Vague Generality

Much more can be said here” is the typical comment that a professor will write on your essays.

Oftentimes, you will find as you write academic papers that you provide general, ambiguous, and vague statements throughout your analysis. When we write, we always assume that our professors know what we are attempting to discuss and/or prove, so we believe that it is not necessary to provide detailed information concerning every idea, example, or related statement.

We assume this because we know the professor has read the literary work. We reason since the professor has read the work, why should we have to include everything under the sun as analysis. We assume incorrectly and inappropriately.

As students, your primary task is to prove the points you make within your analysis. In other words, every time you make a point, whether the point represents an assumption, example, detail, or idea, it is your job to provide the necessary and sufficient information to support your claims.

It is not up to the professor to figure out what you are trying to say or what ideas you want the professor to take from your work. It is your job to make certain that the professor understands your points and how you arrive at proving your argument. In the sample excerpt the student offers a general assessment of a particular character within the context of a Shakespearean play, The Merchant of Venice. Let’s read the excerpt.

Sample Excerpt

Even though both Antonio and Bassanio recognize that they need money from Shylock, which leads to projected hatred, the irony implied here and seen later towards the end of the play is that Portia represents a sort of moneylender too. Her figure in this society is of great wealth. They consider it a tragedy to take from Shylock but find it okay towards the end when Shylock wants his pound of flesh to ask money for Antonio’s payment of the forfeit from Portia. Portia offered to pay six times the principal and at the end where Antonio is jailed and tried, Shylock didn’t want the money. He wanted the law: “I crave the law,/ The penalty and forfeit of my bond” (Bullman 125).

Figure 51: Essay Excerpt on Portia, The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare

Problems

The student doesn’t provide a clear assessment of her ideas by developing detailed statements.

For example, the student doesn’t define “Portia’s wealth” nor does the student define how she is a moneylender. Here are some questions to consider:

1) Does Portia’s wealth contribute to the assumption that she is sort of a moneylender?

2) Where is the evidence necessary to substantiate this claim?

3) What is the perception of Portia?

4) How do other characters see or perceive Portia?

You will find answers to these questions within the text itself. In other words, the literary text is the best guide for your paper, because it houses all of the answers you need.

Explanation

It is always easier to construct vague, general statements about the literary work. This doesn’t require much work to do. It is equally easy to project contemporary thinking onto a historical text.

To safeguard against providing unsubstantiated, unvalidated assumptions, always write what you mean. Then explain what you mean by providing descriptions and offering an extended, objective view of the work. Don’t forget to live in the immediate text, which is the book right in front of you.

For additional explanations, see also the comments “Your Ideas Are Too General,” “Too Broad,” “Too General to be Meaningful,” “Much More Could Be Said Here,” and “Incomplete.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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