Explain/Explain This

You might receive the comment “Explain/Explain This” versus “Much More Could Be Said Here” because some professors, while grading papers, will write the same way they think. For example, if a professor is in conversation with someone and the other person says something that twitches the ear, the professor will say “explain.” On the other hand, if any one of us is at a conference and the speaker says something that has caught our attention we think this: “What does he mean by that?” However, we say, “He needs to explain himself better. I don’t understand what he means by that.”

In most cases, the speaker isn’t really afforded the opportunity to go into depth in a 10-minute to 15-minute speech. It is highly likely that a speaker will not present the subject matter in its entirety within the one speech. You can rest assured that a person in the audience will want more of an explanation with regard to a specific issue.

Likewise, although it is not possible to add more information within a 12-page paper, you can choose your battles. Instead of adding information that just fills up your paper, you can focus on three key issues and analyze as much as you can about those issues. If you focus on three themes within a story, or one theme with three secondary elements, you have more than enough for a paper.

The reason why many students, including myself in the past, receive “Explain/Explain This” is because they try to fill up their papers with so much content instead of focusing on key pieces of information and doing a quality job. As you can see in Figure 16, much more is needed. The only thing the excerpt is guilty of is the presence of filler, but the excerpt is innocent of “analysis.” The student doesn’t define the desires or aspirations of the weak nor does she define what it means to be “unaccommodating.” In other words, she doesn’t provide an answer for how the restrainer governs the accommodating.

Sample Excerpt

Blake criticizes the weak in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”  He claims that the weak restrain their desire because their aspiration is weak or without defense; it’s also implied that the restrainer governs the unaccommodating (56).

Figure 16: Essay Excerpt on The Ideas of William Blake


1) Why does Blake choose to criticize the weak over anyone else?

2) How do the weak restrain their desire?

3) What is their desire?

Revision Considerations

Research “explain” in a dictionary and a thesaurus. You will see a number of definitions and methods for the word. One definition of the word includes “to account for.”  You have undoubtedly heard the statements “Take responsibility” and “Be accountable.” When you assume the task of writing about a certain author’s work, it is important that you represent that author’s work as appropriately and accurately as humanly possible.

To misquote is to misrepresent the author’s viewpoints and belief systems. This is why it is important to focus on key issues because your papers can easily take a wrong turn with added explanations that may not be accurate, but instead represent belief systems projected onto an author’s work.

In other words, an author doesn’t set out to write about a “theme.” When you read an author’s work, you notice a recurring idea, and you call it a theme. It is your job to note this difference within your papers. “Explain/Explain This” means be accountable for every comment you make, for anything you label as an implication, and for incorporating appropriate context.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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