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How to Revise Body Paragraphs

Summary

Revising body paragraphs requires you to know the mission of your thesis. Body paragraphs are the center of your essays.  Without them, you would just have introduction and conclusion paragraphs and nothing else to support your purpose for writing.

I use the word “mission” to refer to the thesis, because you have been given a mission.  Your professors gave you an assignment and that assignment has multiple requirements. You must be able to coordinate your professor’s mission with that of your own for the paper.  Here are a few steps to consider as you revise your body paragraphs:

Step 1:  Count the parts in your topic sentence.

The topic sentence should always support the thesis.  It doesn’t support the quotes you incorporate or other ideas that you use within a body paragraph.  Everything after your topic sentence should only support your topic sentence.  This sounds weird to write, but it is true.  The mission of your topic sentence is just to support your thesis.

Therefore, count the parts of your first, second, third, and maybe fourth topic sentence of each body paragraph.  Number them with a red pen.  Then go back to your introduction paragraph and number the parts of your thesis.  Ask yourself if the numbered parts of the topic sentences correspond to the numbered parts of the thesis.  If they do, good job!  If they don’t, you have one of two options:

  • Revise the thesis.
  • Revise the topic sentence(s).

Once you are able to understand the purpose of each of your topic sentences, move forward with revising sentence structure.

Step 2:  Evaluate the quotes for verb tense.

Quotes can be fun in the beginning.  They fill up the page.  They help you meet your word and page count.  In addition, you add the citation at the end of the sentence and this makes reaching the goal of fulfilling the page count that much easier.  You feel very good about yourself. On the other hand, what happens if the quote doesn’t fit? You have this wonderful white sock that is nice and clean and smells good.  Then you have this off-white sock.  It appears to be like the white sock, but when you hold it up to the light, the color tells the real story.

The same can be said about the quotes you incorporate within your essays.  The white sock is your statement.  Your statement could be in the form of an analysis or just a statement to introduce the quote.  The off-white sock is the quote.  It seems to fit because, of course, you were able to type it into your paper.  However, look more closely.  Examine your statement.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What verbs do I use for my introductory statement?
  • What verb tense is the quoted material?

Too many variations in verb tense can seriously distort the mission of your thesis.  Everything goes back to the thesis.  As a preliminary solution, revise for verb tense.

Step 3:  Evaluate the quotes for topic sentence collaboration.

Teams must work together.  The thesis and the topic sentence work as a team.  The quotes within the body paragraphs work to support this team.  Therefore, the quotes within the body paragraph must support the topic sentence.  One member out of step messes up the other steps.

In other words, all topic sentences are good friends of the thesis.  All statements you make within the body paragraphs should be, in general, all good friends of the thesis just by association.  When there comes a time in your paper that an enemy presents itself you must make sure that the reader understands that a particular quote represents an enemy.

For example, we all believe that Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.  This is our thesis.  For each quality of Jane, we provide a topic sentence and dedicate a body paragraph.  We further add support to prove our point.  Everything is fine until John decides not to agree on one of our points concerning Jane’s qualities. John believes that Jane is not lovely and he has proof to support his claim.

When this happens, you don’t integrate John into your paper as if he is a good friend.  He’s an enemy.  You tell every other team member in your paper who John is.  Once you have provided an explanation of John, return to your mission, which is to prove or support the idea that Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.

Don’t get off the mission when confronted with an enemy.

Step 4:  Evaluate sections of analysis.

The main purpose for writing the academic (English) essay is to provide an analysis.  Your professor requires you to do this.  Therefore, your task is to do the following:

  • Examine the statement you make before a quote.
  • Examine the quote.
  • Examine the statement you make after the quote.

You must always address the outsider, whether the outsider supports your thesis or disagrees with your thesis.  A quote is still considered to be an outsider in the beginning.  You make it a part of the team when you ensure that it supports your thesis.  Ask yourself the following questions as you revise the body paragraph:

  • What’s the purpose of this body paragraph?  Why is it here?

Now answer the questions.  Add more explanation.  Discuss the significance of the quote. Either believe in it or don’t.  Make this a point in your essay.

Step 5:  Evaluate MLA formatting.

All words that are not your own must be cited properly.  Refer to your current MLA handbook for the following common areas:

  • 3.7. Quotations
  • 3.7.5. Ellipsis
  • 3.7.6. Other Alterations of Sources
  • 3.7.7. Punctuation with Quotations

These four represent areas of your essay for which you will have to develop revision objectives.

Warnings

  • The quickest way to fail a paper is to ignore MLA.  Spend time reading the reference source.  Conform to it.  You don’t have a choice!
  • Just nod and smile and be happy that you are in school.

Tips

  • When you are working with and revising body paragraphs take them one at a time.
  • Write on a piece of paper your thesis.  You may type it.
  • Identify your topic sentences and write/type them under the thesis.  Study them for agreement.
  • Take each topic sentence and match it like a sock to your statements and quotes within the body paragraph.  Make sure that they all agree.
  • Don’t forget verb tense.  How you introduce an outsider or a teammate is very important to your mission.
  • To do all of this you will need to have written the paper at least two to three days before it is due so you will have time to revise it.  I prefer at least a week.
  • Don’t forget to eat.  Sleep and rest.  Get back up.  Confront the task.  Finish it.  Meet all deadlines and submit your paper.
  • Smile.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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How to Analyze a Literary Work

Summary

Analyzing a literary work doesn’t always begin with the process of understanding the purpose of the author.  As the student reader, sometimes you can’t always figure out what the main objective of the text is or for what reason the author has written the work.  The author may have written the short story for pure enjoyment.  Sometimes authors, in general, write for publication.  Sometimes they write because it is therapeutic; for example, for some people, writing helps them to move past emotional pain.  Although authors may begin the process of writing with a multitude of aims, they don’t typically write to appeal to you as the reader.  In other words, while they are in the process of writing, they don’t consider how a word or how a character description will impact you as the reader.  Doing this will hinder the process.  They just write and we, as students, take their work and discuss it.

Within the classroom, professors give (lecture) students information about the author’s name, a list of previous works, and the prevailing thought about the author and his/her influence on the literary canon.  As part of the learning process, professors then instruct students to write papers in order to demonstrate their understanding of literary themes that permeate the author’s work.  Where students run into problems is when it comes to writing and developing an analysis.  Students don’t always know how to analyze.

In other words, they don’t know how to take a chunk of material, break it into manageable parts, take one part at a time, and examine and evaluate each part.  They let the task of coming up with an analysis intimidate them and they run to the first available resource they can find to fill up the essay.  Developing an analysis takes time and patience.  It is a skill that you can’t learn in one semester.  Similarly, analyzing the literary text without any other secondary influence takes even more patience.  You have to flex your own intellectual muscles in order to discover the hidden treasures of the text.

Therefore, when it comes to students analyzing the author’s work, they must learn how to address the content within the book that is laying on the desk, without the benefit of having access to extended research, to complete background information on the author, or to literary criticism.  All of this information should come secondary to the student developing their own ability to analyze within an academic essay, but they can’t do this before they fully understand the text.

Pushing everything else aside, what can the student learn about a particular literary work?  What steps are most beneficial to students who struggle with examining and evaluating the literary text?  In answer to these questions, here are some steps to consider as you prepare to analyze the literary work:

Step 1:  Study the introduction and conclusion paragraphs.

Examine wording in the text that indicates imagery.  The word imagery refers to pictures and descriptions.  Ask yourself questions about why you think the author places certain words within the paragraphs.  Describe what they mean in terms of the context the author provides.

Examine the text to determine also how the author introduces the main character in the first few paragraphs.  If the main character is not present within these paragraphs of the story, then consider this in your analysis.  Skip down to the end of the story.  Search for the main character within the conclusion paragraph.  If the main character is present within the conclusion paragraph, then determine the significance of how the author positions the main character within your papers.

Step 2:  Learn as much as you can about the main character. 

When professors give students an assignment to write about a particular literary work, students never focus on the main character.  Instead they merely provide a summary of the main character and provide in-depth information about the themes and ideas expressed from the professor through classroom lecture.

Keep in mind that professors don’t lecture so that their work can be included in your papers.  Professors present a structure of ideas based upon the canon.  Your job as the student is to apply some of those ideas to “your” analysis.  To understand the text is to understand the main character.  This may make it easier to discover the author’s purpose.  Therefore, consider the following:

  • The main character is the anchor of the text.  Wherever you see the main character, study his/her actions, statements, and activities within each paragraph and/or context.  No one else in the story exists without the main character, so examine the actions of secondary characters in relation to the actions of the main character.
  • Examine how the author presents the main character.
  • Pay close attention to the main character’s self-perception.

Treat the main character as if he or she is a person you are interested in getting to know better.  Once you are able to do this you can better assess how the author uses the character in the work.

Step 3:  Investigate relationships.

The main character is always in relationship with someone else in the story.  The other person could be a husband, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a lover, a boss, and/or a passerby.

Therefore, classify relationships within the text.  Draw a common multiplications table in which you place the names of secondary characters in the first column and the types of relationship in the first row.  Here is an example below:

Figure: Multiplication Table of Characters and Relationship Types

Secondary Characters

Mom

Brother

Friend

 Jane

X

 John

X

 Sam

X

Once you are able to locate these relationships within the text, describe each action of the main character in relation to other characters.

Step 4:  Evaluate how the author uses the antagonist.

How the author uses the antagonist in the story is very important.  This gives the reader insight into the author’s mind and some insight into the author’s purpose for writing the story.  As you continue to analyze the literary work, study the relationships the antagonist has with the main character and then with other secondary characters.  Evaluate the author’s choice of dialogue.

Underline the specific words the author uses with each character.  Study the sentence structure of the dialogue to determine if words represent sarcasm, criticism, or cynicism.  In addition, evaluate the author’s position of the antagonist within the story and how this relates to the position of the protagonist.

Step 5:  Highlight repetitions.

It is human nature for us to repeat ourselves.  We always like to make sure that the other person has heard us.  We want people to understand us and to believe in what we say.  We repeat phrases, tones, examples, and specific statements.

Therefore, as you read your text, highlight those areas within the work where there are repetitions in phrases, statements, words, and examples.  Does the author use a certain word more than once?  If so, study each word within its respective context. Each word means something differently in a different context.

Step 6:  Classify dialogue.

Conversations between characters often reveal secrets, opinions, and information about other characters, so what each character says within a story means something.  Study the dialogue to understand the author’s use of language.

Note characters who speak English grammatically.  These are characters who care about how they use the language.

Note also those characters who speak conversationally.  Most of their speech represents everyday, informal talk.  These are also characters who care about how they use the language.

Analyze each character’s view(s) in the story and how each uses language to convey his or her beliefs.

Step 7:  Outline the plot.

Each step in life is important.  It was important to learn how to walk.  This was our first step.  Then we learned our ABCs.  This was the second step.  After this we learned how to get along with other kids at school.  We followed this up with standing up for ourselves on the playground, learning how to drive, and finally getting married and having kids of our own.  If we had never taken the first step, then we couldn’t have ever gotten to the last one.

The author often presents the literary work in some kind of logical fashion whether it is in the conventional 1, 2, and 3 . . . step-by-step technique or in a reverse order for dramatic effect.  Sometimes the author begins with the end of the story at the beginning, takes the reader on some journey in the middle, and brings the reader back to the official end of the story.

No matter what technique the author uses, there are still areas that are chronologically structured.  This is sometimes present within the body paragraphs of the story where the author presents what happens first, second, and third.  For wherever the author places time, if the author doesn’t do this, then the reader would have no way of understanding the story sequentially.

Therefore, before beginning to write an essay take out a sheet of paper and write how the story logically unfolds.  Without doing this you run the risk of presenting ideas in your paper that are not related and have no logical relation to the rest of the parts of your essay.  Know the story.

Step 8:  Draw a big circle around the climax.

The climax usually comes at the end of the story.

The most exciting event for a marathon runner is reaching the finish line.  For all of the hard work and training that runners commit to it is the finish line that they care more about than anything else.  That’s the goal:  to finish.

Likewise, the author also commits to finishing the work.  Authors start with a main character that is immature at the beginning.  They chart the main character’s progression through adding other characters and situations and problems.  Through these circumstances and relationships, authors push the character forward until he or she reaches the finish line.  It is in reaching that last (story) event that makes it worthwhile for the character and for the reader.  As you locate the climax, reexamine all of the actions before it.  What would happen if the story didn’t have a finish?

Warning

Make sure that as you analyze the literary work that you also don’t project onto the text your opinions.  Always remember that the author didn’t write the story with you in mind.  Only literary critics consider the influence of the literary text upon the reader.   Therefore, in your writing, don’t project anything onto the text that is not already there.

Tips to Remember

  • Analyzing a literary text takes time.  Allow one to two days for evaluating and highlighting structure and key words.
  • Spend as much time with the text before you begin to write the paper.  If you don’t know the text, then you won’t know how to structure your analysis.
  • Don’t forget to eat.  Rest and go to sleep.  Get back up again and confront the task.  You can do it.  Finish it.
  • Smile.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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How to Develop a Revision Plan

Summary

Developing a revision plan is not an easy task, but it is a necessary process if you want to ensure that your paper has met the requirements of the professor and the essay prompt.  When we initially write, we begin the task with a different process.  We just put something down on paper so we won’t forget anything.  We don’t really care about whether we have structured the paper well; instead we merely come up with a thesis, hope that our topic sentences match, and pray that we are able to find the required number of reference sources, even if they don’t fit the thesis or the topic.  By the time we finish writing the paper, all that matters is that we have met the page count, we have formatted our papers for MLA, and we have turned in the essay on time.  This is the way instructors have taught us and this is the habit we pursue for writing all of our essays.

Writing a college essay should not be a task that we merely gloss over, because it is a very important process.  It should not be an item on a checklist to mark complete.  We should give time to every college paper:  time to examine the essay prompt, time to develop an outline, time to research the reference sources, time to write the paper, time to structure it for logic, time to format it for MLA, and time to evaluate and revise it.  We are not taught this in school.  We are given assignments and expected to know whatever it is we need to know about writing by the time we enter college.  The college writing textbook even glosses over the revision process which is very important in the scheme of writing.  Most textbooks have one section on revising the essay and another lengthier section on grammar mechanics.

In addition, we typically call revising the essay “checking for grammar.”  Grammar is important.  Correcting sentence structure, subject-verb disagreement, pronoun errors, and fragments is central to the writing process, but it is not the only method for revising college papers.  Therefore, the following steps will help you as you reconsider your views about revising the college essay.  Consider these steps as you contemplate your own revision plan:

Step 1:  Highlight those areas that represent plot summary. 

Professors typically give these instructions:  write on the topic; research three references; and provide an analysis.  What we do is summarize the literary text.  When I think back to our experiences with writing in grammar school we were taught how to write the five-paragraph essay.  We were never taught how to analyze, so we honestly don’t know how to take a quote and break it down into parts and analyze each part.  Of course, this is no excuse.  We just need to learn this language of analyzing.  The best method for revising/removing plot summary is to take the part of the essay where you “retell” the story and consider the following process:

  • Start with the first section of plot summary.  You can number all sections if you like.
  • Take a highlighter and underline the part/sentence where you narrate the story.
  • Draw a square around the information.
  • Circle all of the verbs in the sentences.  Look them up in a dictionary or a thesaurus.
  • Study the main character’s actions in relation to the context you provide.
  • Ask yourself about the significance of these actions.  What do they mean to you?

Once you are able to locate the plot summaries and you have finished the process above, develop a plan in which you will break down the narration into manageable parts and analyze each part.

Step 2:  Verify assumptions.

In general, we live and hold tightly to our assumptions.  We believe in them even when we know that they are wrong.  When it comes to writing college papers, we make assumptions because we haven’t fully researched the topic and honestly because we are just lazy.  It’s much easier to assume than it is to be certain.  Finding out the truth about something takes time, effort, patience, concern for accuracy, and attention to detail.

Therefore, for every part of your paper that does not represent truth either revise these parts or remove them completely.  What do I mean here?  Compare what you write and what actually happens in the literary text (i.e., short story, poem, criticism, etc.).  For example, if you write “Faulkner informs the reader that a certain character comes from a mixed nationality background,” but he doesn’t do this as the author of the text, then you are misrepresenting Faulkner’s work.  Consider the following as you develop your revision plan:

  • Examine the first one to three sentences before each quote you have incorporated into the paper.
  • Verify these sentences.

We usually make our mistakes within the first few sentences before a direct quote.  Before we incorporate the quote, we typically provide some kind of summary of ideas.  After this we add the quote and follow this up with another statement.  Then we either continue with the analysis or move on to the next topic sentence.  This method is acceptable as long as you remember this one thing:  if you write that the narrative “begins” in a certain way or that the author begins the narrative in this or that way, then check to make sure that the narrative actually begins in the way that you write.

For example, in a paper I submitted on John Steinbeck’s “Chrysanthemums,” a short story, I wrote that the narrative “starts out” with the main character working in her garden.  However, if you read the story, you will find that the author begins the narrative with imagery; he identifies the location and the time of season; he introduces a character by the name of Henry Allen; we read about a dog and other information about farmers; and then Steinbeck presents the main character, Elisa Allen.  It wasn’t until I used my student paper in my classroom discussions as a teacher that I realized the mistake.  One word can change the meaning(s) within your paper.

Therefore, develop a revision plan that includes evaluating and validating assumptions.  The plan should reference time needed for examining statements before quotes, proofreading quotes, and restructuring your analysis.  In addition, if you provide a few sentences that represent plot summary, verify those assumptions as well.

Step 3:  Confirm that quotes support the topic.

Quotes add credibility to your topic and to your analysis, but it is sometimes difficult to add these resources within your paper.  You have your ideas about the topic.  Then there are many ideas within each reference source that you use.  Each source offers additional quotations and opinions.  What do you do with all of this information?  How do you incorporate sources without plagiarizing and without filling up your paper with information that is unnecessary to your thesis or to your topic, for that matter? The first part of the process begins with you taking out time to understand the text.  Consider the following pre-writing process as you develop a revision plan:

  • Know the author’s thesis/main purpose for writing.
  • Search for the author’s topic sentences.
  • Examine the author’s supporting evidence.
  • Evaluate the author’s conclusion paragraph.

Don’t be intimidated by this task.  You have to do it.  This is the only way you will be able to determine really if a particular quote you incorporate within the paper is appropriate or even necessary.  Once you have finished this process for each quote you use from all reference sources, then you can consider the following:

  • Verify that your thesis parallels the author’s thesis.
  • In other words, does the author’s quote support your purpose?

Never let the author’s work take over your paper.  Therefore, develop a revision plan that includes confirming that the quotes and reference sources you use within your paper align, or parallel, the ideas you express within your paper.

Step 4:  Double-check for thesis—topic sentence agreement

We learn in grammar that subjects and verbs must agree.  If the subject is singular, then the verb must be singular.  Likewise, if the subject is plural, then the verb must also be plural.  Below is an example of each type:

  • Singular Subject:  Jane is nice.
  • Plural Verb:  Jane and John are nice.

Each verb agrees with its corresponding subject.

Similarly, your topic sentences must agree with your thesis.  The purpose of topic sentences is only one-part:  to support the thesis.  They don’t do anything else.  They don’t support the quotes or any other information housed within the body paragraphs.  They only have one job which is to support the thesis.  I can’t help but to be redundant so you can understand how important this information is to your paper and to you.

Therefore, if your thesis has three parts such as Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly, make sure that you address each part by creating a topic sentence. Here’s an example:

  • Thesis:  Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.
  • Topic Sentence #1:  Jane is a very enjoyable and agreeable person (nice).
  • Topic Sentence #2:  Jane is attractive and very good-looking (lovely).
  • Topic Sentence #3:  Jane has many friends.  She is very approachable (friendly).
  • Conclusion:  Jane is a wonderful person to be around.  She has such a delightful heart.  She is equally pleasant and very open to friendship.

Develop a revision plan in which you reexamine your thesis and your topic sentences.  On a separate sheet of paper, write out your thesis on the first line.  On the second and subsequent lines, write down each topic sentence of your body paragraphs.  Check to see if your topic sentences match your thesis.  If they don’t, either revise the thesis or add/subtract one of your topic sentences.

Step 5:  Proofread for grammar. 

There are two processes:  the writing process and the revision process.  After we finish writing our papers, the first thing we do is check for grammar.  It is my contention that all students should first evaluate their papers to make sure that they have met all of the requirements and that the thesis, topic sentences, supporting evidence, quotes, examples, and analysis all agree.  If any one of these parts in the paper doesn’t agree, then the student has to go back and revise the information.  The revision process may involve rewriting and removing sections.  Sometimes it may also involve rewriting the thesis.  All that is important to remember is this:  the revision process is not just about “checking for grammar.”

With this in mind, develop a revision plan that incorporates this step (i.e., checking for grammar) only after you have completed all of the other steps. This is the first thing you must do. The second thing is work out a strategy for correcting some of the most common grammatical errors that undoubtedly every student of research papers and every professional writer makes.  Here is a list of grammar issues and errors to consider as you develop a revision plan:

  • Commas/Periods/Other Punctuation
  • Mixed Verb Tenses
  • Comma Splices
  • Fragments
  • Run-ons
  • Subject-verb Disagreement
  • Spelling

Take any writing textbook and look these terms up in your book.  Study the examples.  After this take your own papers sentence-by-sentence and check to make sure that your papers don’t house these errors.

Warning

The most important thing to remember is to do the assignment.  If you do anything but the assignment, then you have not met the requirement.  Consider the following essay prompt:

Write on Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”  Compare three tales.  Use at least two characters from each tale.  Analyze each tale within ten pages. 

  • If you provide only two tales and you do everything else, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.
  • If you provide three tales but you only write about one character from each tale and you do the rest of the assignment, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.
  • If you do everything but compose only eight pages, or even nine, then you have not met the requirements of the assignment.

Do the assignment and nothing else.  You can only reach toward excellence once you have completed the requirements.

Tips 

  • Check your plan to make sure that you have all of the required number of reference sources.
  •  Check your plan to make sure that you have allowed time for MLA formatting.
  • Check your plan to make sure that you have allowed room to meet all of the requirements of the assignment.
  •  Don’t forget to eat.  Rest and go to sleep.  Get back up again and confront the task.  You can do it.  Finish it.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: Favors Learning Center is currently developing teaching videos based upon the ideas expressed within each blogging post. Below is a link to a YouTube video that we are currently developing. It represents a brief review of the ideas expressed within this post. Thank you in advance for your patience. Click here for the test video link. Last rev. April 4, 2012

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How to Edit Academic Writing

Summary

Editing the academic essay is a laborious task if you don’t first develop a plan for revision.  Students struggle with this part of the process because they learn that editing and proofreading the essay means checking for grammar.

However, editing the academic essay is a three-part process, which includes the following:  1) evaluating the thesis to make sure that it is well represented within the essay; 2) evaluating the use of quotations; and 3) evaluating whether or not you have fully met the assignment.

Here are five quick steps to consider when editing your papers.

Step 1:  Evaluate the thesis to determine if it parallels the conclusion.

The thesis is a very important part of your essay.  It serves as a guide to the rest of your paper.  When we initially begin to write, we just write the first thing that comes to mind.  This process is okay in the beginning, because if you don’t write something down, you will get frustrated and not continue with the task.  However, this process doesn’t work well for the end of your task when it is time to edit.

When you get to the end of your writing process, evaluate whether your thesis or the ideas you express within the introduction paragraph parallel the conclusion paragraph.  In other words, you can’t express that all dogs are nice in the beginning and express in the end that all dogs are nice, if they lick your face.  You have just placed a condition on your thesis.

If you do not place any conditions in the beginning, don’t place them at the end.

Step 2: Evaluate topic sentences.

Topic sentences are important parts of the essay.  Your topic sentences must always support the thesis.  It doesn’t make sense to construct a thesis in which you provide three qualities of Jane that she is nice, lovely, and friendly and you don’t address these three parts within the body paragraphs of your essay.  For each quality of Jane, or for each part of a thesis, you must dedicate at least one paragraph to analyzing these qualities.

Step 3: Evaluate quotes.

It is true that your professor wants you to add reference sources to support your ideas.  You can’t get around this, but oftentimes we just add something, some words, to fill up a five-page to ten-page paper.  We don’t always check to make sure that the quote actually supports the topic sentence.

With this in mind, the quote should always support the topic sentence, which should always support the thesis.  In addition, if one of your quotes doesn’t have any relationship to the body paragraph, to the thesis, and to the topic sentence, remove it.

Step 4: Remove plot summaries.

For all academic essays at the undergraduate level, you will always be required to provide an analysis.  The typical essay prompt requires you to provide an analysis of a literary character within the story’s context.  What we do is provide a narrative.  We retell the story.

Therefore, scan your paper for those sections for which you “retell” the story.  Highlight the section with a highlighter.  Now examine it.  Ask yourself questions about the summary.  Answer your own questions about why this part of the story is important.  Be critical.  Be sarcastic.  Be cynical.

Now write what you feel.  This is the beginning stages of developing an analysis.  Just don’t forget to be kind.  After all you wouldn’t be a student without the literary work.

Step 5: Check for grammar and MLA.

Now that you have evaluated your writing and made the necessary revisions, it is time to check for grammar.  Proofreading grammar is not easy because we have forgotten much of what we have learned in elementary school.  When we first learned grammar and all of our subjects, we learned them enough to know them and to pass a test.

Therefore, don’t feel discouraged if you don’t know what a comma splice is.  Just pick up your writing textbook and look it up, read the examples, and revise the essay.  Below are the most common grammar mistakes that you will undoubtedly have to revise:

  • Comma splices
  •  Fragments
  •  Run-ons
  •  Subject-verb disagreement
  •  Spelling

Refer to your writing textbook for further explanations of these concepts.

Tips

  • Allow yourself at least one to two days to edit and revise your paper.  Never wait until the day before the essay is due to write and revise the essay.  Allow some time to think about your ideas.
  • Meet the requirement of the essay.  If the assignment calls for you to 1) provide an analysis of three literary characters from three separate literary texts, 2) provide at least five resources to support your ideas, and 3) provide ten pages of analysis, then if you only write about two characters and you write nine pages, you have not met the assignment.  Therefore, don’t get upset at the grade you have earned.
  • Print out a draft of your essay and mark it up with a red pen.  This will prepare you emotionally for when the professor does the same thing.
  • Don’t be afraid of the academic essay.  Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged.  If you don’t understand something, just ask your professor for help.
  • Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Watch some television.  Go to bed!  Sleep.  Then get right back up and confront the task.  You can do it.  Just manage your time well.  Divide the clock and finish the task.
  • Smile.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Cliche

No paper that is formal in nature can be effective with clichés as a significant part of the analysis.  Clichés are informal and suggest a flippant tone. In addition, when you use a cliché, you demonstrate your inability to think of a word or a collection of words that reflect critical thinking about the work. In other words, you are not successful at fully maximizing your intellectual muscles. Essentially, you lack the ability to think “analytically” about the subject matter.

In the same way that people curse because they can’t form another word that conveys the same meaning, students who use clichés within their papers don’t embody a strong vocabulary.  This statement is not only geared to the one who uses profane language. Individuals who use big words boastfully don’t quite know how to express themselves simply to the average reader.  They use words as a crutch in the same way that the person uses profanities or clichés.

With this in mind, don’t let clichés become a crutch. It is better not to use them at all. If you feel that one truly evokes a meaning you want to convey within a certain paragraph, then do your best to prove your point in-depth also, but don’t flood your papers with clichés because such a decision to do so will suggest that you don’t take the assignment seriously.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Clear Statement

A clear statement is typically a statement that is free from confusion. The best way to construct a clear statement within your papers is to adhere to the rules of grammar. When you try to jumble together too many phrases and compare those jumbled phrases with a contrast to another set of jumbled phrases, you lose your reader. Remember the basic sentence which entails the subject and the verb. Then remember the functions of an adjective, adverb, preposition, and a conjunction. If you don’t know the function of the elements of a sentence, then you will forever create an unclear statement. Examine the following excerpt and the differences between an unclear and clear statement.

Sample Excerpt

From one vantage point, the unbiased reader may perceive that of all the perspectives, Quentin and Shreve prove to be the most reliable in theirs.  For example, Shreve provides the objective viewpoint for he has no real stake in the retelling of the events.  The only way in which he becomes part of the drama is via Quentin.  In other words, he has no familial ties to Sutpen or to the other “character-narrators.” And Quentin’s desire to reconcile Sutpen’s actions with that of the perception of his actions proves to be advantageous to understanding the role of history within the present. 

Through his actions, we see an inability to reconcile self-perception and social perceptions in that Faulkner presents a character unsure of his heritage, but marks him early on in the novel as a Negro. For example, Faulkner actively participates in the assigning of constructed identities to subject citizens.  Similar to the genealogist, Faulkner classifies his data.  He is obligated to distinguish between race and class, to make social classification a vital element to his narratives.  But “[in] accepting markings such as skin color, sexual difference, dress, and dialect as significant indices of social value, the trusting reader initially must repeat and reinforce the figures whereby blacks, poor whites, and women have been classified, separated, and dominated” (Snead 155).  In other words, the stereotypes that permeate his novels reinforce the racist perspectives of southerners.

Figure 6: Essay Excerpt on Quentin and Shreve, Absalom, Absalom!

Problems

The first highlighted (bolded) statement represents an unclear statement. Within the statement, the student packs too much into one sentence without fully exploring its qualities. How do you reconcile Sutpen’s actions? In addition, to whom does “his” refer?

Revision Considerations

Develop a simple, straightforward sentence to convey your point. The second bolded sentence is a simple, clear statement that answers questions about a particular topic.

Explanation

When you have to ask any question or many, then you have lost your reader. If you can’t answer the questions yourself, then you have lost grip on your analysis. The best way to define a “clear statement” is to connect it to the definition we have outlined for “ambiguous.” In other words, a “clear statement” is easily understood, distinct, and is not ambiguous. In essence, all elements of uncertainty have been addressed when an idea is clear.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.

Read the following paper. It is a weekly response paper written for a Study of Shakespeare class. The paper is presented without correction to grammar, structure, or idea. Why do you suppose a professor might say that the theme you are proposing doesn’t quite work in every example? Let’s review the key and begin reading the essay.

This is the key to the sample essay. It will help you locate the problems quickly within the student essay.

Table 3: Key to Sample Paper on Pericles

Thesis (italics);Theme (bold/italics);Different examples/support (bold)

Here is the student’s essay. Use the key as you read the text.

Figure 2: Sample Student Paper on Pericles

The Theme of Exchange in Pericles

Throughout the play lies the practice of reciprocity.  Many characters desire to go beyond their own personal need for something better regardless of the cost.  In many situations, there is an exchange of ideas, roles, and positions.  But there is one particular point the play desires to make with these different exchanges, that regardless of the gift in return, no exchange is worth the price paid.  And the price paid in the instance of the play is prostitution. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “prostitution” in many ways.  It is defined as the “offer of oneself unlawfully, usually for hire, to devote or expose to lewdness.”  Such devotion requires moving the word from a noun to a verb, hence, to prostitute.  So, now the word evokes action and implies the lace of control on the one subjected.  Whoever is being prostituted is subjected to lewdness, shame, and disgrace in many ways.  And the term prostitute translates as incest in the first scene.

For example, the presenter of the play details the actions of King Antioch, who take his “. . . female heir . . .” and “. . . her to incest did provoke” (i.22, 26).  In this exchange, the daughter moves to the role of mother and wife without option or personal inclination.  She is expected to understand the duties of marriage.  Regardless of her innocence, the king has a need or exchange that must be met.  His wife has died and now he needs another wife.  The exchange is fine for him, but detrimental for the Daughter.  He never recognizes her as a mother or wife in speech; instead she is just a daughter.  She is prostituted or exposed to shame by him without regard to her.  She is not permitted any suitors like a father usually presents to his daughter.  Instead, her only pleasure is his pleasure.  He even goes so far as to legalize the exchange (or the lewdness) by establishing a law on her behalf so that anyone who extends beyond the boundary the king set will die (i.35).  The Daughter is prostituted by her own father, and where this is an indirect action, the issue with Marina is altogether direct.  But first, the play directs the attention of the reader to the exchange of Marina by Pericles to Cleon and Dionyza.

In scene thirteen, Pericles has just lost his wife in childbirth.  He is forced to go back to claim his position as king.  His father has died and the people want Helicanus as their ruler, for “. . . Tyrus stands in a litigious . . .” place (xiii.1-2).  Pericles leaves the babe Marina with Cleon and his malicious wife Dionyza.  In this instance, matters concerning position and law take over matters of the heart.  He is leaving his only child with them.  Cleon is the governor of Tarsus, but the child is in an unfamiliar surrounding and she needs the comfort of her father since her mother is supposedly dead.  In this exchange, Pericles has more peace without the responsibility of dealing with a child.  He loves his child and this is very clear toward the end when he finally sees her grown for the first time.  It is fitting that he should suffer the possible loss of his child at the end because of this hasty decision to leave her with others.  It is probable that Pericles has committed such an unnatural act because of the supposed death of his wife.  One may argue that leaving the child is the best thing to do because she would be out of harm’s way.  But what is more detrimental, leaving her at an early stage without her father, or in the company of strangers?  Considering the time and the delicate issue at hand, there are no right answers.  But his decision to leave Marina proves detrimental for her because Dionyza envies and despises Marina, for she “. . . gets all praises . . .” (xv.33-34).  Marina is a threat to the public praises that Dionyza’s daughter should receive.  She plots Marina’s murder through the intermediary Leonine.  Leonine fails to secure Dionyza’s complete trust and messes up the plan to kill Marina.  Instead, a pack of pirates steal Marina, selling her into prostitution.  The word “steal” deserves attention.  At this instance, the pirates don’t really know that they are stealing away Marina’s character, her virtue, and especially her choice.  Where Dionyza also steals her choice by planning her murder, the pirates really do her in, physically.  Dionyza is too much of a coward to do her own dirty work, and this is probably due to her husband’s position.  On the other hand, this is the life the pirates lead, that of supply and demand.  They supply prostitutes and demand money in exchange.  One especially clear definition of prostitute is devote, or to devote to lewdness.

The players, Pander, Boult, and Bawd, are “devoted” to this market of supply and demand.  Pander states scene sixteen, “Search the market narrowly. . . . We lose too much money this mart by being wenchless” (3-4).  Supplying prostitutes is not a personal thing.  It is business in the sense that they receive their due exchange of money when they supply women.  And when the pirates bring Marina to them, they become all too eager for what they could possibly obtain for such a chaste woman as Marina.  Another definition of prostitute entails exposure, shame, public sale, and exhibition.  Marina must be advertised so that exchange can have a place in the market and in this society.  Bawd asks Boult, “Now, sir, has thou cried her through the market?” (xvi.82). Marina’s dignity, virtue, character, and chastity no longer exist, because once her name has been announced, her reputation is no more the same.  Announcing her name is like attaching a newfound reputation.  Even though she never sleeps with anyone, the reputation is still there.  The public cry demands an exchange.  For the exchange to happen the way it should, Marina must first do her job; and the only way this can happen is the Wife instructs her in the way of this job.  There is a goal that must be completed, an exchange that demands to be paid.  To a certain extent, the reader sees this goal accomplished in the actions of Lysimachus when he pays Marina for non-sexual services.  Even though sex isn’t rendered, an exchange has still been made.  Marina pleads her case, for she is still “. . . unspotted . . .” and “. . . unstained ev’n in thought” (xviiii.102-103).  And Lysimachus accepts this plea, pays for the services, and even goes so far as to praise her; and, he desires to marry her at the end.  It follows that exchanges are exchanges when they are accepted.  If Lysimachus had left, an exchange wouldn’t have taken place.

Exchanges are made every day, from conversing with fellow people on the street to bartering and sale.  Without exchanges, there would be no gifts.  Without gifts, there would be no happiness and subsequently, no appreciation.  Exchanges are necessary so appreciation can thrive.  Even in lewd conduct such as prostitution, the one being prostituted is not happy or appreciative, but the imitator is.  And this is what makes exchanges such a necessary tool.  On the other hand, defining cases of exchanges can prove detrimental when handled improperly.  And the flip-side of prostitution is an exchange that hurts everyone.  There is always some price paid for the “exchange,” regardless of the context.

Outline

This is an outline of the whole response: The first example of “exchange” begins with the theme of exchange and centers on the relationship of prostitution to the theme. The second example begins with an exchange that doesn’t highlight the relationship of prostitution. Instead, this example focuses on the exchange of a baby. From the middle to the end of the paragraph is merely plot summary. The third example reverts to the theme of exchange as it relates to prostitution.

For one, we can argue that the thesis isn’t as clearly defined as it needs to be.  It doesn’t make allowances for different types of reciprocity. The word “reciprocity” is too general for a two-page response paper. The student doesn’t provide a definition for the term and “exchange” is only defined in terms of the word “prostitution.” There is nothing in the introduction/thesis to alert the reader that “different” types of exchanges will be discussed, some not based on prostitution and some based on this theme of “exchange.” 

Last, if the example of the baby exchange relates to prostitution, it is important to make the connection. By what association is the exchange of Marina to her role as a prostitute as an adult?

This theme of exchange, in relation to prostitution (reciprocity), does not work in every example.

Solution

When a professor places “An interesting idea, but it doesn’t work in every example.” at the end of your paper, he or she is saying that you need to proofread your paper for more than just grammatical errors, but also for relevance, relationships, continuity, transition, and support. You must perform a checklist on the whole of your paper, especially on the body. Pretend you have a shopping list in one hand and the theme in the other. All of your examples, 1-2-3, are on the list.

The theme is in the same hand as the pencil. Your theme/thesis should match each example in your paper. If it doesn’t, set the paragraph aside and develop it more. If you are still unable to edit it, then consider the relevance it has to the overall paper. If it has none, consider removing the paragraph.

What your professor wants you to realize is that although the idea you present is interesting, the idea isn’t supported in every example. If it is not supported, then the example is just mere filler, not something of value and relevance to your paper.

For an extended explanation, see also the comments “Too General to be Meaningful” and “Your Ideas Are too General.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Ambitious

Overview

This comment is my favorite. I have learned much about the act of trying to accomplish the world in one paper. I have this bad. I believe I can cover the whole world of English in a five-page to seven-page paper. It took some time for me to understand the valuable lessons I’m going to share with you below, but I have learned that providing quality writing is better than doing a whole bunch of things in one sitting.

Of course, I’m still a work in progress, but I digress.

The objective of writing and revising a paper is always be effective. For example, develop a thesis that you can execute. Add topic sentences that actually support the thesis. Include supporting evidence that is verifiable. Be realistic in your assessment of future implications. This is simple to understand if you are evaluating another person’s paper, but hard to execute within your own.

Let’s explore this comment and how a professor uses it to help you restructure your thesis and your paper.

Note: Don’t take the comment too literally in terms of thinking that your professor is criticizing your professional and/or academic potential. There is never anything wrong with having and pursuing ambition, but you can’t do 50 different things in one year and expect to develop each thing with great quality. I have to remind myself of this fact everyday, so I don’t get off into a race to accomplish more than I am realistically able to chew in one sitting.

The reference source for this discussion is Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Since it is too long to include within this post, you can find a copy of the letter here. You don’t have to read the text in order to understand the discussion below.

Let’s begin.

Location

Area of Paper: thesis sentence

Type of Paper: statement of purpose

You will often find this comment from your professor written as feedback for a statement of purpose. A professor will require you to provide a statement concerning what you will write for the final paper. You must outline a method for how you will choose to complete the task, bearing in mind the page count and other limits the professor will place on the assignment.

A final paper for most English undergraduate classes is typically under 10 pages, no more than 12 total. In some classes, professors allow the page count to extend to 15, but it is rare that you will be able to perform this feat at both freshman and sophomore levels.  Baby steps are always important.

The professor always provides some kind of indication of what your final paper will be at the beginning of the semester. She may require you to come up with the idea yourself. Just know that when you get the assignment, the clock starts. Therefore, you must decide earlier on in the semester what you will write about and simultaneously winnow unnecessary goals and information.

The most important goal to remember is to structure your purpose statement so that you don’t develop a generalized view of the topic. This will require you to examine your thesis, since it is the guide post for everything else you will do within the paper.

Samples

Here are a few broad theses for you to review to prepare for the discussion that follows.

Thesis #1

A thesis that centers on the differences and similarities between King’s assumptions and the facts and the clergymen beliefs in Letter from Birmingham Jail is borderline ambitious.

Thesis #2

A thesis that centers on This paper will examine the thoughts and plans of King, and the biblical and secular implications of the Letter from Birmingham Jail is overly ambitious.

Thesis #3

A thesis that centers on the differences between King’s assumptions and how he structures the text in Letter from Birmingham Jail is a specific topic.

Although the third thesis still needs work, it is functional.  A student could easily locate all of King’s assumptions and analyze them within the context he writes. In addition, the same student can then use those sentences as tools for analyzing the structure of the text. Consider the following questions:

  • Where does King place each assumption within the text?
  • How does that assumption affect the structure of the work?

Therefore, Thesis #3 is workable. You can take it and expand, reduce, and qualify each idea without compromising the integrity of the author’s work or your paper.

In what follows, I address only Thesis #1. The assessment I provide below will give you enough insight into understanding the comment “Ambitious.”

Let’s continue.

Problems

Understanding Thesis #1

The student wants to accomplish multiple goals with this thesis:

Goal #1: Identify assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

In this case, the student refers to King’s views as assumptions and facts, but refers to the clergymen perspectives as beliefs. In the letter, King uses his assumptions and refers to the clergymen words to address the social and political environment of the day, which represents a conflict between civil disobedience and the adherence to current law.

Goal #2: Identify the differences between assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

Outlining “difference” is no easy task, because you must provide a paralleled view of each character’s perspective.

For example, King believes that all dogs are nice. The clergymen believe that all women are pretty. This is not a difference. This is one person believing something about animals and another person believing something about people. No comparison.

However, if King believes all dogs are nice and the clergymen believe all dogs are nice if they lick your face, then you can reasonably conclude that there is a difference between each statement. Both characters have a view about dogs: King offers a straightforward assessment, but the clergymen add a condition.

Goal #3: Identify the similarities between assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

Identifying the similarities between King’s assumptions and facts and the clergymen beliefs will expand the paper to thesis/dissertation level. To determine “similarity” you must first understand the definition for the word “similar,” which means “almost the same but not exactly the same” (Longman Dictionary).

Within the letter, King addresses the criticisms of his fellow clergymen. One of the criticisms refers to purpose. The clergymen call his presence in Birmingham “unwise and untimely.”

Here’s a little background: An affiliate organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference initially asked King and his associates to come to Birmingham to support a nonviolent, direct-action program. Therefore, King is in Birmingham, Alabama on the authority of the affiliate organization, the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Essentially, King’s purpose for writing the letter is to highlight this fact and explore the problem of racial injustice.

However, the purpose of the clergymen, as King defines it, is different. King outlines within the letter the beliefs of the clergymen as he understands them. He writes the following to refer to the clergymen statements. I have applied italics to distinguish the text from the main text.

  • “You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham.”
  • “You may well ask: ‘Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?'”
  • “You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws.”
  • “In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence.”
  • “You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme.”
  • “You warmly commended the Birmingham police for keeping ‘order’ and ‘preventing violence.'”
  • “I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation.”

After each statement, King proceeds to offer an assessment of the clergymen views in light of his purpose for being in Birmingham and what this purpose means in comparison to the need for implementing a social justice program to combat racial prejudice. He provides an in-depth assessment of current attitudes.

In considering the statements above, what can we conclude? What I understand these lines to mean is this:

  • King addresses the statements of the clergymen. We assume that they send King a letter while he is in jail.
  • King uses each statement to start a discussion about the nonviolence direct action program.
  • King explains the purpose of the program.
  • King employs “you” to break up long passages of text. The “you sentences” function similarly to topic sentences.

Now we get to the  problem. Nowhere in the passage do we, as the readers, actually “hear” the clergymen voice nor can we conclude for certain that the words King uses to refer to the clergymen are accurate, because they are not set off in quotation marks.

What’s the point?

It is hard to outline “similarities” between assumptions, facts, and beliefs if one person is the only one outlining the assumptions, facts, and beliefs. It is difficult to achieve certainty in determining what the clergymen believe in light of King’s letter. We only have King’s sentences and not those of the clergymen.

Returning to our definition, is anything that King writes concerning what the clergymen believe and the words he uses to refer to the clergymen statements “almost the same but not exactly the same?”

First, we can’t determine if their statements are the same, or similar. There might be a possibility if King had set off with quotation marks the words of the clergymen. Then we would be certain what King says and what they say.

Therefore, we can’t  explore the option of outlining similarities.

. . . . . .

This has been an interesting exercise. We could go on, but I think you get the picture. Now here are some steps to consider when revising a thesis that is ambitious.

Solutions

How do you begin to approach revising the thesis of a statement of purpose where the ideas you express, according to your professor, are ambitious? What steps should you consider?

It’s simple. The goals we have outlined above represent the steps you need to take before writing the actual paper.

Step #1: Identify assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

Highlight the main text. Develop a color coding system. Yellow is for “assumptions.” Red is for “facts.” Blue is for “beliefs.” You might have to use another color for “other.” Consider “green.”

  • Yellow: I think of yellow as similar to the phrase “yellow-belly,” a term that refers to coward. It is somewhat cowardly to assume when it takes more courage to get to the truth.
  • Red: I think of red as similar to the stop sign. You can’t run past a stop sign without actually stopping. It is the most exact symbol of authority. If you run it, you suffer the consequences. The same is true about facts. You can’t change a fact into an assumption. A fact should stop you so you can consider its potential within your paper.
  • Blue: I think of blue as an equalizer. Everyone has beliefs.
  • Green: Last, I think of green as referring to a person lacking experience. There are some quotes that you will consider using within your paper that will not have enough substance to be effective. In other words, you might struggle to make a point with a certain quote. Don’t use any quote as a filler if it will not help to convey your ideas effectively.

Step #2: Identify the differences between assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

On a sheet of paper, draw a standard multiplications table. Consider the one below.

Characters Assumptions Facts Beliefs
King      
Clergymen      
Other      

Constructing this table will help you understand the text. You need to know which words/sentences/ideas belong to the author of the text, and which words/sentences/ideas belong to other characters. If the author is making an assumption, then place that sentence in the box up under this category. Use the word “assume” as you write the sentence. Do the same for the other characters.

For any wording set off in direct quotation marks, don’t interpret the sentence. Place the full sentence in the box. This way you won’t get confused about 1) who says what and 2) what that person actually says and 3) to whom.

Step #3: Identify the similarities between assumptions, facts, and beliefs.

The same exercise for Step #2 is useful here. Instead of focusing on multiple characters, consider only structuring your purpose statement around two. This will “focus” your paper, removing general statements. This will allow you to add more details within your analysis.

In addition,  if you are suggesting two things are similar, make sure that they are actually similar and on the same level. When you suggest anything within the context of English writing and analyzing, you are actually “assuming.” Think about it. You were not there during the time of composition. Therefore, do you know for certain the author’s intention for the work?

For example, when you write “Both King and the clergymen have similar views on the problem of racial injustice,” you are now suggesting that their views are similar. This becomes problematic because unless the author points out that his views are similar to another, then how can you make the connection accurately? Unless their ideas are actually similar, you can’t make this assumption within your paper.

To make connections without compromising the author’s views and the integrity of your own paper, you must use the words “assume” and “suggest” in your analysis.

  • King’s views on . . . and the clergymen’s views on . . . suggest that their perspectives about . . . might be similar.

Phrase the sentence as a conditional statement by using the modals “might” and “may.”

Remember, when the text is one-sided, it is hard to determine each character’s perspective. Therefore, read each sentence thoroughly and ask yourself this question: “Who is saying this?”

Conclusion

It is no easy task to edit the thesis of your statement of purpose.

Don’t take offense after receiving this comment. When your professor writes “Ambitious” within the margins of your paper or at the end, she is not referring to your long-term aspirations or to your professional potential.

The purpose of this type of comment is to help you develop an approach for revising a thesis that your professor knows you cannot reasonably and fully explore within a 10-page paper.

Your teacher is there to help you structure your material so that it is readable and effective. Too many ideas within one paper often contribute to a teacher’s frustration in ultimately understanding your purpose.

Reread sections of this post that apply to you directly. As you begin to revise your purpose statement, go through the process of winnowing unnecessary assumptions, including your own.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Winnow, Winnow, Winnow.”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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Ambiguous (Revision Plan)

Overview

Alright, here’s the first comment. I’m quite sure that somewhere in your academic development you have received this comment. The word “ambiguous” is an interesting term because it means something that is not clear because the something could have more than one meaning. In other words, whatever the something is, we can understand it in more than one way. This type of comment further adds to the student’s dilemma of trying to understand the teacher’s perspective and then applying this understanding to the paper.

Location

Area of Paper: near the thesis sentence, topic sentence

Type of Paper: revision plan

In researching some of my old academic papers and reviewing past papers I have graded, I conclude that you can typically find this comment near the thesis sentence, near a few sentences that supposed to support the topic sentence, and anywhere or paper you indicate plans for confronting the task of revising the work.

If your professor asks you to develop a plan for revising the work, and you hash out one that appears on the surface to have a dual thesis or imply multiple themes, then you will definitely receive this type of comment.

If you write you are going to do one thing with the paper, but don’t adopt a specific plan of action regarding how you will accomplish the goal, then rest assured that your professor will believe you don’t fully understand the topic and that you plan to accomplish the goal of writing the paper without a clear plan, ironically.

Sample Paper

In my English classes, I typically assign a “Revision Plan” requirement where I simply get the students to develop a plan for revising their essays. They can’t tell me that they will check for grammar and then turn in the paper. No, they have to create a schedule. They have to walk me through each paragraph, explaining the problems/issues/questions about the paragraph, detailing what steps they will take to revise/change/improve it.

They have to identify which topic sentence doesn’t support the thesis. That’s the only specific job of a “topic sentence” anyway, which is to support the thesis. The topic sentence doesn’t support the quotes or any other supporting information, so remember this as you revise your papers.

Below is a sample essay prompt and my assessment of the ideas the student expresses within the response to the prompt. I instructed my students to develop a revision plan for a homework essay assignment written on the topic of Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” The follow-up response is a sample revision plan.

In my class, revision plans are much longer, close to five or more pages.

Prompt

Develop an essay that illustrates how you will achieve revising Homework #2.  Include the following subheadings to structure your essay.

  • Introduction: Identify your problem.  Describe your thesis.
  • Research Goals/Methodology: Describe your goals.  Outline your method for completing the project.
  • Writing Schedule: Provide a timetable for accomplishing the rewriting of Homework #2.
  • Literature Review: Provide a description of two works you will use in the essay.
  • Professional Statement on MLA: Write a statement on how you will incorporate MLA in your essay.
  • Conclusion: Describe how your paper might have an impact on students reading King’s letter for the first time.

I use this structure to keep it simple for students and to help them organize their thoughts. It’s effective in terms of helping them develop a structure for the plan.

Response

Here’s a response to the prompt. 

My thesis is King discusses segregation and the direct-action program. In my paper, I did not construct a clear thesis. My topic sentences did not support my thesis. I should have added more supporting evidence. A quote I used didn’t make much sense. I should have checked to see if my quotes matched my topic sentence. Therefore, my goal is to create a better thesis. I will devote whatever free time I can to scanning my paper so I can make sure my paper is done and done right. I will spend time looking through my books and looking for good quotes. The reason why I didn’t get a good grade on the last paper was because of my bad scheduling. I should have devoted more time.  So, this time I will go over my paper for any mistakes. My paper will be ready by Monday to turn it in on Wednesday.

Given the idea of developing a revision plan and given the idea that the person reading this blog is definitely a teacher, it is clear that there are some issues with the paragraph. There are some sentences you could gloss over and just excuse the student for not being more specific in developing a clear plan. For example, the statement, “My topic sentences did not support my thesis,” is a perfect example. At least the student is aware that this can pose as a problem to the rest of the essay.

However, there are other sentences that definitely need more attention. The sentence, “I will spend time looking through my books and looking for good quotes,” doesn’t really provide an indication of what the student will do with the chapters or with the book for that matter. Herein lies the dilemma.

How do you understand the revision process enough to convey how you will accomplish revising the essay?

Problems

Let’s analyze the paragraph. There are some ambiguities with the plan.

Ambiguity #1: I did not construct a clear thesis.

The student doesn’t outline the problem or issue with the original thesis. What was unclear about it?

Ambiguity #2: My topic sentence did not support my thesis.

The student doesn’t outline which topic sentence is a problem or has an issue. Because the student doesn’t provide the thesis so we, as readers, can assess the problem, we are left wondering if the topic sentence does or doesn’t support the thesis. If we knew which topic sentence had the problem and how it affected the thesis or other sentences, then we could better determine which parts of the topic sentence did not support the parts of the thesis.

For example, you can’t say Jane is nice, pretty, and outgoing without addressing each “part” of Jane. Whether this type of sentence represents the thesis for the essay or a topic sentence, you have to address each quality of Jane.

Ambiguity #3: I should have added more supporting evidence.

1) For what part of your paper would you need supporting evidence?

2) What part of the paper already lacks supporting evidence?

3) Will the supporting evidence you use support your ideas or the author’s?

Ambiguity #4: Therefore, my goal is to create a better thesis.

1) How do you define “better”?

2) What does the word mean within the context of your revision plan?

Changing a few words doesn’t make a sentence “better.” However, changing the structure of a sentence and/or paragraph so that it becomes logical for the whole paper is a step in the right direction toward “better.”

Ambiguity #5: I will devote whatever free time I can to scanning my paper so I can make sure my paper is done and done right.

This is a very interesting sentence. There’s much ambiguity here. Let’s analyze the student’s use of wording.

The word “scan” has two definitions:

  • To examine something in detail
  • To look through something quickly

Therefore, in considering your revision plan, how will you “scan?” Which of the two definitions will you use to apply to the plan?

  • Will you do both: scan in detail and look through quickly?
  • What areas of your paper will you devote to “looking through” something quickly?

It is no easy task to revise your paper, but it is equally no easy task to execute a plan without specifics.

In addition, the phrase “done and done right” has more than one meaning. When something is “done,” this means the something represents a conclusion, a finished product.

However, “done right” could mean that you have finished your paper or it could mean that you have finished your paper and have made sure that the paper conforms to the requirements of the assignment.

What does “done” mean to you in terms of both developing a revision plan and completing the assignment? This is a question you have to ask yourself as you develop a plan for revising your paper.

Solutions

There’s much more ambiguity within the passage, but it’s important to provide you with quality versus quantity. I could continue but I believe that I have outlined the meaning of this comment within the context of revision planning.

Here are some steps to consider as you think about sketching a plan for revising your paper:

Step #1

Construct a thesis that is attainable, measurable, and clear from ambiguity. Remember the basic math problem? The numbers always check out. You should do the same with an essay. You should evaluate your topic sentences against the thesis to see if they “check out.” If you see that Jane has three qualities and you have only addressed two within the body of your paper, then this is your problem. In your revision plan, outline this as a problem.

Step #2

Since the author is not ambiguous, your thesis shouldn’t be ambiguous.  Do what the author does.

What does this mean?

Well, you have this author whose primary purpose for writing is to outline how grading standards do not add to learning. This is the author’s thesis. In your thesis, your job is to either refute the author’s claim or support it. Instead, you try to do both. However, the author doesn’t do both. His thesis is clear: grading standards do not add to learning.

Therefore, do what the author does, in principle. Analyze not only the purpose of the author for writing the article/book, but also the structure of the work. If the author assesses his claim from two perspectives, then you must do the same. As you construct your thesis, don’t forget to pick a side. You are either for his claim or not.

Step #3

Preserve the intent of the author.  Accurately convey the author’s viewpoints. Don’t project your opinions onto the author’s work.

When an author initially writes, he doesn’t write with the reader in mind. He doesn’t say to himself, “If I include this character within the work, the reader will like it and want to continue reading.” No. He writes for his own pleasure. He writes out of necessity. He writes because the act of writing is cathartic.

Therefore, challenge the author’s beliefs, but make sure to outline accurately what the author believes. Use wording such as “He states.” If the author includes words such as “believe” and “assume,” then you use those same words within your analysis.

“The author believes that grading standards do not add learning. He further states. . . .”

Always keep the author in mind as you write. Keep in mind particularly what he actually accomplished within the work.

Step #4

Make sharper distinctions between what happens first, second, third, and last by using these words.

For example, when the author doesn’t provide wording that indicates chronology, within your essay you must provide time-specific words to guide the reader. In essence, it is your responsibility to convey logic, structure, and cohesion in reference to the author’s work by the words you use within your essay.

How do you do this?

Well, what happens first in the story? What happens after this? The only thing you have is the story as a reference, not necessarily the author’s words. Therefore, you must convey the right meanings. You make the distinction, so the reader of your paper doesn’t develop a wrong perspective of the author’s work.

Step #5

Leave no room for uncertainty. As you develop a revision plan, think about the words you use to convey to your professor how you will approach revising a paper. Refer to a dictionary for each verb you use to convey your plan. As you can see above, even small words such as “scan” and “look” and “done” can have two or more different meanings.

Conclusion

All for now. Think about this comment as you develop your revision plan and revise your academic essay. In addition, consider this comment even before you receive it on your paper. You should check for ambiguity before submitting your paper.

For an extended explanation, see also the comment “Ambiguous (Thesis and Author’s Ideas).”

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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