Archive for category U


The comment “Unreadable” may refer to two issues: 1) you haven’t answered the question; your analysis is entirely different from the essay question; and/or 2) your paper may simply just be unintelligible; in other words, your penmanship prevents your professor from reading the whole essay. As a result, some points become muffled throughout the evaluation process. Students who struggle with one or both issues often are ones who have not learned how to prepare well in terms of managing their time.

Before answering an essay question, always “analyze” it by breaking it down into different parts. First, know immediately what your professor wants you to answer. If the basis of your paper is to determine the relationship between two themes, then this represents the “what.” Second, start counting the “what.” If you are supposed to discuss two themes, in two works, by using two characters from each work, then you are supposed to discuss at least two themes, at least two works, and at most four characters in all. Notice that the professor wants you to discuss two characters from each work. This doesn’t mean one character from each work. With these instructions, you may discuss more than two themes, but most importantly adhere to the “two works” element so you don’t forget to include at least two.

When a take-home midterm or final is not an option, you have to learn what “Divide the Clock” means. For example, if you have a 50-minute in-class essay to complete, first allow at least a couple of seconds to write your name on the paper. This is the most important thing to do! I can’t tell you how many students turn in papers with no names written on them.

Second, allow five minutes to break down the question and develop an outline, something you can have prepared already before taking the test. Third, if your professor wants you to compare and contrast, dedicate 15 minutes for each paragraph, comparing and contrasting the two works. That’s a total of 30 minutes and two seconds. Leave whatever time left for proofreading major errors and adding transitional words where you may have forgotten to do so.

Typically, when you haven’t prepared and don’t really know what to write about, your penmanship reflects this anxiety. However, when you have studied and have developed a system in your head for how to tackle a 50-minute in-class essay exam, then your penmanship reflects confidence.

In all respects, it is important for your professor to read and understand every word on the page. Professors tend to deduct points because an exam is unreadable; in many cases, they simply cannot understand what you are attempting to convey. In addition, professors also deduct points for papers that do not fully reflect the instruction. Your paper is not complete until it meets the essay prompt.

With this in mind, divide the clock. Manage your time well whether you are developing the prose of a take-home exam or an in-class essay.

For extended explanations, see also the comments “Doesn’t Respond to Question” and “Focus on the Question.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.


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Unclear What You Mean By

Many times as students you try to exercise your intellectual muscles and use words and phrasing that you think will make you appear smart and intelligent. Sometimes it is just better to use a word that is simple, straightforward, and appropriate.

Read the following sample excerpt. The student uses phrasing that proves to be ineffective for the analysis.

Sample Excerpt

They tended to be free from cares and retaliatory motives. It can be said that the unspoken goal of the Indian was fulfilled.

Figure 67: Essay Excerpt from Student Paper, “The Legacy of Conquest”


1) What is a retaliatory motive?

2) How can a goal be “unspoken”?

3) How can a goal “speak”?

4) What was the goal of the Indian?

5) What was the secret of the Indian?

Revision Considerations

Think clearly about what you want the reader to know and understand about the literary work. Then reread the literary work, those particular parts you want to include as sections within your analysis. Make certain that you understand the work completely. Be thorough and take notes. After this, write out what you understand. Check it to be sure it parallels what the author writes.

Then begin to develop an analysis based upon your understanding of the text. Use third-person singular or plural to present characters and other ideas. Once you have established a sound understanding and well-written prose now think about the reader. What specifically do you want the reader to know about the particular literary work, characters, and author? Craft one sentence, something similar to a mission statement.

Rephrase your analysis so that it appeals to the reader figuratively. This process will help you to construct clear, definable statements. “Unclear What You Mean By” is a simple comment the professor uses to help you clarify your statements and also the goals for your analysis.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Not Sure What You Mean Here.”


The title of the student’s essay derives from the title of a sophomore textbook on the topic of Western history.

The textbook is titled The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West by Patricia Nelson Limerick (ISBN-13: 978-0393304978).

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Unclear (Not Clear)

In the sample excerpt, the student applies contemporary assumptions to a literary text. In addition, the student also makes assumptions about characters in the work, but doesn’t include the appropriate supporting evidence. Let’s read the excerpt.

Sample Excerpt

Her philosophy is expressly what it is, an ideal. Her ideals about marriage are not the same as societal norms.  She states, “ ‘Experience, . . . were right ynough to me / To speke of wo that is in marriage’ ” (Wife of Bath, ll 1-3). Since there is so much unhappiness, the “Wyf of Bathe” develops a different set of ideals and discusses and rationalizes each to fit “her” frame of thinking. For example, she criticizes the absurdity in counseling a woman to be a virgin and reasons that counseling is not a commandment, but rather it is the inherent right to one’s own judgment.  It is her belief that it does not make sense for the church to proclaim and advocate virginity; “For hadde God commanded maydenhede, / Thanne hadde He dampned wedding with the dede” (ll 69070).  In other words, if God set the law for everyone to remain a virgin, then there would be no marriage. . . . It this philosophy that sets her apart from others and she is rather “almost” admired than favored for her perceived truth.

Figure 66: Essay Excerpt on “The Wyf of Bathe”


The student makes many assumptions about the literary work, but doesn’t provide specific evidence or detailed explanations.


1) What are the societal norms regarding marriage within the context Chaucer provides?

2) What is the time period?

3) What is the purpose of God setting the law of marriage?

4) How does her philosophy set her apart from others? Who are the others?

5) How is she almost admired? What is her perceived truth?

Revision Considerations

Always stay within the context of the literary work. Research the history, society, and time period before developing your analysis.

For extended explanations, see also the comments “The Author’s Ideas (Ambiguous)” and “Not Clear.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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In the following sample excerpt, the student attempts to present an analogy, but is unsuccessful.  The student doesn’t understand the purpose of an analogy.

Sample Excerpt

Just as humans have a natural instinct to hunt (and gather), the inclination of love in Venus’s understanding should be natural to Adonis. Venus states, “By law of nature thou art bound to breed . . .” (L. 171).  In this statement, the need for continuity exists. And Venus is saying just as the need for continuity has its will, so should love. Love should be able to continue regardless; and humans should be able to carry out the will of love through the need for continuity.

Figure 64: Essay Excerpt on “Venus and Adonis,” William Shakespeare


1) Does the second bolded sentence represent a true analogy? Does the sentence represent the correct form of an “analogy”?

2) How should humans be able to carry out the will of love through the need for continuity?

3) Which comes first: the will of love or the need for continuity?

4) Why should humans carry out the will of love? What is the will of love?

5) What is the need for continuity?

Revision Considerations

Before employing particular literary techniques, include a definition of the word within your analysis. This will help to prepare you for bringing two things or statements together that you believe are analogous. In addition, make certain that the two things you bring together are actually comparable and on the same level.

For example, you can’t compare a dog and a goldfish. These animals derive from two different families and varieties; one walks the earth and the other lives and breathes in a fish bowl. They are not on the same level. However, you can compare two different types of dogs. You can compare their makeup, eating habits, and types of breeding.

Therefore, as you revise your paper, search for key literary words you have used within your paper; review the definitions of those words; and check to make certain that your example actually reflects the meaning of the words.

In the following sample excerpt, the student applies four different types of themes: disloyalty, expectation, creation, and loyalty. The student doesn’t establish clear goals for writing the essay. Therefore, the paper doesn’t reflect a single purpose. Let’s read the excerpt.

Sample Excerpt

The theme of disloyalty is evident in the play and it takes many forms. From parental to marital, disobedience is questioned and authority challenged. Expectation is never allowed respect and creation, itself, altogether becomes a problem for some characters in the play. Loyalty also shifts its focus as well.  Overall, disloyalty manifests itself in the following ways.

Figure 65: Essay Excerpt on the Theme of Disloyalty in Cymbeline, William Shakespeare


1) How can the theme of disloyalty take a form?

2) “Expectation” is not a person. How can expectation “expect” respect?

3) How does “creation” become a problem for some characters in the play? What problem do the characters have with “creation”?

4) What is “creation,” or what does it mean in the play? Are the words “expectation” and “creation” used in the play?  Are these appropriate themes?

Revision Considerations

What makes the student’s analysis “unclear” is the student hasn’t defined how she will use the keyword “disloyalty.” It appears that the reference to other words will serve as definitions for “disloyalty.” In addition, the student also applies the meanings of contemporary words to a dated text.

With this in mind, don’t apply concepts that are not already present in the work itself. In other words, stay within the context of the work. The author provides ample words and phrasing to use for evaluation. Bringing in foreign terms will only confuse the reader and you won’t maintain the integrity of the text.

For extended explanations, see the comments “Ambiguous (Thesis and Author’s Ideas),” “Explain the Parallel Here,” “Not a Theme In,” and “Not Clear.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Use MLA Form

This comment is basic. Students who write papers for English classes, the Humanities, and arts and letters disciplines must adhere to the guidelines established by the Modern Language Association (MLA). The guidelines are standards for citing parenthetical references and developing bibliographic entries.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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