The NSW HSC Literacy Techniques List for Students

Written by the YK Writing Team

Written by the YK Writing Team

A group of tutors & HSC Band 6 All Rounders led by Yuna.

Knowing a wide range of macro and micro techniques will get you a long way with your HSC English essays. Try expanding your knowledge with this list of common and advanced HSC English techniques, and quiz yourself on any unfamiliar devices. 




Accumulation – A build-up of words which emphasise their common qualities. e.g. I like to swim in pools, tubs,  creeks, rivers, seas, oceans…


Allegory – When an abstract idea is delivered in the form of a story, with each of the characters, actions, or events representing  something else. e.g. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes ignorance as being chained inside a cave, and seeing only shadows on the wall as opposed to the world outside the cave.


AllusionAn expression which refers to a place, person, event, or  cultural product. e.g. “Chocolate is her Achilles’  heel” – this is an allusion to the Greek hero Achilles whose heel was the only vulnerable part of his body.


Foreshadowing – When the writer gives an early hint of what will come in the story. e.g. In Romeo and Juliet, the lovers’ death is foreshadowed from the start: “a pair of star crossed lovers take their life.


Hyperbole – Deliberate exaggeration for emphasis. e.g. Your bag weighs a ton!


Imagery – Using figurative language to evoke a certain environment in the story. Imagery can appeal to all 5 senses. e.g. “The roaring dell,  o’erwooded, narrow, deep, And only speckled by the mid-day sun…” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge


IronyUsing words so that the intended meaning is the opposite of their literal meaning. e.g. Oh great! You’ve broken my new camera.


Jargon – Language that is specific to particular professions/trades. e.g. Computer jargon: disk, data, bytes, upload, RAM, CPU, OS, hacker


Juxtaposition – The contrast of two opposing ideas or elements. e.g. “I hate and I love.” – Catullus


Metaphor A comparison between two  unrelated things, which share common characteristics.  Unlike a simile, a metaphor does not use “like” or “as”. e.g. That man is a silver fox.


Motif – A recurring, symbolic element of a story. e.g. Harry’s hurting scar in  Harry Potter is a motif of impending danger.


Pathetic fallacy – When the surroundings mirror the character’s mood. e.g. The weather being sunny when a character is happy, or rainy when they’re sad.


Personification – Giving human qualities to a thing, idea, or animal. e.g. The houses crouch beside the road.


Simile – A comparison between two different things using the words “like” or “as”. e.g. My dog is black and white, like a panda.


Symbolism – When an object represents an idea that is greater than the object itself.  e.g. The dove as a symbol of peace.




AlliterationRepetition of the first letter/sound of a word. e.g. Don’t drag the dogs downtown


Homophone – Words that sound similar. e.g. Pride/pried, they’re/their/there


Onomatopoeia – Words that imitate sounds. e.g. Woof, meow, boom, click, shuffle…


Pun – A play on words, using a word that has more than one meaning, or sounds similar to another word. e.g. Did you moove the milk again? You’re horri-bull!


Rhyme (end) – Repetition of similar-sounding words at the end of a line. e.g. Are you there? / You should be more aware.


Rhyme (internal) – Repetition of similar-sounding words in the middle of a line. e.g. “It was a spring day, a day for  a lay…” – W.H. Auden.


Sibilance – Repetition of ‘s’ (or soft ‘c’) sound. e.g. Cindy sent a missive over a  snack of shrimp sauce.


Prose Techniques 


Macro techniques are overarching techniques in a text.

They include:

Characterisation – How the characters are developed into individuals.

Diction – A pattern of word choices in writing. Describe using  words such as: formal/colloquial, complicated/simpleharsh/gentle, abstract/concrete, poetic/simplisticdenotative/connotative, euphonious/cacophonous
Dialogue – Characters speaking to one another.

Dramatic irony – When the full significance of a character’s words/actions are known to the audience, but unknown to the character themselves.

Flashforward/flashback – When the plot either goes ahead to a scene in the future, or back in time to a scene in the past.

Motif – A recurring, symbolic element of a story.

Narrator – The person who tells the story.
Plot – The logical sequence of events that develop a story.
Point of view – The person in which the story is written (1st, 2nd, 3rd),  and the amount of information the reader knows (limited, or omniscient).
Setting – The time and place in which a story takes place.
Stream of consciousness – An uninterrupted writing style, intended to reflect the natural flow of human thoughts and actions.
Tone – The attitude or mood conveyed in the text.
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