Essay and Answer Writing

Best Practices for Answer Writing

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
                                                                                    -Richard Bach
Civil Services Examination is designed to select the best civil servants for top government positions in India at Central and state levels. A civil service aspirant is expected to display the aptitude of a civil servant in his writings. It is advisable for the civil services aspirants to follow certain practices which can help them write better answers from the perspective of civil services.
In this chapter, we shall discuss the best practices that are useful not only for the essay paper, but also for the GS papers as well as for personality test (interview).
1. Avoidance of Extreme Views
Many of us have extreme views about most political, religious, social and economic issues. For example, we may either support reservation passionately or we may strongly oppose it. Once we form a view, we tend to gather more material to support our views and ignore all other alternative views and opinions. Hence, over a period of time, we become biased as our views get hardened. We often fail to realize that on the same issue, people may have just the opposite view, which may also be valid. Hence, while writing your answers or essays, you must avoid taking extreme views either in favour or against controversial issues.
However, certain issues like honesty and integrity, truthfulness, faithfulness are not negotiable. In such matters, you must not show any compromise and take extreme position in favour of the ethics and principles.
2. Diplomacy in Controversy
We learn diplomacy quite early in life. For example, when we are asked during our childhood whom we love more, father or mother, we try to avoid answering this question directly since we know that irrespective of our answer, one of them is bound to feel hurt. When forced to give a reply, we often say that we love both equally, though in reality we may love one parent more than the other. In the same way, parents also say that they love their children equally, though they do have a favourite one. It is natural that we all like some people more than others.
Hence, in writing answers on the controversial topics, it is better to be diplomatic and not write your strong view. Diplomacy is sometime the best way to answer or avoid answering a question. The author Bo Bennett summed it beautifully, “Diplomacy is more than saying or doing the right things at the right time, it is avoiding saying or doing the wrong things at any time”.
Let us understand how to give diplomatic answers in a real life situation. For this purpose, we take an examples of a candidate who is appearing for a job interview.
Question: Do you use Facebook at work?
If you have and it’s against organisation’s policy then don’t add to the problem. If it’s allowed then say you restrict your use of social media to breaks.
Question: Don’t you feel you might be over-qualified or too experienced?
Discuss how your experience will benefit the organisation. Let them know that you have a sincere interest in the role and will find the work fulfilling.
Question: What are your limitations?
Respond with a strength which if over-done, can get in your way and become a weakness. For example, you may say that you and quite compassionate and sometime people misuse your kindness.
Question: Tell me something about yourself.
This question is not to really describe yourself, but it wishes to know your suitability in relation to the job you have applied for. Hence, you must let the interviewer know what qualities you have in relation to their job you are applying for.
Question: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
You must avoid being honest about your weaknesses. The key is to focus on your strengths and describe briefly a weakness not very relevant to the job you are applying for or one that can be viewed as a strength.
3. Political Correctness 
It is important for civil services aspirants to be politically correct while writing their answers. Being politically correct means avoiding language or behavior that any particular person or group of people might find unkind or offensive. For example, many people may believe that certain professions like the police or army may not be suitable for the women. They may have their own reasons for it. However, making such statement would be politically incorrect since it is against gender equality. In the same way, many people believe that poor or African American may be more inclined to commit blue collar crimes. They may even have data to support their claims. However, such politically incorrect statements must be avoided.
4. Government Perspective
The job of the government is not easy since it has to take decisions knowing fully well that it can’t please everyone and a certain section of people are bound to oppose it. Abraham Lincoln said once, “The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject anything, is not whether it has any evil in it; but whether it has more evil than good. There are few things wholly evil or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgement of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”
Every social, political or economic issue has multiple perspectives and every person or group views an issue from his own perspective. It is, therefore, not surprising that almost every decision of government is questioned by a section of the citizens while supported by another group of people. For example, a large number of Indians oppose legislations like Citizen Amendment Act (CAA), but many vehemently support it. When you read different opinions of experts in newspapers or watch TV debates on these issues, you will find sufficient reasons on both sides. So, you may have your own perspective on such controversial issues, but you must be extremely careful in taking a side during the civil services examination.
Since you are aspiring to be a civil servant and become part of the government, it is important to understand and appreciate the perspective of the government. You may discuss both pros and cons of a policy, but must finally support the view of the government giving due justifications. These justifications can be found out from the Press notes of the government or by visiting the government websites.
It is important to understand that the government is not equivalent to the political party that is in power. For example, you may disagree with the view of the BJP (the party in power in Centre), but if a law is made by the Parliament or State Legislature or an order is issued by the Government, you must show respect to it and abide by it.
You must not be anti-establishment when you are planning to join the establishment. Therefore, as a civil service aspirant, you must never criticize a government policy which has been passed by the Parliament or issued by the duly elected government in Centre or state. You may, however, discuss the pros and cons of any policy and also give our own suggestions to improve upon them without being critical of them.
5. Foundational Values of Civil Servants
Civil servants must possess certain values to perform their jobs in the righteous manner. These values are often called the foundational values of the civil servants and include values like integrity, impartiality, politically neutrality, objectivity, dedication to public service, empathy, tolerance, compassion towards the weaker sections and courage of conviction. You learn about these values in the Ethics, Integrity and Aptitude (GS-4) paper.
Your writings must display these qualities of an aspiring civil servant. For example, you may have your own political views, but must not reveal any political bias in your answers and must maintain neutrality. You must never give the impression that you are joining the civil services for the sake of power, perks and prestige. You must rather show your dedication to public service and display empathy and compassion towards the weaker sections of the society.
6. Multidimensional Outlook
CSE is truly multi-dimensional. Unlike other competitions like JEE, NEET or CAT, where you have to prepare only a few subjects, here you have to prepare a wide variety of subjects like science & technology, geography, history, polity, economics, current affairs, etc. The reason why CSE syllabus is so exhaustive is that selected aspirants would be appointed for various types of services like IAS, IPS, IFS, IRS, IRTS, IRAS, etc., which need different types of aptitudes. Even after the appointment, a civil servant might have to work in various ministries and departments, which may require different skills and application of a wide variety of knowledge.
Hence, civil servants must possess a multi-dimensional outlook of life. They must know the social, economic, political or psychological impact of an issue. For example, the issues like CAA or NRC can be viewed from different perspectives and a good candidate must be able to provide multi-dimensional analysis of the issue.
7. Optimism and Positivity
No society is ideal and it is easy to get cynical in a diverse society like India where people may have a wide range of different aspirations. We as citizens of India usually criticize the government and its policies. It is always easy to criticize as Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”
An aspiring civil servant does not have the luxury to criticize the government since he may soon be a part of it. A civil servant is there to solve problems and get the work done. It is for this reason that a civil servant aspirant must display optimism and positivity in all his answers and essays. Instead of talking about the failures of the government, he must talk more about the achievements of government and hope for the best. Instead of talking about the weaknesses in the government, he must talk about the strengths, instead of talking about the problems, he must provide solutions to the problems.
It is important to remember that a civil servant is a problem solver and not a critic. He is the man on the spot who must give hope to the citizens rather than disappointing them with his pessimistic views. A positive attitude is extremely important to demonstrate that you have the right aptitude for the job.
Let’s take an example-
Two salesmen were sent to an African country by a shoe manufacturing company to discover new markets where they could sell their company shoes.
The salesmen spent a couple of weeks there, then came back to report their findings to their manager.
The first salesman said, ‘There is no market in that country. I did not see anyone wearing shoes there.’
The second salesman said, ‘There is a huge market in that country. I did not see anyone wearing shoes there.’
We can easily see in this story that both the salesmen observed the same facts (They did not see anyone wearing shoes there). However, the conclusions they have drawn are exactly opposite depending upon their attitude. It should not be difficult for you to understand which one would be chosen for the job and get faster promotion in his career.
8. Logical Analysis
An aspiring civil servant must be rational and his decisions must be based on logic and reasons rather than based on intuition or emotions. You must, therefore, discuss all sides of the issues in your answers and choose the right option based on sound logic. You must present compelling arguments in your essay in favour of your point of view to convince the reader to accept the same point of view.
It may be a good idea to provide reference of some reports or data from national or international agency to strengthen your case. In legal issues, the reference of specific provisions of laws and the case laws of Higher Courts can be helpful. In ethical and moral issues, the quotes of great philosophers and thinkers can make your point of view more convincing. In economic issues, the latest data and relevant statistics can differentiate your answers from the rest and fetch you better marks.
You must be clear headed while taking the final call on any issue. You must display your convincing power in your essay to impress the examiner.
9. Simple Language
Some candidates try to impress the examiner by using complex words and ideas. This may often lead to spelling mistakes, long sentences with convoluted sense, and grammatical mistakes. It is better to frame smaller sentences, use simpler words of English and present your ideas in the simplest manner. The examiner is impressed by good arguments presented in simple language, which displays a forthright attitude expected of a civil servant, rather than an unsubstantial discourse packaged in flowery or complex language.
10. Befitting Conclusion
The conclusion is the last, but not the least part of an answer or essay. Your conclusion must be impressive and befitting. It must provide solution to the problem and give hope to the reader that you have a clear vision to solve complex problems of life. You must try to conclude your answer with a weighty statement that summarizes your arguments and point of view and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. In case of an essay, concluding with some quote, poem or saying is the best practice.


Best Practices for Answer Writing
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