Archive for August 13th, 2011

Lacks Chronology

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

Of all of the comments “Lacks Chronology” offers the most simple tips for revising areas of your paper that need the characteristic of a time line. While you are writing your paper, think about what happens first and what happens last. Very few literary works use a numbering and/or chronological system. You would never see a fictional work use time-specific transitional words such as “first,” “second,” “next,” and/or “then.” Therefore, here are some quick tips.

1) For literary works that do not provide these types of wording, in your paper categorize the events of the story and the ideas into a hierarchy.

2) Estimate the connections between the author’s ideas.

3) The best way to know the chronology of events within an article is to circle prepositions such as “after” and “before.”

4) In your own papers, determine the importance of the information you want to present.

5) Prepare an outline of what you plan to do first.  Depending upon how your ideas connect to the author’s ideas, always make sure your reader knows “when” something happens.  If something doesn’t happen “after” something else, then you must rework your paper to develop its organization better.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Lacks a Clear Argument

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

Quickly examine Table 4 before moving further with the explanation for this comment.

As an assignment, you will never be confronted with an argument that entails socks in and out of drawers, but when you write a paper that critiques an argument, you are essentially writing an argument as well. You create your argument with a claim, what you believe about the subject matter. For an argument paper, your claim serves as the basis for your paper.

When you present the claims of two different authors, one of the two needs to complement what you claim. Make certain never to write a paper where one of the authors is the base or foundation of your paper. In doing this, you favor one author over another. Thus, the argument you present in your paper becomes biased with personal opinions. With this in mind, it is more important to weigh the evidence versus tilt the balance scale.

Table 4:  Socks and Drawers Comparison Table

Outline John Quincy James Jones
Claim It is important to keep socks separate from other clothing in a separate drawer. Socks need to be near the underwear in the same drawer so they are easy to retrieve since both go on underneath the body.
Reason #1 Socks are easily contained when they are separate from other clothing. Since I am always in a hurry in the morning to go to work, I need to be able to find the socks.
Reason #2 When my socks are in one place I don’t have to search for a match. When my socks are in the same drawer as the underwear, I don’t have to search for a match.
Reason #3 I like organization.  I like to categorize.  I like everything in its place. I like everything in one place.

With this table in mind, when you receive the written comment “Lacks a Clear Argument,” your professor highlights one or more of the following issues involved with the presentation of your argument.

Stance

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear where you stand on the subject. After you have finished reading an assigned article for your class, immediately before you sketch the different ways the author feels about the subject, outline your thoughts first. What do you think about socks in the drawers? Develop three reasons of your own regarding the issue. Your claims and reasons form the base of your paper, not the claims and reasons of the two authors you are discussing.

Claim

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about what you are trying to prove.  This inevitably goes back to your claim and stance.

Audience

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about who your audience is. In Table 4, the primary audience represents anybody who wears socks, but in the right column, James Jones works. He needs his socks in one place so they are easy to find during the time he is getting dressed for work. If the authors of each article don’t specify exactly who the audience is, their examples can illustrate a specific group.

You could focus on people who are early morning risers, or you could focus on certain people who are organized. You can provide an example of the difference between an organized person and a disorganized person. The point to make here is that as the writer it is your job to make the argument, to prove your claim. In order for you to prove your claim, you must specify a certain audience to which to cater.

Chronology

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about the origin of the support you are using. Where does the factual evidence originate? Who is saying what, in what context, at what time, when? Pay attention to preposition words that signify present time and/or location. These include the following: “before,” “after,” “during,” “throughout,” and “at.” As you read the text, circle these prepositions. They are good indications of what happens chronologically.

Rhetoric

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about your understanding of key words in the author’s work. You must define the nature of the language expressed within each literary work. In other words, in Table 4 why does John Quincy use the word “separate” twice in his claim? Why does he use “categorize” to refer to the way in which he organizes his socks? This points to choice of words, or rhetoric.

Ask yourself each time you read an article, an argument—since the author (of an argument) must persuade you on his or her view—why does the author choose “this” word over a simple one or another? What does “this” word mean? What impact does it have on the rest of the sentences within the paragraph?

Analysis

When your paper lacks a clear argument, the professor isn’t clear about your understanding of engaging the reading, of examining the argument critically. Typically, in writing about an argument, you are not supposed to pick a side; but you are supposed to develop a claim, some view that tells us, as the readers, what you think about the subject in general and specifically. It is ironic to suggest that you can’t pick a side but must develop a claim. However, I can’t disagree with the standard, the consensus on the nature of writing an argument.

The best method for engaging the reading, for examining the argument critically, and not being accused of picking a side, is to analyze the argument. Pick at it. Tear away its layers. Find out what’s inside. Similar to math, reduce the argument to its simplest form by getting to the meat of the author’s views. Most authors who write arguments do so from one of two perspectives: either 1) they want to inform you about the subject or 2) they want to persuade you about the subject, to do or not to do (or believe).

Treat an author’s argument in the same way as you treat a person you are interested in knowing or developing a longer relationship. For example, as a woman interested in a man, you attentively listen to all of his jokes. You notice when he laughs at yours. You notice his smile. You notice how he calls you all the time. You are interested in him. Now what happens when you are not interested in the person? As a woman not interested in a certain type of man, you look for every flaw, every inconsistency, anything to give you a reason not to continue pursuing a relationship or even friendship with the person. In essence, for the one you are interested in, you notice all of the good qualities.

For the one you are not interested in, you notice every bad thing about the person, from head to toe. Now apply this to analyzing a literary work. For the author’s article you are interested in, pick out all of the wonderful qualities the author has to offer and provides to you. For the author’s article you are not interested in, the one whose view you disagree with, criticize everything, every word he or she says from beginning to end.

Table 5 encompasses the major elements that must be present in any argument you develop. The table isn’t the only way to approach an argument, but it is novel in that it helps students understand that their ideas must serve as the foundation or basis of their papers. For example, students typically begin their papers with the ideas of the authors they are discussing, but they don’t begin with their own viewpoints concerning what they think about the topic. Therefore, it is important for students to develop the habit of thinking about a subject before using an author’s words, ideas, and perspectives as crutches.

Table 5:  The Five C’s Checklist:  Claim, Check, Contour, Communicate, Criticize

The Five C’s Primary Secondary
 Claim What is my claim? What do I believe? What do I think about the subject? Do I have any concerns? What are the author’s claims? What are the assumptions? How does the author feel about the subject? What concerns does the author have?
 Check How do I want to support my claim with at least 3 reasons of my own about why I believe what I believe? What are the author’s reasons for what he or she believes about the subject?
 Contour How do I want to structure the body paragraphs of my argument? Can the three 3 reasons function as separate body paragraphs? Is there a clear match between my 3 reasons and the reasons the author provides? Or is there a difference between one of my reasons and the author’s reasons?
 Communicate In what ways, by what method, do I want to show a specific reader the importance of my argument? Who is my reader? How do I want to help my reader throughout the process? In what ways, by what method, does each author show a specific reader the importance of his or her argument? How does each author help the reader throughout the process of reading the argument? How does each author use language? Does the author write rhetorically?
 Criticize What method can I use to engage the reading? What method can I use to engage the reader in reading my argument? Is each author persuasive in his or her method to persuade me about their beliefs on the subject? Or has the author not persuaded me?

The purpose of Table 5 is to serve as a guide for students during the post-reading, pre-writing stages of their arguments, particularly when students first begin sketching an outline.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Excellent Synthesis.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Lacks Clarity

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

The comment “Lacks Clarity” means you need to define your ideas. Before painting a wooden chest or anything wooden, a carpenter sands the wood to further define its sides and edges, in addition to making it distinguishable in quality. When a carpenter finishes the sanding process, the result reflects smooth edges, no roughness or projections easily seen or felt. When moving the hand against the grain of the wood, there is no difficulty or obstacle preventing the process; and the smoothness is pleasing to the touch, ready for the application of paint or finisher.

A paper that needs more definition in general or applied to a particular area is similar to wood that needs sanding before the application of a finisher or paint. When you define the edges of a paper, you make sure to place proper transitions between body paragraphs and prepare the reader for upcoming supporting evidence. Your ideas should not hinder the reader from moving forward in the process. When you don’t expand upon details or add specifics concerning an example, this hinders the learning process for the reader.

In other words, anything that sticks out and isn’t answered at the same time is a hindrance to the reader. The presence of grammar mistakes and errors hinders the process for the reader. These are the edges of the paper that require more sanding. As one solution to this problem, spend sufficient time defining your perspectives.  Evaluate every statement you make within the paper. Your statements represent all the ideas and sentences that are not from the author. In other words, highlight every sentence that is yours and yours alone. Test the sentence to determine if you have answered all of the implied questions: who, what, where, why, when, how, and in what way.

In addition, define concepts, connect ideas, make the theme/thesis distinguishable throughout the paper, and ensure the process is enjoyable for the reader. Don’t leave the reader guessing about your viewpoints. Tell the reader exactly what you are thinking and why your thoughts relate to the subject you are discussing. Set clear boundaries. The reader will not know the meanings of a word that you define as “key.” Make certain that your paper is distinct in quality. In the following sample excerpt, the student makes general assumptions. The paper overall lacks clarity. Let’s read.

Sample Excerpt

De Quincey eagerly acquaints the Malay as oriental. Since they are all somewhat from the same Asian country, he categorizes or equates the two.  To bring more focus, a brief example is needed. Most races feel that it is beneath them to be categorized as one.  Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Cubans are categorized as coming from Latin America or primarily Hispanic. When approached and categorized in a way that insults, they easily take the defensive.  This is what De Quincey has done. He has taken an individual from Asian descent, or for better words, equated the idea that because he looks like he’s Asian, then he must be of Asian descent, following that he must be of Oriental descent.  That’s why he refers to the Malay as the “Oriental One” (451).

Figure 25: Essay Excerpt on “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey

Questions

1) De Quincey categorizes what or who?

2) He equates what with what?

3) Who categorizes this group of people? By what method?

4) Where are the statistics?

5) How do we know this group of people is insulted by a general categorization? Where is the evidence within the context of the literary work?

6) Is De Quincey really guilty of categorization? Is he just guilty of social conditioning, of looking at someone in the same eyes in which society looks at that person?

Explanation

The absolute best method for clarifying your ideas is to spend time with your subject. Develop a relationship with your subject in the same way that you develop a relationship with a physical person. For example, when you are in a relationship, you purpose in your heart to get to know everything about the person, the good and the bad. You figure out the commonalities and the differences between the two of you, and how you might potentially function as a couple.

Therefore, this same ideology applies to the relationship you should have with your paper. Know your subject matter. Learn the business of your subject matter. Involve yourself. Be nosey with your subject. Figure out your subject. Figuratively, don’t leave the relationship until you absolutely know about your subject’s ways and mannerisms.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Good Material

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

Think about material used to make clothes. Material comes in wool, cotton, silk, polyester, spandex, suede, and leather. Although the material has a form, it doesn’t have one standard form. Sometimes the form is triangular or rectangular; and other times, material can take an irregular shape. An experienced seamstress would have to take an irregular shape or a pattern (the material) and cut and form it into something usable, because on the sewing table, it is just a shape, nothing more.  It doesn’t serve a purpose. It doesn’t forewarn us about what it will become. All we see on the table is the potential of the material.

As you perform the research for your papers, you will discover types of materials. In this sense, material comes in the form of reference sources such as journals, books, anthologies, newspapers, and films. When you place these sources on your desks, they look like shapes. They don’t have any particular form other than the form presented to you. In other words, the book remains a book until you incorporate some of its elements into your essay.

When you do this, the book takes on a shape. Similar to the seamstress who takes an irregular shape or a regular pattern and cuts it into something of use, you, as the student writer, take a book’s elements, in the form of a quote, analyze (cut) its value, and incorporate it into your academic paper. What originally had no shape in the beginning is shaped. In other words, the book as a shape is useful.

However, don’t get too excited. You were successful in locating a source for your paper, yes, but anyone can find a source. You can pick a source off the library shelf and incorporate any quote; but just because you are able to incorporate an element from a book (a quote) doesn’t necessarily mean that the element is completely useful.

In other words, just because you have found a book–and have found some use for a book–doesn’t mean that the book is good to use for your paper. This is why it is important to understand the purpose of your essay, what you hope to accomplish, because if you incorporate an element that doesn’t fit within the overall scheme of your essay, then your element, the quote or the book, isn’t useful.

Therefore, “Good Material” means two things: 1) you know how to analyze a source to determine its value, and 2) you know how to incorporate sources that are the right fit for a position within your essay.  No one reading your essay should ask the question Why is this here? A professor can easily determine if you understand the quote you are incorporating within your paper just by your ability to incorporate the quote accurately. You may have not read the whole book, but your professor knows that you have a good understanding of the material.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Good Example(s)

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

In the following sample excerpt, the student moves from general to specific in incorporating textual evidence to function as an example.

Sample Excerpt

According to Diana Trilling’s The House of Mirth Revisited, this standard implies differences for the married woman and differences for the unmarried woman at the turn of the century; and these distinctions support the authoritarian social structure.  These standards are traditional in that they support “a married woman so long as she has the protection of her husband’s name and bank account but where the woman who has not yet reached this economic sanctuary must guard against the slightest misstep” (117).  For example, the reader readily recognizes a double standard at work when Lily’s society condemns her for the gambling debts she incurs, the visits to Selden, and the money she takes from her friend’s husband; but this same society looks the other way and “can accept unruffled Mrs. Dorset’s extramarital excursions of Mrs. Fishers’ ‘loan’ from the gentleman of her acquaintance” (Trilling 117).

Figure 24: Essay Excerpt on Lily, The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Assessment

Lily’s gambling debts represent her “slightest misstep.”

Without this textual evidence, the paragraph lacks credibility. 

In adding this example, the reader can easily validate the writer’s claims.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Clarify

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

Take a dirty, see-through, with no special colorings or design glass from your sink and fill it up with water. It doesn’t matter if the water is cold or hot. Place the glass on a counter on your living room or kitchen table. Take a seat in a chair. Try to see anything in the house through the glass. Is what you see (i.e., the television or a person) clear? Now look around the house or your room. You can see clearly, right?

A paper filled with gaps, shakable evidence, and sloppy content represents a glass with dirty water filled with impurities. A paper that is solid, organized, structurally sound, with credible and verifiable evidence is a paper that is clear. When your professor writes “Clarify” near a section, this comment means that he can’t see through to your ideas because of the jumbled writing and confusing words.

All of these issues with your paper represent a stumbling block, a hindrance for the professor. Clarify your ideas means clarify what you are trying to say.  Ask yourself What do I want to say exactly? Then just write what you think. During the revision part of your writing, you can format and restructure the sentence so that it fits formally into the academic essay.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Brilliantly Done

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

Professors are not typically eager to write this comment on your paper. First, you must understand that when you receive such a comment, the professor is saying to you that you have “earned” the assigned grade. The grade of “A” does not represent a gift in any form. Yes, “Brilliantly Done” corresponds to the receiving of an “A.” These two go together. No professor will unconsciously assign an “A” and immediately imply “brilliance.” However, not every paper that receives an “A” represents brilliance.

When the professor writes both an “A” AND the words “brilliant,” then he is specifically calling attention to your work. He is setting it apart from the other graded papers. There is no way to tell if your paper is the first or the middle or the last. It is easy to assume that only at the end of reading all of the papers that your paper has received the highest commendation.

Professors never tell their secrets, so just assume that your professor is operating with strong mental energy, calling attention to his belief in your keen intelligence, great talent, and skill. Just know that a comment of “brilliant” is not typical, not the standard, and not comparable.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Can You Elaborate More on That

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

See the comment “Elaborate.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Big Improvement

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

Professors appreciate students who improve their papers. When a professor returns a student’s essay with the option of revising it, he expects that the revised essay will be significantly different from the previous paper(s). Professors tend to label “difference” as “improvement.” In other words, you should never just edit the grammar and think this is all the professor wants from you. Editing the work for grammar is only one part of the revision process.

Revising for tone, logic, coherence, consistency, and coordination of ideas is a labor-intensive process that requires your unwavering patience. You cannot procrastinate when it comes to revising a paper. Your professor will know if you do, because the work in its final stage will expose the truth.

Professors use “Big Improvement” for one or two reasons: 1) to assess the work positively and 2) to provide an assessment that the student’s work has improved, but not significantly to warrant the highest grade. First, professors use this comment to highlight the fact that your paper as a whole has improved from the first read. For example, students typically submit papers that questionably reflect second drafts as final draft papers.

With this in mind, they expect higher points than the essay itself warrants. Although the paper may only be, in essence, a second draft essay, the revised paper as a whole shows greater potential than the first submission. Therefore, a professor will use “Big Improvement” to highlight the fact that you have revised the paper in order to meet the requirements. This is a positive assessment. Your professor may choose to raise your grade by one-half point depending upon how much you have improved the paper.

On the other hand, a comment of “Big Improvement” also reflects a particular sentiment of your professor in regards to the analysis of your paper. Creating and developing “analysis” has become an art. How you evaluate a literary work has direct correlation to how you understand the work. For example, the author never writes with the reader in mind. The author writes for a multitude of reasons, but he never says just before he writes, “I wonder if they (the readers) will like this section.”

In addition, you are not in the room or in the place when the author writes, neither are you in the author’s mind. Therefore, you can’t be certain of what he thinks. You can only assume. You evaluate the work by weighing what the author writes about against criticism and your own views about the work. Since students are not thoroughly familiar with the author’s work and the practice of analyzing, they tend to generalize and summarize the author’s ideas and sentiments and base their understanding on unverified, unvalidated assumptions.

Students typically write first and second draft papers using these methods. The professor’s job is to pick out those areas that need more analysis and more specific details. In this regard, the professor’s primary goal is to inform the student that she needs less summary and more critical thinking.

When the second draft reflects improvement in quality of writing (stronger sentence structure), accuracy of analysis (no unverified assumptions), addition of specific, relevant details (textual support), and sound assessments (evaluation and critical thinking), then professors use “Big Improvement” as a comment that best reflects their sentiment about the ideas you express within the essay. With this type of paper, your professor may raise your grade by one letter, but not to the highest mark.

You may be confused by this, because how professors grade or how they think about your papers isn’t always subject to general reason and logic. Although you have made changes, offered more analysis, and brought credibility, the revised paper still doesn’t reflect an increase in quality as a whole.

In other words, you do well to provide analysis in some areas, but you are 1) still summarizing in other body paragraphs. In addition, 2) the condition of your analysis is shaky. 3) You make claims that are arguably different from the author’s work or the literary critic’s view. 4) The details you provide may be specific, but not necessarily relevant for some paragraphs. 5) Your assessment of the work still needs work. 6) You are still overly generalizing without also thinking about the work from a critical, objective viewpoint. In other words, the 7) views you express and the ones you incorporate from references are still very much subjective. 8) You are still leaving out vital information necessary to the analysis. 9) The paper as a whole appears to be one-sided.

Keep “Big Improvement” in mind as you rewrite and revise areas of your essay that require quality, analysis, details, and sound evaluation. Your professor will undoubtedly expect subsequent third and final draft papers to reflect significant difference from previous drafts.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Much More Could Be Said Here.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Better/Much Better

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

In general, professors use margin comments for two major reasons:

1) to prepare you to write a subsequent draft and

2) to highlight areas that lack and/or require analysis.

For example, a professor might offer students an opportunity to rewrite a paper for a better grade. Without the revision, students who don’t revise the paper will undoubtedly receive a less than favorable mark on that particular assignment.

In some cases, a professor might deem an unrevised paper as a failure to meet all of the class requirements. In other words, a professor might consider revising the essay as a contributing factor to your grade. Just remember that not all professors grade the same or use the same margin comments for grading purposes.

On the other hand, professors also use margin comments to help you guide your analysis. Professors don’t write your papers. They guide. They mentor. They highlight areas that need further clarification, more specifics, and sound evaluation. The analysis part of the paper is where you, as the student, evaluate what you have presented.

For example, you evaluate the quotes, supporting evidence, and views of the author you are discussing. The analysis doesn’t hold plot or general summaries. Therefore, when a professor writes “much more could be said here,” the professor’s goal is to help you elaborate more on an example or on a quote. This doesn’t mean that one paragraph is completely better than another. This only means you must give the same time and care to each body paragraph of your paper.

With this in mind, when you receive “Better” or “Much better,” your professor is calling attention to the second version of your paper or the part of your original paper that exemplifies “analysis.” Your analysis is basically a method you choose as a way of uncovering the hidden meanings of the text(s) you are discussing within the paper. To the professor, the comments mean that the newest contribution is more favorable than the last. In addition, the comments suggest that your analysis is more in line with or proportionate to the standard method of analyzing a quote, which includes evaluation.

Examine the following excerpt and the questions in the side bar (print texts). Notice the difference between the second bolded sentence and the last underlined sentences. The student could have provided more evaluation of her statement. However, with regard to the underlined sentence, the analysis is “much better.”

Sample Excerpt

De Quincey introduces the pains of opium, which presents the Malay.  The Malay knocked at the door and De Quincey wondered immediately “what business a Malay could have to transact amongst English Mountains” (449).  De Quincey thought that he might be on his road to a seaport some forty miles away. He continues to mentally attack the Malay as the servant opens the door. There stood both the Malay and a little girl. By De Quincey’s view “his attainment in English were exactly of the same extent as hers in the Malay, there seemed to be an impassable gulf fixed between all communication of ideas, if either party had happened to possess any” (449). It was clear that De Quincey didn’t take too kindly to whom he deemed outsiders.  He couldn’t fathom the nature of the Malay, knowing that he is below De Quincey, as to why it would prompt him to call upon De Quincey. De Quincey assumes his inner criticism of the Malay and the little girl.  The visitors called upon De Quincey to exorcise a demon from their house.

He accepts the request and hesitantly goes down to the house and comes upon the group “which presented itself, arranged as it was by accident, though not very elaborate, took hold of my fancy and my eye in a way that none of the statuesque attitudes exhibited in the ballets at the Opera House . . . had never done” (450). Simply stated, they are savaged, untamed and primitive.  They don’t fit the perception of people who are among the social elite.  By De Quincey’s standards, they are illiterate and uneducated to the world around them; nor do they have the potential for pursuing the value of an education.  It is his belief that they don’t value anything.

Figure 23: Essay Excerpt on “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey

Context

Providing context will help you understand the relationships between characters. Here is an assessment of this excerpt.

1) How do the pains of opium “present” the Malay?

2) What was the relationship between a Malay and an Englishman? Provide historical context.

3) What is clear?

4) What exactly is De Quincey’s attitude toward the Malay? What is his perspective? Who were the Malay?

“Much Better”

The professor wrote “Much Better” near the underlined sentence in contrast to the second bolded sentence. This means that the student has provided some analysis, an interpretation of the ideas within the context of the author’s work and the (student’s) understanding of the work.

Whereas the student doesn’t fully develop her ideas in the beginning, in this one paragraph, instead of just incorporating a quote, she adds an explanation. This is why this paragraph is different from the previous one.  It is better.  In other words, much more could be said with regard to the second bolded sentence. 

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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