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The Author’s Ideas (Ambiguous)

This is a subsection of the comment “Ambiguous (Thesis and Author’s Ideas).” You may access the comment by clicking on the link.

The Author’s Ideas

After reading a good portion of your paper, a professor will often decide that one of your topic sentences or the support for a topic sentence isn’t as clearly defined as it could be or the topic sentence or support for the topic sentence doesn’t accurately support the ideas the author expresses. When something is “ambiguous” to your professor, this means that your example or the ideas you express implies multiple meanings in contrast to the perspective of the author’s text you are discussing. Let’s develop a topic sentence for the revised thesis to understand our points here.

Revised Thesis

In my paper, I will discuss Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I will apply ten composition principles in order to illustrate the points he makes about segregation and direct action as separate but connected entities.

Topic Sentence

King discusses segregation among the Negroes and the white moderate.

Supporting Evidence

First Piece

“Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?”

Second Piece

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ ”

Explanation of the Supporting Evidence

1) Both quotes do not equally represent a discussion of “segregation.” a) The first quote is about segregation and its legal influence and social impact. b) The second quote is about the white moderates’ view of the Negroes’ goal of direct action. In King’s letter, segregation is a cause; direct action is the effect.

2) The use of “among” is not appropriate for the contexts above. The word “among” means of a group, in a group, and between group members. The use of this word suggests that segregation exists among a group, but the Negroes and the white moderates represent two distinct social groups. Segregation affects each group differently.

3) In order for the student to be able to use the quote about the white moderates’ view of the Negro, the student would have to ask these questions to promote further research: a) Does the white moderate believe in segregation? b) If so, then what are the white moderate’s views on this concept? Are they the same as the Ku Klux Klanner? c) In what context has the white moderate directly contributed to the segregation of Negroes?

Explanation of the Topic Sentence

In this case, if the student wants to use the direct quotes as supporting evidence for the topic sentence, the student would have to reconfigure the topic sentence so that it complements the ideas expressed within the direct quotes. The student would have to remove such words as “among” and “between.”

Steps to Revising the Topic Sentence

The student’s topic sentence is this: King discusses segregation among the Negroes and the white moderate.

Ask yourself these questions before revising:

What does King actually write about segregation?

King defines segregation as “unjust.” Here is the direct quote: “An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

How does King relate the term to Negroes?

Here is the direct quote: “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected?  Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered.”

How does King relate the term to the white moderate?

The following quotes represent different places where King refers to the white moderate as a group, but not to the white moderate as a segregated group. Here are two direct quotes.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ ”


“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Does King apply the term to both the Negro and the white moderate as one group?

No. The distinctions between the two different social groups are clear.

Revising the Topic Sentence

In the letter, King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program the Negroes have adopted as a response to segregation.

Now the topic sentence serves as an accurate reflection of the ideas within King’s work.

Every student is capable of writing at this level, but most students would not provide this kind of detailed information in their topic sentences. The first topic sentence we began with is typical. However, just because it is typical doesn’t mean that the topic sentence is sufficient for your paper. You must go through the process of verifying if you have developed a specific topic sentence, one that at the same time both supports the thesis and prepares the reader for what you will discuss in each paragraph. With this in mind, endure the process of answering the following just before you compose each topic sentence:




King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program.


King discusses these ideas in the letter.


The topic sentence we are revising doesn’t state why directly, but by implication we know that King’s purpose for writing the letter is to respond to the clergymen’s criticisms of his work and ideas. In addition, we can also go back to the letter and get the actual quote.

Note:  The implication we have made here matches the ideas expressed within King’s letter.

We imply that King is writing about segregation in the letter as a response to the clergymen’s criticisms. We assume correctly according to King’s words: “Seldom do I pause to answer criticisms of my work and ideas.”


We have not added a time factor to the topic sentence, but we can rectify this easily by adding a few keywords. King defines “just law” and “unjust law” before he defines segregation as representing an unjust law. After King’s discussion of how segregation affects the Negro, he defines the views of the white moderate. Therefore, adding the correct time-specific terminology within your paper will help the reader understand the structure of King’s letter.


King handwrites the letter. This is implied. We can verify this implication by King’s first line: “While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “ ‘unwise and untimely.’ ” We have to assume that King does not have a typewriter in jail.

Figure 47: Sample of a Revised Topic Sentence

 In the letter, King discusses how segregation affects the Negroes in Birmingham, Alabama and subsequently how the white moderates feel about the direct-action program the Negroes have adopted as a response to segregation.

The word “subsequently” is a much more appropriate and efficient word than adding both “before” and “after.” However, within the sentences that follow after the topic sentence, it is very important to make sharper distinctions between what happens first, second, third, and last. In addition, in these sentences, you can account for “why” and “how.”

Summary Steps

Always stay close to the meaning evoked from the immediate text. The immediate text is the book lying on the desk in front of you. Always examine the author’s words.

Develop implications from the immediate text; but don’t project your own implications, meanings that are not related to the author’s work. Your implications will appear as unsupported assumptions.

Whenever you are trying to prove a point by using support and data and evidence, make sure your point corresponds to the evidence as it relates to the meaning of the text. In other words, leave no room for uncertainty.

Make your support and the evidence you provide definite and provable, not probable.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.


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Ambiguous (Thesis and Author’s Ideas)

Typically, there are three areas within the context of writing where students construct ambiguous statements:

Thesis: Your thesis within the introductory paragraph of the essay

Author’s Ideas: Your presentation of the author’s ideas within the essay

Revision Plan: See the comment “Ambiguous (Revision Plan)” for more information.

The Thesis

Constructing the thesis is a difficult task. According to prevailing course textbooks on “how to write a thesis,” a thesis is basically an unproved statement. It typically assumes a position in the introductory paragraph of your paper. Depending upon a student’s taste, sometimes he or she will position the thesis as the very first sentence; on the other hand, sometimes a student will present some introductory information and then place the thesis as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.

In considering the thesis, the student must construct a thesis that is attainable, measurable, and clear from ambiguity. It doesn’t matter where the student chooses to place the thesis, if the reader can’t find parts of the thesis in the body paragraphs, then the student has not been successful in proving the thesis; and the student will surely lose the attention of the reader.

Figure 44 below provides a sample of an ambiguous thesis. Let’s read.

Figure 44: Example of an Ambiguous Thesis

In my paper, I will discuss how Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles to convey his point about direct action and segregation.

What is ambiguous about the above thesis? In other words, what is the ambiguity? A standard dictionary defines the word “ambiguous” as having more than one meaning or causing uncertainty. The same dictionary defines “ambiguity” as an expression or statement that has more than one meaning. The student’s thesis has five parts:

1) What the student will do

2) How Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles

3) How Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles to convey his point

4) How Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles to convey his point about direct action

5) How Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles to convey his point about segregation

Let’s locate the ambiguity in the student’s thesis.

Ambiguity #1: how Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles

Ambiguity #2: his point about direct action and segregation

Ambiguity #3: word sequence, cause-and-effect (i.e., direct action and segregation)

Before revising for ambiguity, let’s read the first paragraph of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” under Figure 45.

Figure 45: Excerpt of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

 Letter from Birmingham Jail

April 16, 1963


While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.”  Seldom do I pause to answer criticisms of my work and ideas.  If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work.  But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

 Ambiguity #1: How Martin Luther King, Jr. uses ten composition principles

After this paragraph King discusses his reasons for being in Birmingham and he answers the criticisms of the clergymen throughout the rest of the letter, providing for the reader his interpretation of just and unjust laws, segregation, and the purpose of the direct action nonviolence program.

However, nowhere in this first paragraph of “Letter from Birmingham Jail” does King discuss applying ten composition principles (i.e., description, narration, example, division or analysis, classification, process analysis, comparison and contrast, definition, cause-and-effect analysis, and argument and persuasion) as a method he will use to convey any point he makes; nor does he use composition principles within any other part of the letter. What is King’s thesis? Does King have a thesis? In other words, does King have to prove this statement: Seldom do I pause to answer criticisms of my work and ideas? What in King’s statement is there to prove?

There is nothing. King’s statement falls under the category of purpose. The word “purpose” means to set something as a goal (something that somebody wants to achieve). King outlines his purpose for writing the letter and then provides supporting information, data, and evidence. He develops topic sentences, which he uses to support his purpose, not necessarily a thesis. Observe the differences in the following definitions before moving forward:

Thesis: essay subject; unproved statement

Purpose: set something as a goal

Goal: something that somebody wants to achieve

Unproved: not proved true; not established as true or factual

Prove: establish the truth of something by providing evidence or argument

These definitions provide necessary information to help us understand the tasks that follow.

Observe the difference between each thesis. The first part of the sample is a question we use to invoke an answer. The answer to the question in italics represents the type of statement most students typically construct as a thesis.

Statement #1: Purpose

What is King’s purpose for writing? King’s purpose for writing is to answer criticisms of his work and ideas.

Is this a goal? Is this something that King wants to achieve or hopes he will achieve by the end of the letter?

Is this a thesis? Is this something that isn’t established as true or factual? Do we need to establish as true or factual anything in statement #1?

Statement #2: Thesis

What is King’s thesis? King’s thesis is he pauses to answer criticisms of his work and ideas. King’s thesis may be to answer criticisms of his work and ideas.

Do we need to prove any aspect of this thesis? Yes, there is an aspect of the student’s thesis that we need to prove, but this aspect relates only to King’s process not to the student’s thesis. The process King undergoes represents the act of proving that he is not who the clergymen assume he is.

In other words, the clergymen criticize King by writing that King’s actions are untimely and unwise.  King counters that his actions are not untimely and unwise as he considers the fact that he has been invited to Birmingham, he has organizational ties in Birmingham, and he is in the city because injustice prevails in Birmingham.

Therefore, which of the two statements represents a more accurate depiction of King’s statement? We can deduce with certainty that Statement #1 outlines what King clearly writes; the statement is verifiable. In other words, what the student writes the reader can find in King’s letter. Therefore, since King is not ambiguous, your thesis shouldn’t be ambiguous. Do what the author does. If the author writes that he or she will use ten composition principles to convey his or her point about direct action and segregation, then do what the author does. Remember also that the author’s purpose for writing something doesn’t necessarily translate as the author’s thesis.

Ambiguity #2: His point about direct action and segregation

One word can affect the direction of the sentence. Within the context of the student’s thesis, the word “point” could mean three different things:

Point #1: King’s point about direct action and segregation as one, inseparable entity

Point #2: King’s point about direct action and segregation as separate, individual entities

Point #3: Will you only include one point in your discussion of King’s purpose for writing or does “point” implicitly mean “points”?

Ambiguity #3: Word sequence, cause-and-effect (i.e., direct action and segregation)

The order of things, called sequence, is important to the author. It should be important to you as the writer. When you keep ideas and the author’s points in the order in which the author has presented them, you preserve the intent of the author. In addition, the reader needs to know the correct order of the ideas you express because your ideas within your paper are a summary of the ideas the author expresses.

Therefore, you must be accurate. In other words, does “direct action” come before “segregation”? In King’s letter, “segregation” is a cause and “direct action” is the response to segregation. It is the effect; so both of these words require revision to preserve the same logic of the author’s text. Let’s rewrite the thesis without the ambiguities.

Figure 46: Sample of Revised Thesis without Ambiguity

In my paper, I will discuss Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I will apply ten composition principles in order to illustrate the points he makes about segregation and direct action as separate but connected entities.

 Thesis Checklist:

Is this thesis attainable? In other words, is the thesis ambitious? Can we support and analyze the thesis within the five-page paper the professor has instructed us to write?

Is this thesis measurable? Does this thesis have boundaries, or limits? In other words, is the thesis too general? Does it require revision for preciseness? 

Is this thesis clear from ambiguity? Is there any aspect of this thesis that suggests any uncertainty or double meaning?

Is the above revised thesis a thesis? By today’s standards, the revised thesis constitutes as a thesis, a statement that has not been proven, for which the student will provide topic sentences, supporting evidence, and analysis in order to prove the ideas invoked from the statement (the thesis).

However, according to the definition of the word for “thesis,” the revised thesis represents a plan, a method for achieving an objective, an intention, and an outline for how the student will construct the body of the essay. In essence, it represents both a statement the student can use to prove and validate ideas and it also represents the student’s “purpose” for writing.

Click here for “The Author’s Ideas (Ambiguous).”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Active Voice/Passive Voice

In order to understand the difference between “active voice” and “passive voice,” you must have a firm comprehension of grammar.

Within a sentence lies the 1) grammatical subject (i.e., person, place, thing, or idea), 2) information that tells us who and what the sentence is about, and a 3) verb in a specific tense that determines the action of the subject. The “verb” indicates the time in which an action took, takes, or will take place. It is usually in the past, present, or future.

When you can understand the many functions of the “verb,” then you will know how to correct a sentence presently in the passive voice and change it into a construction that reflects the subject of the sentence actually performing the action.

Below is a brief grammar lesson, based upon the instructions and definitions outlined in Paul Gary Phillips and Joyce B. Phillips’s Essentials of Tutoring: Helping College Students Develop Their Writing Skills. To safeguard against copyright infringement, we have changed the sentences and corresponding explanations.

Following this lesson is an example of how to correct a passive construction and how to convert the sentence into active voice.

A. Simple Tenses: Past, Present, Future

John went to the store.

John goes to the store.

John will go to the store.

B. Perfect Tenses: Past Perfect, Present Perfect, Future Perfect

John had jogged to the store.

John has jogged to the store.

John will have jogged to the store.

C. Progressive Tenses: Past Progressive, Present Progressive, Future Progressive

John was jogging to the store.

John is jogging to the store.

John will be jogging to the store.

D. Perfect Progressive Tenses: Past Perfect Progressive, Present Perfect Progressive, Future Perfect Progressive

John had been jogging.

John has been jogging.

John will have been jogging.

E. Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs are verbs that don’t end in –ed, but can take on past and participle verb forms.

John chose to jog.

John chooses to jog.

John will have chosen to jog.

F. Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

John jogged and ran into the wall. Transitive: the wall (object) receives action of the verb.

John jogs slowly. Intransitive: “jogs” is intransitive because the action is complete in and of itself; the sentence requires no object.

G. Verbals: Participles, Gerunds, Infinitives

Participles, gerunds, and infinitives do not function as verbs in a sentence; they do not indicate tense or when an action begins or ends. Instead, they function as nouns, adverbs, and adjectives, depending upon context.

The excited jogger ran into the wall.  This is a participle.

Although –ed is at the end of “excite,” this verb functions as an adjective, describing the noun “jogger.” The main verb of the sentence is “ran.”

John loves jogging. This is a gerund.

“Jogging” functions as a noun without needing a helping verb. The main verb is “loves.”

John wanted to jog on Monday. This is an infinitive.

The main verb is “wanted.” For example, the infinitive “to do” is not the same thing as the verb “doing.”

Verbals also include Finite and Nonfinite Verbs.

H. Finite Verbs

John jogged. (John decided to jog.)   The action is complete, or finished.

I. Nonfinite Verbs (participles, gerunds, infinitives)

Jogging three hours makes John tired.

Although we know how long John has been jogging, the sentence doesn’t indicate standard verb tense. The sentence doesn’t indicate when John started.

J. Helping Verbs

The following consist of standard helping verbs:

1) “do”

2) “have”

3) conjugated forms and tenses of the “be verb”: is, am, are; was, were

4) “modals”: might, may, must, should, could, would, will (shall), can

The sentences below illustrate the different ways a verb can function in a sentence with the same grammatical subject.

Fred cleans the store. Present tense action

Fred is cleaning the store. Present Participle with linking be verb “is”

Fred might clean the store. Helping Modal: “might”

Fred was cleaning the store. Linking be verb: “was”

Fred cleaned the store. Past tense action        

Fred will clean the store. Future tense action

K.  Definition of a Passive Construction

When a student writer creates a sentence that uses a form of the helping verb “to be,” or uses one of the modals with the past tense form of a main verb (-ed), then he or she constructs a sentence in the passive voice. When using passive voice, the grammatical subject receives the action, but doesn’t perform the action. Below is an example of a sentence in the passive voice, as well as its active voice counterpart:

1) The store was cleaned by Fred. Linking verb “was” in the form of a helper with the -ed form of a main verb

2) Fred cleaned the store.  Past tense action verb. Fred is performing the action.

Notice that the preposition “by” and the position of the subject are keys to understanding that the first sentence represents a passive construction.

In the first example, “store” is the subject of the sentence. It receives the action. However, in the second sentence, “Fred” is the subject of the sentence and “he” performs the action. He cleaned the store. A passive sentence is easily correctable once you understand who the subject of the sentence is and what you want him or her to do.

L. Tips for correcting your sentences

1) Remove the helping verb and the preposition.

2) Focus more on the subject of the sentence.

3) Determine what you want the subject to do.

4) Make your subject perform the action.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Avoid Plot Summary

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

Unless you are writing a technical report that represents an investigation of an incident, never retell the plot of a story in your paper. You can always include a summary of how the relationship between two characters comes to be. Just remember that your professor is familiar with the story, so only a mere three to four lines suffices.

You know when you are in danger of plot summary when these four lines transition into one large paragraph. The sample excerpt represents plot summary. Information below represents an explanation of the student’s problem more fully and includes questions to help the student remove the plot summary. With this in mind, one method that works well for removing plot summary and developing an analysis is answering the questions. In answering the questions, you are analyzing the passages and the theme or themes that are present throughout a work. Let’s read.

Sample Excerpt

They both leave and Elisa notices the visitor as they pass him on the road.  She tried not to look, but did anyway.  She failed to tell Henry that he’d stopped by.  She comments that their outing would be good tonight; Henry instantly noticed that she had changed again.  Elisa notices the plants on the side of the road that the visitor throws out.  She immediately feels rejected and defeated.

Figure 31: Essay Excerpt on Elisa, “Chrysanthemums”


In the sample excerpt, the student recounts the events of Steinbeck’s short story, “Chrysanthemums.” The student doesn’t provide an analysis of the imagery the author uses to convey Elisa’s sentiments and feelings about the visitor’s lack of respect for the chrysanthemums. In other words, the student doesn’t evaluate the significance of the flowers to Elisa.


Why does Elisa feel rejected as she sees the flowers on the road? What do the flowers mean to Elisa? Provide in-text evidence.

Revision Considerations

Another method for removing plot summary is to separate those sentences that represent a retelling of the story. The first step is to examine the sentences. Evaluate them in light of the other sentences you use.

The second step is to determine why you feel the need to retell the story. In other words, what purpose do you want the sentences to serve within a particular body paragraph? If your plot summary is four or more lines, then you have to revise them so that they are only two sentences.

In essence, you only need two prep sentences for the beginning of your analysis. Before you can construct the prep sentences, you must determine what purpose you want the full body paragraph to serve. Then determine the purpose for each sentence you want to use to convey your ideas about the literary work.

Consider the following scenario:

If one body paragraph will highlight all of the issues Character A has in the literary work, then each sentence must service this purpose.

Topic Sentence A will introduce the character’s problem.

Supporting Sentence A will provide a sample event or action.

The prep sentence for Quote A will introduce the quote.

Follow-up Sentence A will evaluate the quote, its significance in the story, which will then lead to another event. Linking events may require a retelling of one part of the story.

Therefore, Two-Sentence Plot Summary A will serve a two-fold purpose: 1) provide more information about the character and also 2) provide a transition between events. After inserting the plot summary, you may insert more evaluation, another quote, or follow-up statements about the summary and/or quote.

The purpose here is to help you think more about the words on the page so you can analyze them. Bringing in a wealth of plot summary doesn’t serve as a fulfillment of the course requirements. Your job as the student is to analyze, not retell the story. You only need no more than two or a maximum of four sentences as prep statements for a quote or for your analysis. Keep this in mind as you revise your analysis.

See also the comment “Move Beyond Summary of Author’s Ideas: Analyze vs. Summarize” for an extended explanation.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Analyze This

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

It is never enough to incorporate a quote. Professors aren’t impressed that you know how to insert a quote within one of your body paragraphs. They want you to analyze the quote. In addition, as professors highlight recurring events and categorize them as themes, they want you to evaluate how those themes affect your understanding about the literary work. The author never writes, “This is a theme in my work.” He just writes. It is up to the professor to point out events, problems, and relationships, which may represent recurring issues or themes in the author’s work.

Therefore, your job is to examine, evaluate, and apply what your professor labels as a theme from all sides. Answer this question: How many sides does this theme have? In reference to sides, we mean corresponding examples. If Male Character A constantly struggles with Issue A, then what does the character’s struggle represent to you?

You must first answer this question, because your answer will represent the introductory statement for your analysis. Now determine if the character’s Issue A is prevalent throughout the work. This is not a recurring theme, but the character’s issue will take you to other areas in the work that affect the character’s views about himself and the world. One or more themes surface when the main character interacts with other characters and causes or is the subject of multiple fictional events. Consider the following scenario:

For example, you may believe that the theme of jealousy is present in Literary Work A. In this literary work, Female Character A constantly struggles with jealousy from beginning to end. From the time the story begins, she is jealous of Female Character B. A hates B and A does everything to try to hinder the progress of B. We see in the work multiple areas where A tries to hurt B. Event A is a great example. Because of her jealousy, Female Character A decides to lie about B so B can’t get the job she wants. B is upset, but perseveres and continues to seek employment later in the story. However, A shows up again and causes Event B.

The theme of jealousy in the literary work is present throughout the work. In other words, it is a recurring theme where every character must confront it. One character causes a problem and the other characters must live with it or adopt a strategy for dealing with it.

Your job as the student writer is to use what the professor highlights as a theme within your analysis, apply the theme, and analyze it from all directions. All directions (sides) refer to characters, events, impact and context. How does the main character’s jealousy affect other characters, their actions and views about the problem?

With this in mind, the best method for developing an analysis is to answer who, what, where, why, when, how, in what way, and to whom. Who does what to whom, why, for what reason; in what way does he or she do this? How does the other person react? This is analysis: 1) breaking down one huge pie into smaller pieces, 2) analyzing each piece, 3) examining similarities and differences, 4) determining if one is greater in value to the others, and 5) providing in detail your thoughts on each piece.

When applying a theme within your analysis, think of the theme as a huge pie. All of the pieces represent the protagonist, supporting characters, corresponding themes, context and location, and author’s intent (purpose). In analyzing a passage within your paper, dare to examine the relationship between all of these characteristics of the work you are discussing. The following is a sample excerpt from a student paper. The student incorporates a useful quote, but fails to address its qualities within the analysis of the paper.

Sample Excerpt

De Quincey resolves his nightmares by offering the reader a slight abstraction of the Oriental dreams.  Before, the dreams had been moral and spiritual terrors, but now the main agents were ugly birds, or snakes or crocodiles, especially the last; “The cursed crocodile became to me the object of more horror than almost all the rest” (457).  The reptile continues to haunt him as he is awakened by small gentle voices speaking to him.  It was his children standing before him showing how well they looked for their outing; because he was able to make the transition from the crocodile to the sight of “human natures and of infancy,” he wept (457).

Figure 30: Essay Excerpt on De Quincey, “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey


1) What is the meaning of “slight abstraction”? Analyze this: slight abstraction.

2) How does De Quincey change from being horrified by his nightmares to being fascinated with the innocence of the smallest “human nature”?

3) Why does he weep?

Revision Consideration

Analyze your use of the quote within the context of the work. What is significant about the quote? Why do you place it at the end of your analysis? What does “human natures and of infancy” mean? Ask and answer as many questions as you can to develop your analysis.

In addition, analyze the keywords you use within the work. What does “slight abstraction” mean within the context of your essay as the term relates to the context of the work.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “Elaborate” and “Not a Theme In.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Analyze Rather Than Summarize

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

See the category “Analysis (Glossary Comment)” and the comment “Move Beyond Summary of Author’s Ideas: Analyze vs. Summarize.” The comment “Analysis” forms Chapter 9: Revising the Analysis, which represents the fifth draft of the revision writing process.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Avoid Slang and Informal Language

See the comment “Don’t Write the Same Way You Talk (Avoid Slang and Informal Language).”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Whenever anyone says “I feel awkward” that person immediately associates the sentiment with feeling out of place. A ninth grader feels out of place at a twelfth grade dance. The same idea can apply to a professor’s observation of either your paper as a whole or a particular passage within the paper.

Review the sample excerpt. In the sample, the student doesn’t define how “Selden” as a character symbolizes a thematic allusion. What does Selden allude to thematically? What are Killoran’s views on structural and thematic allusion? What is “structural allusion”? What is “thematic allusion?” Within the analysis, the student hasn’t answered any of these questions neither has she laid a proper foundation for incorporating literary terms.

Sample Excerpt

Selden symbolizes a thematic allusion according to Helen Killoran’s view on structural and thematic allusions in The House.  Killoran suggests that the “themes that emerge from the allusions sometimes agree with general critical perception, such as [. . .] the idea of Lawrence Selden as a well-meaning but ineffectual Prince Charming” (13).

Figure 5: Essay Excerpt on Selden, The House of Mirth


Student doesn’t define how Selden symbolizes a thematic allusion, nor does she define important literary terms.


With this in mind, what if the student wanted to remove the first sentence as part of an overall revision objective? Removing awkward sentences are easy. The general consensus is if something is out of place, fix it by removing it. However, removing sentences isn’t always an option. Sometimes you just have to confront the task of determining where best to place a sentence to improve the effectiveness of that paragraph.

Sometimes an awkward sentence may need to go somewhere else within the essay. To remove it altogether isn’t always the most productive thing to do. In addition, before you can delete or revise an awkward sentence, you must still answer all of the necessary questions. If you are using a literary term as a basis for your analysis, then you must define that term in light of the passage. You must define how you will use it within your analysis.

If you receive this comment, review the paragraph where the professor places the comment. Study it in relationship to the other paragraphs. Ask yourself this question: Can my paper function fully without this sentence? If it can, then remove the sentence and/or paragraph. However, if it can’t, then you have work to do.

To analyze the sentence fully, start asking questions. One important question is this: What purpose does the sentence have in relation to the other sentences? Study the sentences. Is your sentence a “cause” or an “effect?” What is the context of your sentence? How does it fit within the context of your other sentences and supporting evidence (i.e., quotes)? Don’t make the sentence fit where it doesn’t fit, but do fully maximize its qualities.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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The primary audiences for this textbook are all students of English, ESL, and writing classes. The audience includes students within other disciplines where a particular major requires a writing component. The graduate student of English (graduate TA) is also a primary audience member.

The next audience levels include writing tutors, writing centers, and writing instructors. On this same level, high school students enrolled in advanced placement English, composition, and writing classes also represent an audience for this book.

The third and last audiences for this book are professors and scholars who compile similar glossaries, literary anthologies, and writing handbooks and related textbooks.

In all cases, the academic community, as a whole, represents the major audience. The business community might not have much use for such a glossary, unless business members are educational publishers who are writers of policy and procedure manuals and university guides. In addition, it is highly unlikely, but not farfetched, that the community-at-large will read this glossary and use it as a reference guide for their papers, unless they are in school pursuing continuing education. Students and professionals who primarily write academic and scholarly papers are the ones who will read this glossary.

Therefore, when you write an essay, consider who will read your paper, why and for what reason. Consider and evaluate the information you plan to present in the paper to determine if it is vitally necessary to include. Although the primary audience of your papers will be the professor, don’t always assume that this audience member knows all there is to know about your subject.

You can never go overboard in supplying detail and specifics to a paragraph, but you can lose your reader if the gaps in your paper cause confusion in the reader’s mind. It is possible to add detail and elaborate on an example without adding a flood of plot summary. Provide appropriate transitions between paragraphs that entail supplying to the reader sufficient information to warrant further reading of your paper. Know your audience. This will determine the kind of information you will need in your paper.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.

Read the following paper. It is a weekly response paper written for a Study of Shakespeare class. The paper is presented without correction to grammar, structure, or idea. Why do you suppose a professor might say that the theme you are proposing doesn’t quite work in every example? Let’s review the key and begin reading the essay.

This is the key to the sample essay. It will help you locate the problems quickly within the student essay.

Table 3: Key to Sample Paper on Pericles

Thesis (italics);Theme (bold/italics);Different examples/support (bold)

Here is the student’s essay. Use the key as you read the text.

Figure 2: Sample Student Paper on Pericles

The Theme of Exchange in Pericles

Throughout the play lies the practice of reciprocity.  Many characters desire to go beyond their own personal need for something better regardless of the cost.  In many situations, there is an exchange of ideas, roles, and positions.  But there is one particular point the play desires to make with these different exchanges, that regardless of the gift in return, no exchange is worth the price paid.  And the price paid in the instance of the play is prostitution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “prostitution” in many ways.  It is defined as the “offer of oneself unlawfully, usually for hire, to devote or expose to lewdness.”  Such devotion requires moving the word from a noun to a verb, hence, to prostitute.  So, now the word evokes action and implies the lace of control on the one subjected.  Whoever is being prostituted is subjected to lewdness, shame, and disgrace in many ways.  And the term prostitute translates as incest in the first scene.

For example, the presenter of the play details the actions of King Antioch, who take his “. . . female heir . . .” and “. . . her to incest did provoke” (i.22, 26).  In this exchange, the daughter moves to the role of mother and wife without option or personal inclination.  She is expected to understand the duties of marriage.  Regardless of her innocence, the king has a need or exchange that must be met.  His wife has died and now he needs another wife.  The exchange is fine for him, but detrimental for the Daughter.  He never recognizes her as a mother or wife in speech; instead she is just a daughter.  She is prostituted or exposed to shame by him without regard to her.  She is not permitted any suitors like a father usually presents to his daughter.  Instead, her only pleasure is his pleasure.  He even goes so far as to legalize the exchange (or the lewdness) by establishing a law on her behalf so that anyone who extends beyond the boundary the king set will die (i.35).  The Daughter is prostituted by her own father, and where this is an indirect action, the issue with Marina is altogether direct.  But first, the play directs the attention of the reader to the exchange of Marina by Pericles to Cleon and Dionyza.

In scene thirteen, Pericles has just lost his wife in childbirth.  He is forced to go back to claim his position as king.  His father has died and the people want Helicanus as their ruler, for “. . . Tyrus stands in a litigious . . .” place (xiii.1-2).  Pericles leaves the babe Marina with Cleon and his malicious wife Dionyza.  In this instance, matters concerning position and law take over matters of the heart.  He is leaving his only child with them.  Cleon is the governor of Tarsus, but the child is in an unfamiliar surrounding and she needs the comfort of her father since her mother is supposedly dead.  In this exchange, Pericles has more peace without the responsibility of dealing with a child.  He loves his child and this is very clear toward the end when he finally sees her grown for the first time.  It is fitting that he should suffer the possible loss of his child at the end because of this hasty decision to leave her with others.  It is probable that Pericles has committed such an unnatural act because of the supposed death of his wife.  One may argue that leaving the child is the best thing to do because she would be out of harm’s way.  But what is more detrimental, leaving her at an early stage without her father, or in the company of strangers?  Considering the time and the delicate issue at hand, there are no right answers.  But his decision to leave Marina proves detrimental for her because Dionyza envies and despises Marina, for she “. . . gets all praises . . .” (xv.33-34).  Marina is a threat to the public praises that Dionyza’s daughter should receive.  She plots Marina’s murder through the intermediary Leonine.  Leonine fails to secure Dionyza’s complete trust and messes up the plan to kill Marina.  Instead, a pack of pirates steal Marina, selling her into prostitution.  The word “steal” deserves attention.  At this instance, the pirates don’t really know that they are stealing away Marina’s character, her virtue, and especially her choice.  Where Dionyza also steals her choice by planning her murder, the pirates really do her in, physically.  Dionyza is too much of a coward to do her own dirty work, and this is probably due to her husband’s position.  On the other hand, this is the life the pirates lead, that of supply and demand.  They supply prostitutes and demand money in exchange.  One especially clear definition of prostitute is devote, or to devote to lewdness.

The players, Pander, Boult, and Bawd, are “devoted” to this market of supply and demand.  Pander states scene sixteen, “Search the market narrowly. . . . We lose too much money this mart by being wenchless” (3-4).  Supplying prostitutes is not a personal thing.  It is business in the sense that they receive their due exchange of money when they supply women.  And when the pirates bring Marina to them, they become all too eager for what they could possibly obtain for such a chaste woman as Marina.  Another definition of prostitute entails exposure, shame, public sale, and exhibition.  Marina must be advertised so that exchange can have a place in the market and in this society.  Bawd asks Boult, “Now, sir, has thou cried her through the market?” (xvi.82). Marina’s dignity, virtue, character, and chastity no longer exist, because once her name has been announced, her reputation is no more the same.  Announcing her name is like attaching a newfound reputation.  Even though she never sleeps with anyone, the reputation is still there.  The public cry demands an exchange.  For the exchange to happen the way it should, Marina must first do her job; and the only way this can happen is the Wife instructs her in the way of this job.  There is a goal that must be completed, an exchange that demands to be paid.  To a certain extent, the reader sees this goal accomplished in the actions of Lysimachus when he pays Marina for non-sexual services.  Even though sex isn’t rendered, an exchange has still been made.  Marina pleads her case, for she is still “. . . unspotted . . .” and “. . . unstained ev’n in thought” (xviiii.102-103).  And Lysimachus accepts this plea, pays for the services, and even goes so far as to praise her; and, he desires to marry her at the end.  It follows that exchanges are exchanges when they are accepted.  If Lysimachus had left, an exchange wouldn’t have taken place.

Exchanges are made every day, from conversing with fellow people on the street to bartering and sale.  Without exchanges, there would be no gifts.  Without gifts, there would be no happiness and subsequently, no appreciation.  Exchanges are necessary so appreciation can thrive.  Even in lewd conduct such as prostitution, the one being prostituted is not happy or appreciative, but the imitator is.  And this is what makes exchanges such a necessary tool.  On the other hand, defining cases of exchanges can prove detrimental when handled improperly.  And the flip-side of prostitution is an exchange that hurts everyone.  There is always some price paid for the “exchange,” regardless of the context.


This is an outline of the whole response: The first example of “exchange” begins with the theme of exchange and centers on the relationship of prostitution to the theme. The second example begins with an exchange that doesn’t highlight the relationship of prostitution. Instead, this example focuses on the exchange of a baby. From the middle to the end of the paragraph is merely plot summary. The third example reverts to the theme of exchange as it relates to prostitution.

For one, we can argue that the thesis isn’t as clearly defined as it needs to be.  It doesn’t make allowances for different types of reciprocity. The word “reciprocity” is too general for a two-page response paper. The student doesn’t provide a definition for the term and “exchange” is only defined in terms of the word “prostitution.” There is nothing in the introduction/thesis to alert the reader that “different” types of exchanges will be discussed, some not based on prostitution and some based on this theme of “exchange.” 

Last, if the example of the baby exchange relates to prostitution, it is important to make the connection. By what association is the exchange of Marina to her role as a prostitute as an adult?

This theme of exchange, in relation to prostitution (reciprocity), does not work in every example.


When a professor places “An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.” at the end of your paper, he or she is saying that you need to proofread your paper for more than just grammatical errors, but also for relevance, relationships, continuity, transition, and support. You must perform a checklist on the whole of your paper, especially on the body. Pretend you have a shopping list in one hand and the theme in the other. All of your examples, 1-2-3, are on the list.

The theme is in the same hand as the pencil. Your theme/thesis should match each example in your paper. If it doesn’t, set the paragraph aside and develop it more. If you are still unable to edit it, then consider the relevance it has to the overall paper. If it has none, consider removing the paragraph.

What your professor wants you to realize is that although the idea you present is interesting, the idea isn’t supported in every example. If it is not supported, then the example is just mere filler, not something of value and relevance to your paper.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “Too General to be Meaningful” and “Your Ideas Are too General.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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