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Unpacking sample questions and discursive writing samples
This resource will support students to respond to and unpack sample HSC questions
Responding to and unpacking sample questions and discursive writing samples.
This resource will support students to respond to and unpack sample questions and then explore writing samples. Students will be provided the opportunity to experiment with their own writing through a series of activities. There is a student resource booklet accompanying this presentation.
To support your learning and teaching of this unit access:
Unpacking sample questions and discursive writing samples transcript (DOCX 76KB)
Unpacking sample questions and discursive writing samples student resource (DOCX 205KB)
The HSC hub was created in 2020 – some resources may contain references to 2020 conditions and dates. Please check NESA HSC key dates and exam timetables and coronavirus advice .
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How to Write a Band 6 Discursive Writing Piece
Home » Blog » Advice for Students » How to Write a Band 6 Discursive Writing Piece
- February 17, 2022
In the most recent version of the syllabus, NESA has added a new form of writing for Module C, and that is discursive writing! Although this new style of writing can appear daunting at first glance, it is a fun addition to the module once you get the hang of it. Today, we will provide you with some helpful tips to achieve a band 6 for your discursive.
So, before we start, what is discursive writing?
Discursive writing is a discussion piece of multiple ideas or points of view, without the intention of trying to persuade the reader. This means that you have to counter-argue yourself and provide an argument both FOR and AGAINST something.
For example, if I was to write a discursive about climate change protests, I would start by talking about why it is important to protest e.g. “In order for governments to take our voices seriously, we need to protest against climate change!”. Then, in my next argument, I would contradict myself by saying that protesting may not be so useful after all e.g. “But then I thought to myself, is protesting such a good idea after all? I mean, the politicians aren’t really listening anyway”.
NOTE: Colloquial language is accepted for discursive writing and other forms of writing in Module C (except reflections) but should NEVER be used in any other modules as essay writing must be formal.
A basic structure employed when planning a discursive essay can include:
- An engaging introduction
- Clear indication of your position in relation to the topic
- Your first argument, with supporting evidence
- Your second argument, with supporting evidence
- A conclusion
Key aspects of discursive writing:
Register of Language: can be a mix of formal and informal language (can include colloquialism) Style and Tone: Educated audience, but open and friendly tone/ subjective Use of Pronouns: First pronouns are acceptable Use of Figurative Devices: should be used throughout Providing Evidence and Examples: Do, but not necessarily in a P.E.E.L or T.E.E.L structure Structure: intro, paragraphing, conclusion. Paragraph lengths can vary and there is no set structure
Tip #1: Always start with a title
Starting with a title is important as it is a key requirement for a complete discursive piece. You can make your title as fun and engaging as you like, as long as it is appropriate and relevant to the topic.
Tip #2: Starting with a personal anecdote (not compulsory)
Although this is not a requirement, starting with a personal anecdote can help you introduce the topic in a creative way before presenting your arguments. This is a good way to meet rubric requirements such as “students use language creatively and imaginatively for a range of purposes”. For example, say I was still writing that discursive about climate change protests, I could start it by saying “I have always had mixed feelings about protests since attending my first one in December last year. On one hand, it felt good to scream “Climate justice matters!” in hopes that someone would listen. On the other hand, I could not help but wonder, are they really effective for creating change?”
Tip #3: Gathering evidence to support your arguments
Even though you are not writing a discursive piece to persuade the reader, you still have to argue two sides (you just have to make sure that you do not state that one side is better than the other). As a result, you need to find evidence to support both your arguments. This could include quotes, statistics etc.
Tip #4: Make sure you base it on the stimulus
Always refer to the stimulus to ensure you are answering the question. This does not mean you have to refer to it in an extremely obvious word-for-word manner e.g. a stimulus with a picture of a boat does not mean you have to write a discursive about a boat. However, you must always incorporate the stimulus in a way that can easily be justified in your reflection statement and is obvious to the marker e.g. if you get a discursive about a boat, you could write about sailing, fishing or how life is rocky like a boat in the ocean.
Tip #5: Use many language techniques and stylistic devices throughout
This is an essential rubric requirement mentioned throughout the syllabus. For example, the rubric states that students must use “various figurative, rhetorical and linguistic devices”. Be sure to use a few different language techniques and devices e.g. metaphor, rhetorical questions, simile, first person etc. throughout your writing (in the introduction, arguments and conclusion).
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How to write discursive text with examples included
Ex-tutor & HSC Band 6 All Rounder @YK Education
Writing a discursive piece can be a daunting task. Discursive texts give us a considerable amount of freedom in terms of how we may structure our piece, which perspectives we will explore, and the writing style we adopt. This can be an exciting opportunity to express our own opinion and use our voice, however the lack of a standard structure may mean it can be difficult to know where to start. The form demands that we explore a range of perspectives on a topic. This means looking at an issue from many sides, and potentially coming up with our own opinions. A personal discursive piece is often a relatable provoking discussion and could end with a reflective resolution but no clear argument. We will then unpack the various perspectives we have explored through employing figurative language, anecdotes, statistics, quotes and other literary devices.
Here is the definition of discursive texts from the NSW Department of Education:
“Discursive texts are those whose primary focus is to explore an idea or a variety of topics. These texts involve the discussion of an idea(s) or opinion(s) without the direct intention of persuading the reader, listener or viewer to adopt any single point of view.
Discursive texts can be humorous or serious in tone and can have a formal or informal register. These texts include texts such as feature articles, creative nonfiction, blogs, personal essays, documentaries and speeches.
Discursive is about exploring a range of perspectives on an argument. We can flicker between two perspectives. Then we unpack these perspectives by using figurative language to express ‘evidence’ for these perspectives in the wider World.”
A discursive text will:
- Explore an issue or idea and may suggest a position or point of view
- Approach a topic from different angles and explore themes and issues in a style that balances personal observations with different perspectives
- Use personal anecdotes and may have a conversational tone
- Primarily use first person although third person can also be used
- Either use figurative, descriptive language or may take a more factual approach
- Draw upon real life experiences and/or draw from wide reading
- Use engaging imagery and language features
- Begin with an event, an anecdote or relevant quote that is then used to explore an idea
- Have a resolution that may be reflective or open-ended.
What are the pros and cons of discursive texts?
We can be as personal as we want! Use any kind of tone, and we can even incorporate humour in our writing – just remember to use it in moderation. We are able to venture through our own personal thoughts, beliefs, and life experiences, which might be more interesting to write about. Our piece can be open-ended, and you definitely don’t need to have a conclusive point that you have to prove.
Sometimes, the freedom we have in a discursive text can be intimidating and we might not know where to start Structure and language-wise, a discursive text is really flexible, but this means that our ideas have to be very insightful, well thought out and complex, while our writing needs to be strong and effective. It’s easy to accidentally write a persuasive text instead! The way around this is to remember that you aren’t trying to argue for a specific point, you’re exploring different ideas. That means you don’t and shouldn’t talk about only one side of the argument, but think about counter-arguments, or at least different perspectives.
What to include in our discursive?
Deciding on a topic for the discursive text is an important first step; the topic must be a compelling and nuanced (or complicated) issue that you can write extensively about. Discursive texts often reflect social concerns, controversial topics or raise significant questions. Along with researched evidence on the chosen topic, to spice it up, make sure you include examples from real life experiences, quotes, interviews, references to popular culture, historical events and/or personal anecdotes. Importantly, a discursive piece does not need a clear conclusion! If you are struggling to come up with a central topic, consider some issues that impact or otherwise matter to us, e.g. your community (family, friends, local neighbourhood, school etc.), or the wider society (national or international).
How can I start a discursive piece?
To begin with the introduction, introduce your main overarching point that directly addresses the question. Remember to avoid writing an overly argumentative or one-sided thesis! The purpose of a discursive is to discuss more than one perspective. Instead, invite the readers to consider the complexities of a topic, and to introduce the many different perspectives on that topic.
Here’s an example :
Argumentative thesis: Unlimited access to technology has had a devastating impact on the social skills of using people.
Discursive thesis: Technology has, for better and worse, irreversibly changed the way we interact with each other. However, as much as things have changed ever since the first message sent on MSN there are some things that, for better and worse, remain the same.
- Introduce our main, overarching point that directly answers the question
- Other perspectives: what other perspectives will we be introducing to deepen our understanding of the subject matter? (Talk about at least two perspectives)
- Rhetorical question: prompt the reader to contemplate on the topic Anecdote: connect with the reader by speaking of our own personal experiences
- Proverb or quotation
Where will you see discursive texts?
Discursive texts are really everywhere! Opinion pieces in newspapers are an example – we’ll notice that many of them explore more than one perspective. Other examples include essays we’ll read, speeches and lectures. Many TedX talks are actually discursive as well. Notice some of them explore many different perspectives and angles on a specific idea!
Where can you find examples?
We can find some of the best examples of discursive writing in newspapers, as well as news sites. Below are some examples to get us started. Explore and find where else you might notice discursive writing!
- The New York Times Opinion Section
- The Economist
- The Guardian Opinion Section
- The Conversation
- Harvard Business Review
If you’d like to see discursive examples right now, send us an email and we’ll send some over to your email. You’ll also get a scaffold to write your own discursive!
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3 Do's & Don'ts of Discursive Writing All HSC Students Must Know for Module C
Discursive writing is the new kid in town. It's also a bit of a saviour for all who are not confident with creative writing. It's also become all the rage with school assessment tasks. Although it is an "informal" piece of writing, don't be deceived. Keep reading to make sure you know what to watch out for in your discursive writing.
Let's start with a NESA definition (bear with us, your English tutors don't know how else to start their blog posts)
Texts whose primary focus is to explore an idea or variety of topics. These texts involve the discussion of an idea(s) or opinion(s) without the direct intention of persuading the reader, listener or viewer to adopt any single point of view.
DON'T neglect structure
A discursive ultimately will follow the structure required for any "argument". It requires a thesis, context and topic sentences. Although the wording can be casual there is room to jump around your ideas a bit, in the end stick to the essay structure we all know and love.
DON'T neglect good grammar
Being "informal" does not mean "forget how English works". The requirements for good grammar, spelling and punctuation still apply here. Informal simply means you can ask rhetorical questions , perhaps engage in first person language , use metaphors, similes and other figurative language in your work.
None of those have anything to do with neglecting good grammar practices. So stick to your subject - verb complexes!
DON'T be afraid to argue against yourself 🗣
A discursive has requirements similar to a "discuss" or "evaluate" question in science. It's about considering all the perspectives in the equation. Do not be afraid to make a statement to challenge it. Do not be afraid to say something then question it with a hypophora (Is the hypophora an effective technique for discursives? You bet it is.)
Let loose, argue against yourself and see where your thoughts takes you. After all to be discursive means to be tangential in the thought. And if maths has taught us anything it would be the definition of a tangent.
DO get personal 💛
Applying your own point of view and experiences is a great way to spice up a discursive. Drawing examples from your own experiences and our modern world is a crucial part of every Module in the syllabus. Talk about how your texts translates to our everyday lives: where can we still see government control? Racial discrimination? Bullying of people who are "different"?
DO use humour 🤣 and other techniques
Not a knock knock joke (although they are excellent with the right execution).
Feel comfortable in using some sarcasm, some irony and inject a bit more spice into your arguments. Use metaphors and similes in your writing! Use imagery and personification. The more you use the more you have in your reflection!
DO have a position by the end of the essay
So NESA says that discursive writing should not have the " direct intention of persuading the reader" (note the awesome quote integration in that sentence 😉).
But it doesn't mean you don't have an opinion. You're just letting that position organic come through with your language. You're effectively finessing your readers to feel a certain way. Definitely write with your own opinion. Just don't act as if it's the only opinion in the world (which is why you present some devil's advocate counter arguments against yourself).
🔎🔎🔎 Below is one of Orwell's essays in a style similar to what NESA describes as discursive. We have made some comments here in red about things worth noting. 🔎🔎🔎
George Orwell - You and the Atomic Bomb
Considering how likely we all are to be blown to pieces by it within the next five years, the atomic bomb has not roused so much discussion as might have been expected. The newspapers have published numerous diagrams, not very helpful to the average man, of protons and neutrons doing their stuff, and there has been much reiteration of the useless statement that the bomb ‘ought to be put under international control.’ [Note how he engages the audience with context and relatable facts] . But curiously little has been said, at any rate in print, about the question that is of most urgent interest to all of us, namely: ‘How difficult are these things to manufacture?’ [His final rhetorical question here is effectively his thesis. He is letting the reader know what the rest of the essay will be about]
Such information as we — that is, the big public — possess on this subject has come to us in a rather indirect way, apropos of President Truman's decision not to hand over certain secrets to the USSR. [This is an informal topic sentence. He is using the rest of the paragraph to support the idea that "there is a lot of misinformation on the topic"] Some months ago, when the bomb was still only a rumour, there was a widespread belief that splitting the atom was merely a problem for the physicists, and that when they had solved it a new and devastating weapon would be within reach of almost everybody. (At any moment, so the rumour went, some lonely lunatic in a laboratory might blow civilisation to smithereens, as easily as touching off a firework.) [Note the use of a simile and a light hearted example to convey the idea. But also, note the impeccable grammar]
Had that been true, the whole trend of history would have been abruptly altered. The distinction between great states and small states would have been wiped out, and the power of the State over the individual would have been greatly weakened. [His new topic sentence shows his position, how exciting] However, it appears from President Truman's remarks, and various comments that have been made on them, that the bomb is fantastically expensive and that its manufacture demands an enormous industrial effort, such as only three or four countries in the world are capable of making. This point is of cardinal importance, because it may mean that the discovery of the atomic bomb, so far from reversing history, will simply intensify the trends which have been apparent for a dozen years past [and here he just argues against his own fact, setting up for the next tangent he is about to go on] .
It is a commonplace that the history of civilisation is largely the history of weapons. In particular, the connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. [Note how his previous disagreement/questioning of his own ideas lead to this new point of digression. This is a great way to organise your paragraphs in your own discursive] . Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon — so long as there is no answer to it — gives claws to the weak. [an excellent metaphor for what he wants to convey]
The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. [Here we are expanding on the "claws" that was previously mentioned as the new idea. Really take note that this is how the organisation is mostly driven. It sounds casual but collected] . Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans — even Tibetans — could put up a fight for their independence [claws for the weak again] , sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised country as against the backward one. There are fewer and fewer foci of power. Already, in 1939, there were only five states capable of waging war on the grand scale, and now there are only three — ultimately, perhaps, only two. This trend has been obvious for years, and was pointed out by a few observers even before 1914. The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon — or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting — not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant. [Once again, he sets up the idea that there is a trend in war and power for the entire paragraph. Then his final sentence provides an alternative view. Notice the pattern? Guess what he'll be talking about next?]
From various symptoms one can infer that the Russians do not yet possess the secret of making the atomic bomb; on the other hand, the consensus of opinion seems to be that they will possess it within a few years. So we have before us the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states, each possessed of a weapon by which millions of people can be wiped out in a few seconds, dividing the world between them. It has been rather hastily assumed that this means bigger and bloodier wars [this actually tracks back to paragraph 3. He basically provided alternative perspectives for 2 paragraphs in order to return to his original position, this time with more gusto because he has supported it by now] , and perhaps an actual end to the machine civilisation. But suppose — and really this the likeliest development — that the surviving great nations make a tacit agreement never to use the atomic bomb against one another? Suppose they only use it, or the threat of it, against people who are unable to retaliate? In that case we are back where we were before, the only difference being that power is concentrated in still fewer hands and that the outlook for subject peoples and oppressed classes is still more hopeless.
When James Burnham wrote The Managerial Revolution it seemed probable to many Americans that the Germans would win the European end of the war, and it was therefore natural to assume that Germany and not Russia would dominate the Eurasian land mass, while Japan would remain master of East Asia. This was a miscalculation, but it does not affect the main argument. For Burnham's geographical picture of the new world has turned out to be correct. More and more obviously the surface of the earth is being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy. The haggling as to where the frontiers are to be drawn is still going on, and will continue for some years, and the third of the three super-states — East Asia, dominated by China — is still potential rather than actual. But the general drift is unmistakable, and every scientific discovery of recent years has accelerated it.
We were once told that the aeroplane had ‘ abolished frontiers ’; actually it is only since the aeroplane became a serious weapon that frontiers have become definitely impassable. The radio was once expected to promote international understanding and co-operation; it has turned out to be a means of insulating one nation from another. The atomic bomb may complete the process by robbing the exploited classes and peoples of all power to revolt, and at the same time putting the possessors of the bomb on a basis of military equality. Unable to conquer one another, they are likely to continue ruling the world between them, and it is difficult to see how the balance can be upset except by slow and unpredictable demographic changes.
For forty or fifty years past, Mr. H. G. Wells and others have been warning us that man is in danger of destroying himself with his own weapons, leaving the ants or some other gregarious species to take over. Anyone who has seen the ruined cities of Germany will find this notion at least thinkable. Nevertheless, looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of ‘cold war’ with its neighbors.
Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a ‘ peace that is no peace ’. [Here his final position is restated. That the atomic bomb's power on the world is dependant on its production cost. He digressed throughout the essay but never jumped too far from these ideas. Remember: DON'T NEGLECT STRUCTURE]
💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼Take a note out of Orwell's book and smash your next discursive! 💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼
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The craft of discursive writing
In 2019, NESA introduced a new text type for HSC English students – the discursive text . While this initially sent Year 12 students into a tizz (and let’s be honest, teachers too!), it has proved to be a wonderful alternative to the more traditional imaginative text form.
Discursive writing is now taught to both Standard and Advanced students within The Craft of Writing module, assessed in HSC English Paper 2. Students are typically given a stimulus text and question, to which they must respond by composing an imaginative, persuasive, or discursive piece of writing. Interestingly, when given the choice, more and more students are choosing the discursive text form. It’s something of a hybrid text, allowing students to explore a topic by bringing in their own personal experiences. They can draw on literary texts they have read or studied, reference popular culture, politics, current affairs – anything really! It’s what the English Department likes to call an entertaining ponder , allowing students to bring in the lovely figurative techniques of imaginative writing but with a genuine personal voice.
Perhaps the best way to understand this text form is to read an example. The following piece was composed this term by Year 12 Advanced English student Quynh Anh Le.
Pen to Paper (Kill Your Master)
By Quynh Anh Le (Year 12)
“Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you look banal or melodramatic or naïve or unhip or sappy, and to ask the reader to feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this ‘ll look in print.” David Foster Wallace
I’ve always admired David Foster Wallace for his openness. His position was always that the real job of fiction was to grapple with death – that all of us will die and die in a lonesome manner, which won’t make a dent on how the world functions. In 2005, the year I was born, Wallace took the stage of Kenyon College to deliver the commencement address:
“Think of the old cliché about the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head. They shoot the terrible master.”
Thus emerges the cruel, terrible humour in Wallace taking his life not by firearm, but by hanging. But resist the urge to induct him into the Tortured Genius Canon Hall of Fame – life was not what killed him.
Today I find it disturbingly easy to find our terrible masters. I guess there is a larger meaning I can link this to; perhaps a link to Zizek’s analysis of Fight Club and Taxi Driver – “You must violently detach yourself from ideology.” But I am not Zizek – I am an 18-year-old Year 12 student drowning in self-loathing and teenage ennui, and my terrible master, who I assume is similar to Wallace’s own, is one of cynicism and irony. Postmodernism has swallowed itself, and this is a post-Vonnegut, post-Jon Stewart, post-the-guy-you-know-who-got-his-misogyny-from-Nietzsche world – that is, post-post-irony. That means that we are now past Wallace’s time, and in reaction to his radical vulnerability, we have a newer, stronger wave of cynicism. But what they don’t realise is that behind every great cynic is a world of emotion. Holden Caulfield was not so fantastic because he resented the world. Perhaps he was to you initially, but to me, the beauty of him is picking the book up years after, and seeing the scared little boy in not only Holden, but J.D. Salinger himself.
Radical vulnerability. New sincerity. Wallace never tried to hide his depression – he never needed to speak of it in public, because those of us familiar with the stench of self-hatred and self-slaughter can sniff it out from a mile away everywhere in his work. The magic of his fiction was how he gave those emotions life – the colourful unreality of his fiction gave new dimensions to the agonies we know, inaccuracy giving way to an accurate portrayal of the depth of such aching. He knew that the psychic pain of depression was, in every way, physical, and the somatic distresses, illnesses and disabilities of his characters, their physical wounds and mutations, were deeply resonant. Somehow, to me, that was my way of shooting my terrible master: I read his books, I saw the person he was, I felt his pain, we cried together. I think it was his, too.
But everything swallows itself. Wallace swallowed himself, like how Mark Fisher swallowed himself, like how Nietzsche swallowed himself. But the sick, disturbed optimist in me points still to the enduring resonance of his work as proof that he will never be really gone. He didn’t die by firearm – he didn’t need to. Little in fiction ever exists in a vacuum – fantasy books are often allegories for the real world. Slice-of-life fiction wants to recreate the warmth of real life. Thus, I don’t think it is so far-fetched to say that often, how fiction operates and acts is indistinguishable from reality, disguised forms of propaganda or self-help or critique. The radical, revolutionary refusal to put on a brave face is what touches me – that willingness to stand on the soapbox and say, ‘I’m scared,’ is what is so incredible. There are books that have left me breathless, nauseous, dizzy, often not because of the content of the book itself, but because I felt the author between the lines, and me reading this book, it feels, is like me reaching out to hold their hand and say, “I know. I get it. I understand now.”
If there is any magic in the world, it is in the attempt to understand each other. Thus emerges what seems to be the antidote to post-post-irony: radical vulnerability, once more. To dare to say ‘I love you’ and ‘I know you’ in the face of an indifferent world that is threatening to destroy us. So shoot your terrible master. Know that in this universe, little of our experiences are unique; your pain is my pain. As the world swallows itself, we shall wallow in our words and find love in such connection.
Put your pen to the paper.
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