Unclear What You Mean By

Many times as students you try to exercise your intellectual muscles and use words and phrasing that you think will make you appear smart and intelligent. Sometimes it is just better to use a word that is simple, straightforward, and appropriate.

Read the following sample excerpt. The student uses phrasing that proves to be ineffective for the analysis.

Sample Excerpt

They tended to be free from cares and retaliatory motives. It can be said that the unspoken goal of the Indian was fulfilled.

Figure 67: Essay Excerpt from Student Paper, “The Legacy of Conquest”


1) What is a retaliatory motive?

2) How can a goal be “unspoken”?

3) How can a goal “speak”?

4) What was the goal of the Indian?

5) What was the secret of the Indian?

Revision Considerations

Think clearly about what you want the reader to know and understand about the literary work. Then reread the literary work, those particular parts you want to include as sections within your analysis. Make certain that you understand the work completely. Be thorough and take notes. After this, write out what you understand. Check it to be sure it parallels what the author writes.

Then begin to develop an analysis based upon your understanding of the text. Use third-person singular or plural to present characters and other ideas. Once you have established a sound understanding and well-written prose now think about the reader. What specifically do you want the reader to know about the particular literary work, characters, and author? Craft one sentence, something similar to a mission statement.

Rephrase your analysis so that it appeals to the reader figuratively. This process will help you to construct clear, definable statements. “Unclear What You Mean By” is a simple comment the professor uses to help you clarify your statements and also the goals for your analysis.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Not Sure What You Mean Here.”


The title of the student’s essay derives from the title of a sophomore textbook on the topic of Western history.

The textbook is titled The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West by Patricia Nelson Limerick (ISBN-13: 978-0393304978).

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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