Archive for category Topic Sentences

Brilliantly Done

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

Professors are not typically eager to write this comment on your paper. First, you must understand that when you receive such a comment, the professor is saying to you that you have “earned” the assigned grade. The grade of “A” does not represent a gift in any form. Yes, “Brilliantly Done” corresponds to the receiving of an “A.” These two go together. No professor will unconsciously assign an “A” and immediately imply “brilliance.” However, not every paper that receives an “A” represents brilliance.

When the professor writes both an “A” AND the words “brilliant,” then he is specifically calling attention to your work. He is setting it apart from the other graded papers. There is no way to tell if your paper is the first or the middle or the last. It is easy to assume that only at the end of reading all of the papers that your paper has received the highest commendation.

Professors never tell their secrets, so just assume that your professor is operating with strong mental energy, calling attention to his belief in your keen intelligence, great talent, and skill. Just know that a comment of “brilliant” is not typical, not the standard, and not comparable.

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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Better/Much Better

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

In general, professors use margin comments for two major reasons:

1) to prepare you to write a subsequent draft and

2) to highlight areas that lack and/or require analysis.

For example, a professor might offer students an opportunity to rewrite a paper for a better grade. Without the revision, students who don’t revise the paper will undoubtedly receive a less than favorable mark on that particular assignment.

In some cases, a professor might deem an unrevised paper as a failure to meet all of the class requirements. In other words, a professor might consider revising the essay as a contributing factor to your grade. Just remember that not all professors grade the same or use the same margin comments for grading purposes.

On the other hand, professors also use margin comments to help you guide your analysis. Professors don’t write your papers. They guide. They mentor. They highlight areas that need further clarification, more specifics, and sound evaluation. The analysis part of the paper is where you, as the student, evaluate what you have presented.

For example, you evaluate the quotes, supporting evidence, and views of the author you are discussing. The analysis doesn’t hold plot or general summaries. Therefore, when a professor writes “much more could be said here,” the professor’s goal is to help you elaborate more on an example or on a quote. This doesn’t mean that one paragraph is completely better than another. This only means you must give the same time and care to each body paragraph of your paper.

With this in mind, when you receive “Better” or “Much better,” your professor is calling attention to the second version of your paper or the part of your original paper that exemplifies “analysis.” Your analysis is basically a method you choose as a way of uncovering the hidden meanings of the text(s) you are discussing within the paper. To the professor, the comments mean that the newest contribution is more favorable than the last. In addition, the comments suggest that your analysis is more in line with or proportionate to the standard method of analyzing a quote, which includes evaluation.

Examine the following excerpt and the questions in the side bar (print texts). Notice the difference between the second bolded sentence and the last underlined sentences. The student could have provided more evaluation of her statement. However, with regard to the underlined sentence, the analysis is “much better.”

Sample Excerpt

De Quincey introduces the pains of opium, which presents the Malay.  The Malay knocked at the door and De Quincey wondered immediately “what business a Malay could have to transact amongst English Mountains” (449).  De Quincey thought that he might be on his road to a seaport some forty miles away. He continues to mentally attack the Malay as the servant opens the door. There stood both the Malay and a little girl. By De Quincey’s view “his attainment in English were exactly of the same extent as hers in the Malay, there seemed to be an impassable gulf fixed between all communication of ideas, if either party had happened to possess any” (449). It was clear that De Quincey didn’t take too kindly to whom he deemed outsiders.  He couldn’t fathom the nature of the Malay, knowing that he is below De Quincey, as to why it would prompt him to call upon De Quincey. De Quincey assumes his inner criticism of the Malay and the little girl.  The visitors called upon De Quincey to exorcise a demon from their house.

He accepts the request and hesitantly goes down to the house and comes upon the group “which presented itself, arranged as it was by accident, though not very elaborate, took hold of my fancy and my eye in a way that none of the statuesque attitudes exhibited in the ballets at the Opera House . . . had never done” (450). Simply stated, they are savaged, untamed and primitive.  They don’t fit the perception of people who are among the social elite.  By De Quincey’s standards, they are illiterate and uneducated to the world around them; nor do they have the potential for pursuing the value of an education.  It is his belief that they don’t value anything.

Figure 23: Essay Excerpt on “Confessions of an English Opium-Eater,” Thomas De Quincey


Providing context will help you understand the relationships between characters. Here is an assessment of this excerpt.

1) How do the pains of opium “present” the Malay?

2) What was the relationship between a Malay and an Englishman? Provide historical context.

3) What is clear?

4) What exactly is De Quincey’s attitude toward the Malay? What is his perspective? Who were the Malay?

“Much Better”

The professor wrote “Much Better” near the underlined sentence in contrast to the second bolded sentence. This means that the student has provided some analysis, an interpretation of the ideas within the context of the author’s work and the (student’s) understanding of the work.

Whereas the student doesn’t fully develop her ideas in the beginning, in this one paragraph, instead of just incorporating a quote, she adds an explanation. This is why this paragraph is different from the previous one.  It is better.  In other words, much more could be said with regard to the second bolded sentence. 

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Be Specific

Essay Section: Topic Sentences

See the comment “Specify (Be Specific).”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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