THE POWER OF HOWEVER: Strategies for strengthening transactional writing

If you want your students to succeed in their transactional writing (a scheme is available here), one of the most powerful techniques you can teach them is the ability to use the word ‘however’. The reason for this is because the word represents a shift in argument, and ultimately can only be used if the student has a good comprehension of what the audience’s argument is.

As teachers, when we ask students undertaking transactional writing, ‘Who is the audience?’ our prompts must be motivated more than simply encouraging the appropriate register. All too often, once the register is secure, students only engage with the question by outlining their own position on the topic. However, such an approach becomes simply a one sided conversation. It becomes the student just thinking about him/herself, and ultimately, and probably most importantly, misses the chance of persuading the audience. We know ourselves that when arguing with someone, if the opposition isn’t addressing our concerns, we are unlikely to even listen to them, let alone be persuaded by them.

 “When you go fishing, you bait the hook with what the fish likes, not with what you like.”

So my first port of call in transactional writing is to teach students to consider what the audience would be thinking about the topic. Why would they have their opinions? What would drive them? And in a limited amount of time, which opinions would be most important? From there, I teach them the word HOWEVER.

Take the example: Write a letter to the headmaster asking for the abolishment of the school uniform.

A student’s first thought here may be personal, that uniform restricts freedom and independence etc, but this is unlikely to persuade the headmaster who has her own reasons for wanting to keep the uniform. It’s infinitely more persuasive for the student to  identify the headmaster’s reasons, and then create a counter or polemic argument. The word ‘however’ becomes the perfect bridge to introduce the polemic.


To develop this style of attack, I pose a new topic every lesson, and have students fill out a small table like the one below. It only takes 5 minutes as points can be bulleted, but begins the process of automatically thinking about audience. It is particularly good for those who have been struggling in this form of writing. Once students get good at this, I then move to expanding the points (next post).

Write a letter to the headmaster asking for the abolishment of the school uniform.
Their argument             HOWEVER, My argument – solution
1. Distracts from learningBeing comfortable increases learning

At this point, subordinating connectives of contrast (whereas, although, though, nevertheless etc.) can be taught alongside ‘however’.

KEY NOTE: It is only when the reasons of an opposition are understood that the student can meaningfully engage with a response, a response that isn’t just one-sided, but is a genuine discussion involving a second party: the audience.

In fact, this theory applies to all communication, and I continuously point this out to my students, giving them a new perspective in communicating with parents, teachers, friends.

It also works for less obvious examples with some minor tweaking, with the ‘their argument’ section being related to reasons for not engaging with the issue/topic/concern:

Write a magazine article for teenagers, which persuades them to improve their health.

Their argument


My argument – solution


Write a leaflet helping to promote your school’s canteen

Their argument


My argument – solution


If you teach GCSE students who have been getting 2’s, or 3’s in their writing tasks, this strategy is worth trying, as not only does it provide a secure scaffold for their thinking, but it tends to eliminate a major factor in getting low scores: length of response.

The next post will focus on helping students build and develop their arguments from the bullets. It is here.

Thanks for reading. 

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me @edmerger


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