Comments written on a 700-word American literature essay just returned by my instructor M. Smith, the kind of graduate student who stares at the floor when he lectures. First paragraph: “Excellent gloss.” Second paragraph: “Good.” Words underlined. “Good.” Fourth paragraph: “Excellent.” Then, suddenly: “Have you shown this? How does this fit into your argument?” Sixth paragraph: “Have you shown this?” “A good quote, but how to you account for the differences here—in Emerson the notion of place is ‘a force of doom’ rather than a site chosen by ‘Divine Providence’? Surely this is quite different?” Back: “This feels like a paper that might have benefited from another draft. You have plenty of good ideas here, but once you to paragraph 4 these ideas start to come somewhat haphazardly, with little attention to the overall logic and structure of your argument. You mention a contradiction without analyzing it in the last sentence of paragraph 4, and then apparently bring it up again in your conclusion in the midst of a new quotation from Emerson followed by one from Hawthorne. What is your essential argument here? It seem to be the first sentence of your paper—if so, then eliminate everything in your paper that does not contribute to supporting it.” My first sentence is 22 words long.

Posted March 4, 2000

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