Not Sure What You Mean Here

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Analysis vs. Plot Summary)

When you receive the comment “Not sure what you mean here,” in reference to a point you make within your paper, this means that you haven’t considered your audience. “Not sure what you mean” has the same effect as “I am not sure what you mean. I am not sure what you want me to understand.”

As a student, the primary audience of your paper is always your professor.  The primary audience also includes your classroom peers. Any other person reading your paper represents your secondary audience.

When writing and developing the content for your essays, you must keep the audience in mind at all times. Although an author doesn’t write with the reader in mind, the student, on the other hand, must write specifically for the audience. As students, you must provide an explanation of your points, especially when you include examples to prove your points.

In some cases, you can get away with not explaining every point; in a five-page paper, you do not need to explain every point. However, if your professor requires peer group activity where you switch papers, you will get the question from your fellow classmate, “What do you mean here?”

Students ask this type of question when they see that you haven’t explained a point or provided an explanation for an example. “What do you mean here?”, “Not sure what you mean,” and “I am not sure what you mean” all signify that the person doesn’t understand what you are trying to convey within your essay.

Explaining the “what” is important. You may say (write) many things in your paper, but the many things don’t have any sort of connection between them. In other words, the one thing you say can mean anything. The last thing you say can mean something entirely different; but as we continue to read your paper we don’t know that there is actually a difference between the things you are discussing.

In the following sample excerpt, the student writer doesn’t define how she will use a particular term in her paper and she also doesn’t provide the meaning of the term within the context of her paper. Let’s read.

Sample Excerpt

To go against someone’s will is to take away that person’s choice and option.  There is a natural, inherent instinct to will.  Free choice involves free will to do whatever it is one wants to do without permission to do so. It really doesn’t matter what the other person thinks.  But what does matter is when one’s will is manipulated and picked out of a lineup, so to speak, as a target. Then that person has to deal with defending his or her will to the manipulator.  Adonis is determined to scorn love, but Venus has something else in mind.  And in the end, Venus doesn’t keep (physically) what she wills for herself.  But between the both of them, love still demands its own will.

Figure 34: Essay Excerpt on Venus and the Will of Love, “Venus and Adonis,” William Shakespeare


Student applies “personification” to a term and doesn’t define how she will use the term.


1) Is “free choice” the same thing as “free will”?

2) How is the will manipulated? Can a will be manipulated? Or can a person be manipulated?

3) Is Adonis’ determination to scorn love his free choice or his free will?

4) What does Venus have in mind? What does she do?

5) Love is not a person. It can’t demand.

Revision Considerations

The best way to correct areas of your paper that require more meaning is to continue to define terms, relationships, characters, and contexts. Define how a term links relationships between characters. If you are using the term to connect characters, then provide context for the term.

For example, if you are using “free will” as a definition for “free choice,” then add this as a statement within your analysis. After this, describe how you will use the term to connect characters or contexts. Consider the following scenario:

Literary Work A offers insight about Female Character A, who is jealous of Female Character B. Both characters exercise “free will” for the purpose of obtaining what they desire. Free will is defined as the right of an individual to choice. When the female characters “choose” to pursue Male Character A, they demonstrate free will. Choosing to pursue this male character is not the only time they exercise free will. In several areas of the work, specifically within references to major story events, they choose to exercise free will, which through their actions brings many secondary characters together. One example includes Event A where both female characters sponsor a party for the social elite. The female characters exercise free will as they demonstrate their jealousy in front of society by arguing over Male Character A. In essence, the exercise of free will between characters within the literary text represents a method major characters use as a premeditated choice for pursuing and obtaining what they desire.

This scenario is simple, but I think you get the point. At the beginning of a body paragraph, define how you will use a particular term and define how you will use that term to describe the relationship between characters.

Adopting the practice of defining what you mean by a particular term and/or concept will ensure that you define even the simplest of terms and provide the meaning necessary for ushering your reader throughout the analysis of your paper.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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