come in.
Let’s go back to our poor dog, splashing and struggling in the sea. Will someone eventually see him and save him?
Let’s look at the sentence I just wrote. Did it make you think feel, or experience anything? Perhaps not – but what do you think I wanted you to feel? Can you spot anything that might have been chosen to make you hopeful, sympathetic, or able to hear the sound of the dog in the water? If this was the quote you were asked to analyse, you might pick out the following things:
- Rhetorical question – Did you notice that I used a question mark to create a rhetorical question? I was trying to make you think about who could save the dog, and how they might notice him there in the water. I was trying to encourage you to feel hopeful that this would happen.
- Emotive language – Perhaps you noticed that I used the adjective ‘poor’ and the verb ‘struggling’. These are examples of emotive word choice, designed to make you feel sympathetic towards the dog. As humans, we generally care about people and animals that are in danger, so these words are designed to tug on your heart strings and feel sorry for this creature.
- Alliteration and onomatopoeia – You might notice, if you read it aloud, that I used a lot of words that begin with the letter ‘s’, including the homophones ‘sea’ and ‘see’. This is a particular type of alliteration that creates the effect of ‘sibilance’ – a sort of hissing sound that could mimic the sound of the waves splashing as the dog tries to swim. I also used the onomatopoeia word ‘splashing’ with its powerful ‘sh’ sound to help you hear the struggle even more clearly.
If you are unsure of any of these language devices, you can sign up for a Get My Grades subscription to gain access to all our literary device Learn pages, which are full of information and advice about how to spot and use devices like the ones we’ve just looked at.
How do I explain why the writer has created an effect?
The most difficult part of analysing the effect on the reader is explaining why the writer has chosen a specific language or structural device without repeating the over-used phrase ‘to create an image in the reader’s mind’. Examiners have read this explanation a thousand times, and believe me – they are sick of it!
Don’t worry, though: our next blog post in this series tackles this exact problem. We will give you tips on how to explain clearly why a writer has chosen specific devices and particular effects so that you can aim high in the new 9-1 grade system for GCSE English. Better yet, you can sign up today for a Get My Grades subscription, which will give you exclusive access to Learn pages full of advice and guidance for analysing the effect on the reader, as well as hundreds of online questions to practise your analysing skills. What are you waiting for? Have a look at some of our example content here.