Archive for category Q

Question Mark (?)

A question mark in the margins reflects borderline confusion to your professor. Confused about the ideas you express within your analysis, the professor uses the mark to highlight those areas where you need to provide a specific explanation. A question mark has the same meaning as “I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. What exactly do you mean? How does one thing relate to another? Explain.”

Any comment where the professor instructs you to go into more detail is a comment you can use to better help you understand what the question mark represents. Just know that by writing a question mark in the margins of your paper, your professor is communicating the idea that she doesn’t know what your are trying to convey within your essay. In other words, you haven’t been effective in proving your topic sentence for a particular paragraph or for all places where your professor has placed a question mark.

The best solution is to think about what you want to say as if you are speaking to someone in a conversation. Say it out loud. Now write it the same way you say it. Just remember: Don’t forget to allow time to revise in written form what you have said, because you don’t want to write formally the same way you talk informally.

To help you best understand the importance of outlining your ideas in detail, here is a sample excerpt. Examine how the student within the excerpt fails to define the concept of “pastness.”

Sample Excerpt

In addition to Quentin Compson, in exploring the perspectives of Miss Rosa Codfield, Mr. Compson, and Shreve McCannon, Faulkner illustrates the process and study of genealogy and within each perspective resonates some speck of truth, regardless of validity or credibility.  But before distinguishing among the narratives, it is vitally important to acknowledge and understand that although each character adds or subtracts from versions of the story, Thomas Sutpen knows the events of his drama better than anyone else.  But it is arguable if we say that he understands his drama, the pastness of his past.

Figure 42: Essay Excerpt on Light in August Characters, William Faulkner


The student doesn’t define how she uses a particular word within the analysis.


In response to this, the teacher uses a question mark to indicate confusion about how the student uses the word.


1) What is “pastness?”

2) What is Thomas Sutpen’s past?

3) What is the pastness of the past?

4) How does Thomas Sutpen’s past relate to the whole story?

5) What connection does it have?

Revision Considerations

Always define how you will use a word within your analysis. When using the word, ask yourself what it means. Develop a definition for it. Then include the definition as part of your analysis. Inform the reader of its significance to your analysis and then connect the word to the ideas you express about the author’s work. In other words, don’t forget to make connections between your use of the word and how you believe it relates to the author’s ideas and work.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “Not Sure What You Mean Here,” “Discuss/Discuss This,” “Clarify,” and “Could Be Better Worded.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.


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