Sentence Unfocused

In taking an essay exam, within the allotted time you must be able not only to take the exam but also drown out the surrounding noise, the coughs, the people knocking their pens against the desk, and other distracting elements. You have to focus. You have to see the object, the test before you, understand each question, and be able to construct a focused response without rambling.

Your response must consist of a solid thesis, strong supporting paragraphs with relevant evidence and examples, and a conclusion that demonstrates to your professor an observer’s point of view about the subject matter, which often represents the contemplation of the larger implications.

Sometimes the allotted time is a mere 50 minutes; and sometimes it is one hour and fifty minutes. If a student doesn’t answer each question or fails to construct a solid response, then he or she can expect to receive a lower grade. In some cases, the professor is more lenient with in-class essay exams. However, a professor tends not to be forgiving with a student who has had the whole weekend to write and revise a paper.

To the professor, the whole weekend represents three 24-hour days, which is more than enough time to allow for the space of revision in order to bring more focus to a part or many parts of an essay. This is not the main point of this comment. It is just a simple, but necessary digression.

When you are writing a paper, concentrate particularly on the object before you, and focus all of your energies by drowning out the surrounding noise. In the following sample excerpt, the student hasn’t allowed enough time to revise. During the revision process, certain errors of a paper will become clear.

For example, if there are disjointed statements, abrupt transitions, and undefined phrases, then all of these issues will need to undergo correction during the revision process. The following excerpt reflects a student who doesn’t remember her thesis and who hasn’t dedicated enough time to determine if a topic sentence matches her thesis. Let’s read.

Sample Excerpt

In a chapter entitled “Odysseus’ Scar,” Auerbach explores the visible nature of identity, whereas the modern conception is often internal.

Figure 63: Essay Excerpt on Auerbach’s “Odysseus’ Scar”


1) How does Auerbach explore the visible nature of identity?

2) What is the visible nature of identity?

3) What is the modern conception?

4) Does the “modern conception” of this sentence refer to the modern conception of the nature of identity?

5) Does Auerbach explore the modern conception?


In the sample excerpt, the student wants to focus on “identity,” because this is the center of the entire paper and the thesis; a focus on “visible nature” as a description of “identity” is on the right track. However, a sidetrack into “modern conception” has nothing to do with the overall theme of the paper, which is to focus on identity and the visible qualities that determine such things as race, how these visible elements contribute to the discrimination of certain people(s), and how they incite discrimination.

The simplest solution for solving a problem where a particular sentence lacks focus is to tell you to remember your purpose for writing the paper. For anything in the forms of examples and support that doesn’t match your thesis, your purpose, categorize it as irrelevant and throw it out.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Sentence Sense.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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