Archive for category D

Don’t Quote Without Context

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Quotes)

Authors create their works not to be aesthetically pleasing or to arouse the senses in any way, but do so from memory, from experiences, from lessons learned. No author creates a work of art without first struggling with an issue, enduring an issue, and overcoming an issue. Most of what you read, the author’s labor, comes from a place within an author that is sensitive. What the author writes represents his or her vulnerability, thoughts, emotions, feelings, attitudes, and perspectives as he or she sees the world. Most of what an author writes is predicated on the surrounding environment in which he or she lives (and has lived).

Therefore, when you approach an author’s work you are not just approaching a name on the page, or just a title. You are approaching a title that has suffered through many revisions. You are approaching a work that is the result of tireless effort, labor, doubt, many nights of crying, sickness, pain, family obligations; the influence of social standing, social classifications, race, being a man, being a woman; and going back and forth mentally about “who” will be the main character, “what” will be the main character’s problem, to “whom” will the character relate to in the story, “why” will the character do this and not this, “how” will the character do this and not this,” and “in what way” and “for what reason” the character will do this and not this.

All of these elements represent the beginning of your task to understand an author’s work.  On your list of things to do, you still need to figure out the year of composition, what time period the work falls under; who the author has befriended in his days of writing; if the author has any other works; what connection those works have to the one you are currently analyzing; and what motivated the author to sit down, discipline himself, and endure the task of writing.

All of what you have just read is “context.” When you quote, be careful to know the context behind the quote you want to use. Apply these contexts within your paper, preferably near (before or after) the quote you plan to incorporate.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.


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Doesn’t Respond to Question

Many students fail university-administered writing exams—exams that are similar to ones that test your competency level in subjects such as math and foreign language—sometimes because their essays are disorganized, but mostly because they don’t answer the question. What follows is an example of a typical essay exam prompt for English literature courses. We use this prompt to teach students how to respond fully to the question. Review Figure 17 and the follow-up information. You will learn how to categorize the instructions.

The first elements you must recognize are the different themes. They appear to be intimidating. Before beginning to take a test, if you place these elements into a listing format, you make the task before you that much more approachable. The second thing you must understand is that everything before “Develop an analysis . . .” is not the instruction. Therefore, a test prompt is two-part. It has an introduction and a set of instructions. You will know that a teacher is instructing you to do something when a sentence takes on the form of a directive and the professor uses action words such as develop, discuss, analyze, etc.

Figure 17:  Sample Essay Prompt for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales center on a pilgrimage and a story-telling competition driving the telling of these tales; the groupings of these tales thus link together several ongoing themes and issues that are dependent on this dramatic interaction (Amtower).  Themes such as women’s role in marriage, the nature of experience and authority, and the “perfect/ideal” character, are all representative of a larger meaning that reflects a conflict between social hierarchy and subjectivity.  Develop an analysis that illustrates your understanding of 1 or 2 of these themes in relation to the larger theme by comparing and contrasting two of the Canterbury tales, focusing your analysis primarily on the “character” and relationship(s) of these tale-tellers.  In your analysis, include specific scenes and context. 

In the above essay prompt, your professor wants you to do the following:

1) Develop an “analysis.”

2) Use 1 or 2 themes.

3) Compare and Contrast TWO Canterbury Tales.

4) Give attention to “character” and “relationship.

5) Include specific scenes and context.

If you do anything beyond or not the above, then you have not answered the question. If you only discuss one tale, then you have not answered the question. If your paper is full of plot summary and lacks analysis, then you have not answered the question. If you don’t include any of the themes, then you have not answered the question. If you only compare two Canterbury tales, then you have not answered the question. If you don’t include specific examples, context of any kind, then you have not answered the question.

Always give attention to your conjunctions such as “or” and “and” because they are your greatest indicators of what to do and what not to do. “Doesn’t respond to the question” means that you have not given attention to all of the required elements of an essay prompt.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Focus on the Question.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Remember when you were young and how between the ages of 13 and 16 you talked on the phone all hours of the day. As the eldest of all of your siblings, you endowed yourself with a certain privilege. Maybe it had a lot to do with age, but after school, instead of cleaning up like you know you should, you would ignore household chores, tell your other siblings to find something in the refrigerator to eat, flop down on the recliner with a bag of chips, and just get on the phone and stay on it until your parents came home.

While you were simultaneously watching television and trying to listen to the conversation with your friend on the phone, not missing a word from either, a sibling would always station himself in front of the television and ask you questions, typically about nothing. He was your little brother and you didn’t know it at the time that he looked up to you. Although the television alone should have been distracting to your conversation on the phone with your friend, it wasn’t.

Instead you felt distracted by your younger brother. Why was that? It was because you knew you couldn’t listen to more than one conversation at a time and understand fully what each person (or thing) was saying to you. You really only got bits and pieces from the television, but you could hear much more from the conversation on the phone, because you had greater proximity to one over the other. Maybe the conversation was about the popular boy in your grade. This was typically the case; but the reason you wanted to hear more from the conversation was because you wanted to hear more from the conversation.

The point is get an image of the main conversation the eldest sibling is having on the phone. In one instance, when she tries to listen to her friend on the phone and watch television, she is inviting distractions. She is choosing to be distracted. Somewhere deep down she knows she can’t listen to both the friend and the television, but she tries to defeat all the odds. This is what teenagers do. On the other hand, when her brother comes to talk to her, trying to find where the Cheetos are, she doesn’t invite this distraction. This distraction just pops up without warning, without permission. Usually, the eldest shouts at the youngest to leave, and he does.  However, she doesn’t shout at the television, ironically.

With this in mind, your papers can be distracting in two ways: 1) the way in which you consciously permit some piece of evidence or example into a paragraph or into your paper as a whole that doesn’t have anything to do with anything (watching television while talking on the phone); and 2) the way in which you unconsciously incorporate a quote that you think is relevant to your thesis and theme of your paper, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with your paper (a popup of a quote for the sake of meeting page requirements, or trying to listen to your brother ask a question at the same time you are trying to listen to the phone conversation and the television).

Remember, your professors need to hear the conversation on the phone more than watch the television or listen to the younger brother. The conversation on the phone is more important, not extra added fillers to make the paper longer. A comment of “Distracting” implies that you have drawn your professor in conflicting directions. You have created a conflict in their minds because of unnecessary, distracting information.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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When you receive this comment on your paper, usually referring to one section or line within the paper, your professor is saying to you that the part requiring deletion is not necessary for the paper to move forward. This comment is typically applied during the last stages of writing and revision.

Graduate students are the ones who typically receive this comment. In all cases, if a professor has placed this comment beside a section or line or whole page, DELETE the section. Don’t hold on to it. Your professor or tutor is an objective observer. He or she sees beyond what you have present within the paper. He or she sees the long-term implications. If it is not working, if it is not functioning as a vital part to your paper, then let go!

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Don’t Write the Same Way You Talk (Avoid Slang and Informal Language)

We use this word “like” in everyday speech; instead of using “similar,” we have become accustomed to it as a fully functional formal word. However, “like” is not an appropriate term to use in formal writing. You can say anything in speech. People are generally not concerned with speaking everyday language formally according to the rules of grammar. The only thing they want to know is if you know how to hold a conversation.

In other circles, people concern themselves with how well you speak. Particularly, they express concern when it comes to speaking articulately. We generally don’t like it when someone mumbles and has slurred speech. We say to this person, “I can’t hear you.” In other words, you are not representing “you” to the best of your ability. This is typically what we gather from just one conversation with a person–that the person lacks confidence.

One time I made the mistake of using “like” in my paper. It wasn’t on purpose. I just did it without thinking. —Regina Y. Favors

With this in mind, when you use “like” in formal writing, it has the same effect of slurred, inarticulate speech. You are not sure how you want to say something. You are not certain how you want to present your sentence. You are not sure how to construct a formal, grammatical sentence properly; and you are not sure of who you are. A person who makes eye contact during a conversation is similar to a person who knows the right word, and when to use this word, at the right time. Both persons are confident and less intimidated by the situation and the task before them.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Discuss/Discuss This

A common issue with incorporating quotes is that students think quotes need to stand alone. We believe that because they are quotes they provide enough information to anchor a paragraph fully or a thought within a paragraph, but this is not true. It is not enough to add just a quote without explaining its significance.

Without an explanation, the quote is just a filler. The best way to rectify this problem is to think about the word “examine.” To examine something, according to any standard dictionary, is to look at the thing, the object, critically with the purpose of understanding its condition; to inspect, to investigate, to inquire into, and to test carefully by questioning. In essence, you must examine a quote by testing its quality, effectiveness, and structure. Read the following excerpt. The student incorporates a quote within the essay, but doesn’t fully explore its relationship to the main parts of the essay.

Sample Excerpt

In contrast, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” supports a different viewpoint.  Blake “accepts the terminology of standard Christian morality, but reverses its values” (53).  For example, “the conventional Good is associated with the Soul and consists of the contrary qualities of reason, restraint, passivity and prohibition; the conventional Evil is associated with the Body and its desires and consists of energy, abundance, act and freedom” (Blake 53).  Blake points out:

That Man has two existing principles:  a Body & a Soul . . . Energy, called Evil, is alone from the body and that Reason, called Good, is alone from the soul . . . Man has no Body distinct from his Soul; Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses . . . Energy is the only life . . . Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy . . . Energy is Eternal Delight. . . . (56) Reason and Desire, which are contraries, are shown as necessary to human existence.  Blake contends that without contrariness, there is no progression; “Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy (Desire), Love and Hate, are necessary . . .” (55).

Figure 8: Essay Excerpt on “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” William Blake


1) How can “conventional good” consist of contrary qualities?

2) How can something “consist” and be “contrary” at the same time?

3) What is the purpose of this quote?

4) How do the “elements” within the quote relate to what you have just said before it?

5) Second Bolded Sentence: Why? What relation do all have to Blake’s position in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell?”


When you receive the comment “Discuss/Discuss This,” approach this section of your paragraph and the corresponding quote(s) by placing on the glasses of “examinations.” Consider the following steps as potential solutions for revising paragraphs that house quotes.

Step #1

Examine first the quote. What are its implications? What relevance does it have to the rest of the paragraphs of the body text? How does the author’s claim relate to the quote? Is the quote the author’s claim? What significance does the quote have to some example within the author’s text?

Step #2

Next, place the body paragraph you develop side by side with the quote you are using. Does what you write lend support to the meaning of the quote? In other words, does the quote support your paragraph? Does the quote you want to use have anything at all to do with your paragraph? If yes, then what? Is your quote a suitable match for your paragraph? Remember that your paper is the foundation, the basis. Quotes you use must never supplant your views.

Step #3

Last, test the quote by incorporating it into your paragraph. Even though you should already know if it is suitable, sometimes the last test is important to determine the quote’s value and viability within your paragraph. Remember, just because you are able to incorporate a quote appropriately doesn’t mean you are finished. You must elaborate further on the quote by answering all of the questions above and turning these questions into statements.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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