The returning of the first paper marks the end of the “honeymoon” stage in teacher and student relationships. Up to this point we’ve been working together in the blissful grade-free zone . . . and while I hope we still are working together after the evaluations are read . . . the process of grading brings another set of dynamics to our relationship. There are issues of power, of authority, of fairness, and of ego that suddenly come to the fore.
As you read my feedback, please keep in mind I evaluate writing, not people. And yet, grades are so connected to one’s identity, and so I understand that this is often hard to keep that in mind when you are reading feedback and looking at a grade.
I expect a lot from my students’ writing because I know you all are solid thinkers and writers. My job is to push you and help you find and practice the tools you need to be successful in your other Literature and college courses. I want you to be successful in your writing, and I want to read awesome papers.
Below are a few common weaknesses that I noted in the OED papers. Think about these aspects as you begin to draft your poetry close reading paper.
Writing Point to Think About: Form and Content
In this first paper I noticed that some writers didn’t really have a key focus other than using the OED and moving, stanza-by-stanza or (sometimes random) word-by-word through the poem. For the next formal assignment I want everyone to consider how his/her form (paper organization) relates to his/her content (the explication of the text).
Now, if your analysis about the poem hinged on showing a certain kind of development (a development of the diction, for example), then a chronological working through of the poem that pointed out the key words and their meanings that demonstrated that development would be called for. Your organization, in that case, matches the content.
However, some of the papers that I read that used a stanza-by-stanza strategy did so as a tool to work through the poem’s plot, which really wasn’t the focus of this paper at all. In other words, such papers often explained that the first stanza was about X (and I looked up some words in it), the next stanza was about Y (and here is a word in it), etc. Such papers often lacked a strong focus in part because the argument’s form was not connected to the analysis.
Our analysis of how a poem’s form and content relate can translate to your own writing, even if you are not writing poetry. Cool, huh? Understanding how poetry works can make you a better writer!
Writing Point to Think About: Thesis Statements
Which of these thesis statements would you say best focus on the task at hand: that complete this assignment that charged you to use the OED to explicate the poem? How might you improve (revise) all of these thesis statements? Which thesis presents the most interesting argument?
a) The OED is a very helpful tool for reading poetry. I learned a lot from this assignment.
b) Understanding the diction with its connotations and multiple denotations leads to a better understanding of the poem.
c) This poem was difficult. However, by looking at specific words the poem’s significance becomes more obvious.
d) “Revenant” exploits language’s ambiguity to paint a picture of a hopeful end of the world.
e) The best way to understand this poem is to look at it stanza-by-stanza.
f) The poem’s use of ambiguous and precise meanings of three key words (revenant, condemned, and Easter) emphasizes a complex relationship between death and life.
Writing Point to Think About: Citation of Dictionary Definitions
Several students did not put quotation marks around the OED definitions. This is plagiarism. If you did not summarize the definition completely in your own words and/or did not put those words from the OED in quotation marks, you plagiarized from the OED. This is bad, bad, bad. You must either fully summarize the definition and put it in your own words (and you still need to use in-text citation so your reader knows where you got this information) or, you need to put the word-for-word definition in quotation marks. Here are two examples:
A) According to the OED, the word “sand” means “A material consisting of comminuted fragments and water-worn particles of rocks (mainly silicious) finer than those of which gravel is composed; often spec. as the material of a beach, desert, or the bed of a river or sea” (def 1a).
B) According to the OED, the word “sand” means tiny rocks, which are smaller than gravel, that are often found in locations like a beach, desert, or riverbed (def 1a).
Plagiarism Example 1: Word-for-Word
C) According to the OED, the word “sand” means a material consisting of comminuted fragments and water-worn particles of rocks (mainly silicious) finer than those of which gravel is composed; often spec. as the material of a beach, desert, or the bed of a river or sea (def 1a).
Plagiarism Example 2: Plagiarism by Paraphrase
D) The word “sand” means tiny rocks, which are smaller than gravel, that are often found in locations like a beach, desert, or riverbed.
Plagiarism Example 3: Mosaic Plagiarism
E) According to the OED, the word “sand” means a material consisting of water-worn particles of rocks, mainly silicious, and finer than gravel that are often found in locations like a beach, desert, or riverbed (def 1a).
Note the errors each plagiarism example makes. See Dr. J if you have questions about proper citation.
Writing Point to think about: Titles
What do you do with titles? Many students failed to underline or italicize The Oxford English Dictionary. As a whole, the class did a better job with the title of a short work; in this case, the poem’s title: “Revenant.”