Archive for category Negative Replies

No/No, Not Exactly; Maybe; Perhaps; Negative Sign (-)

Essay Section: Supporting Evidence (Examples)

These are all negative replies.

When you receive any one of these comments on your paper, it means that you are functioning solely on assumptions. Professors are more prone to give you credit for an idea if you support it with in-text evidence. If you suggest that a character has not been very nice to the other characters within the work, then add a quote illustrating this point.

Any quote that demonstrates a character’s tone or attitude or even perception represents evidence.  The following sample excerpt represents assumptions about the witches’ attitude and treatment toward Macbeth.

Sample Excerpt

And since the Sisters shape Macbeth’s destiny, their act seems hostile, because both Macbeth and his wife are terribly destroyed (Rosenberg 20).  But their act seems hostile from the very beginning when the witches refuse to answer Macbeth’s questions regarding the prophecy (Wills 45). They take Macbeth’s life into their own hands, so to speak, but never give him a reason for doing so.  History suggests that [b]attlefields were magnets for witches—for the same reason that shipwrecks were, or gallows, or prostitutes’ lairs.  They were all good places for collecting the most vital ingredient for witches’ work—dead body parts, and especially dead bodies outside consecrated ground.  (Wills 38) So their presence on the battlefield when they first issue the prophecy is called “necromancy” (Wills 39) and this is used in Act Four, “. . . which helps delude Macbeth . . .” (Wills 42) into believing that his fate is secure.  The witches never tell Macbeth about the consequences.  Instead, they take his passion of ambition and turn it around to fit what they want accomplished. And they do this by first setting Macbeth’s ambition free to make it seem that destiny is on his side.

Figure 28: Essay Excerpt on the Sisters and Macbeth, Macbeth

Margin Comment

Well, no, not exactly was the actual comment the professor wrote within the margins of this paragraph.


1) Do the Sisters shape Macbeth’s destiny?

2) Do the Sisters contribute to the destruction of Macbeth and his wife?

3) Why does the act of the witches seem hostile? Where is the in-text evidence?


The first cited quote is not an example of the witches taking Macbeth’s life into their own hands.

Macbeth doesn’t need the witches to delude him. He deludes himself. He is determined to do what he wants. It is not the job of the witches to tell Macbeth about the consequences.


The keywords in the quote are “ingredient” and “dead bodies.” The witches do not equate a live person as an ingredient. Macbeth takes his own ambition and turns it around to fit what he wants to accomplish. It is difficult to keep facts straight and examine the implications of a text when you project something onto a character that is not quite present. Don’t project assumptions. If the thing you are discussing is not actually happening in the text, don’t use it. Here is a universal phrase, mostly discipline-specific to refer to English: If you have doubt, throw it out.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Big Improvement

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

Professors appreciate students who improve their papers. When a professor returns a student’s essay with the option of revising it, he expects that the revised essay will be significantly different from the previous paper(s). Professors tend to label “difference” as “improvement.” In other words, you should never just edit the grammar and think this is all the professor wants from you. Editing the work for grammar is only one part of the revision process.

Revising for tone, logic, coherence, consistency, and coordination of ideas is a labor-intensive process that requires your unwavering patience. You cannot procrastinate when it comes to revising a paper. Your professor will know if you do, because the work in its final stage will expose the truth.

Professors use “Big Improvement” for one or two reasons: 1) to assess the work positively and 2) to provide an assessment that the student’s work has improved, but not significantly to warrant the highest grade. First, professors use this comment to highlight the fact that your paper as a whole has improved from the first read. For example, students typically submit papers that questionably reflect second drafts as final draft papers.

With this in mind, they expect higher points than the essay itself warrants. Although the paper may only be, in essence, a second draft essay, the revised paper as a whole shows greater potential than the first submission. Therefore, a professor will use “Big Improvement” to highlight the fact that you have revised the paper in order to meet the requirements. This is a positive assessment. Your professor may choose to raise your grade by one-half point depending upon how much you have improved the paper.

On the other hand, a comment of “Big Improvement” also reflects a particular sentiment of your professor in regards to the analysis of your paper. Creating and developing “analysis” has become an art. How you evaluate a literary work has direct correlation to how you understand the work. For example, the author never writes with the reader in mind. The author writes for a multitude of reasons, but he never says just before he writes, “I wonder if they (the readers) will like this section.”

In addition, you are not in the room or in the place when the author writes, neither are you in the author’s mind. Therefore, you can’t be certain of what he thinks. You can only assume. You evaluate the work by weighing what the author writes about against criticism and your own views about the work. Since students are not thoroughly familiar with the author’s work and the practice of analyzing, they tend to generalize and summarize the author’s ideas and sentiments and base their understanding on unverified, unvalidated assumptions.

Students typically write first and second draft papers using these methods. The professor’s job is to pick out those areas that need more analysis and more specific details. In this regard, the professor’s primary goal is to inform the student that she needs less summary and more critical thinking.

When the second draft reflects improvement in quality of writing (stronger sentence structure), accuracy of analysis (no unverified assumptions), addition of specific, relevant details (textual support), and sound assessments (evaluation and critical thinking), then professors use “Big Improvement” as a comment that best reflects their sentiment about the ideas you express within the essay. With this type of paper, your professor may raise your grade by one letter, but not to the highest mark.

You may be confused by this, because how professors grade or how they think about your papers isn’t always subject to general reason and logic. Although you have made changes, offered more analysis, and brought credibility, the revised paper still doesn’t reflect an increase in quality as a whole.

In other words, you do well to provide analysis in some areas, but you are 1) still summarizing in other body paragraphs. In addition, 2) the condition of your analysis is shaky. 3) You make claims that are arguably different from the author’s work or the literary critic’s view. 4) The details you provide may be specific, but not necessarily relevant for some paragraphs. 5) Your assessment of the work still needs work. 6) You are still overly generalizing without also thinking about the work from a critical, objective viewpoint. In other words, the 7) views you express and the ones you incorporate from references are still very much subjective. 8) You are still leaving out vital information necessary to the analysis. 9) The paper as a whole appears to be one-sided.

Keep “Big Improvement” in mind as you rewrite and revise areas of your essay that require quality, analysis, details, and sound evaluation. Your professor will undoubtedly expect subsequent third and final draft papers to reflect significant difference from previous drafts.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Much More Could Be Said Here.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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