26 Mar 2013

How Can I Improve My Essay? My Teacher's Comments Don't Make Sense!


If your teacher wrote:
What effect does this create?

You need to explore connotations, mood, and the effect that the word-pictures and imagery create for the reader. Maybe you've identified the techniques used but not explained the emotions or feelings that the author has created, or the double meanings of the words and how these build up the theme/contrasts/ and a sense of character. You almost need to translate or 'state the obvious'.
If you didn't state techniques used, you should.

How to write about it:

e.g. if you wrote: 'Carol Ann Duffy says love is like a 'knife' and 'lethal'.
  • for a C grade, add 'this creates a bad feeling about love'
  • for an A, add, 'the use of the semantic field of pain and violence in 'knife', 'lethal' and 'fierce' almost overwhelms the positive imagery of love, creating a brutal, fearful view of love which gives it a dark, dangerous edge.'

e.g. for Of Mice and Men
George uses a series of violent exclamations on Lennie from 'crazy bastard' to 'blubbering like a baby'. These range from harsh slang to colloquial imagery of babies, and the contrast shows the shocking contrasts that are present in Lennie. He's hugely strong, and a little out of control, but also child-like and innocent.

Use phrases like:

  • this suggests
  • this creates a feeling of
  • this makes us think of
  • the effect on the reader is

If your teacher wrote:

Include more detail.
Be more specific.
  • These are almost the same thing. Your teacher wants you to be more precise in what you're describing. 
  • They probably also want you to be more thorough in gathering evidence from the whole book, play or poem. You need to pick up all the most important points. Get help with this by reading the introduction to your class text (or the bit in the back of Shakespeare plays where it explains characters and themes).

How to write about it:

e.g. this poem is about love gone wrong > the poem explores how easily love turns to hate and how violent emotions like jealousy can corrupt identity, transforming people into monsters
e.g. the characters in Romeo and Juliet fight > the families fight over respect, but the original causes of the feud are never stated: it is as if cause is irrelevant, it's more about love of violence in itself, and the chaotic elements like Mercutio and Tybalt are getting out of control.

If your teacher wrote:

Give evidence.
You need to quote. Excellent essays tend to have
  1. more than one quotation in each paragraph
  2. long quotation no more than ten words long
  3. analysis of individual key words picked out from the ten word quotations
  4. lots of one-four word embedded quotations* in addition; analysis of the meanings these build up together
  5. thorough evidence: from three key parts of the play/characters that relate to the question set.

But I can't find good quotations in a novel. It's too big!

  1. Find the key scenes that relate to the question set. You may be able to ask your teacher which pages would be relevant. Or work with a friend.
  2. Then skim and scan for strong images, interesting words or things that characters say.
  3. Type 1-10 word long quotations out into a word document until you have a huge collection. See what I did for my essay on Caliban to get the idea.
  4. Now, group them into quotations that prove the same points and those that seem to contradict or contrast. Then think about why.

Does evidence always have to be a quotation? Can't I just sum it up in my own words (paraphrase)?


Some evidence can be analysis of structure, or a parahprase of general mood or events, or details of Social and Historical Context. But this should be a small(ish) proportion of your evidence.

How to include evidence: 

e.g. The poem, 'Rejection' uses a high proportion of mundane, everyday words, but also a high proportion of sensory language, vivid contrasts in colourorange’ and ‘grey’, sounds: whispering voices, contrasted with ‘scrape of fingernails’, and increasingly painful sensations: ‘ache’ with ‘layer of skin missing,’ to evoke the very physical feelings that the emotional hurt of rejection creates. The poem 'Years Ago' also paints a picture of ‘summer days’ but starts with a lot of very generic terms, such as ‘day after day’ and ‘we would laze’ before zooming in on specific sensory detail: ‘stroking one another’s arms with grasses’ where the sibilance creates a gentle feel as we are allowed a brief glimpse of an intimate moment.