Commonly Made Errors Learn from your mistakes!
Speaking about the author • “William Shakespeare uses a twist of fate to teach audiences how love can turn to tragedy.” • William Shakespeare’s use of a twist of fate might teach some audiences how love can turn to tragedy. • “Harper Lee wanted her readers to know how racism can destroy a life.” • It seems Harper Lee wanted her readers to know how racism can change a life. • Unless you have personally spoken to an author, or are quoting an interview, you cannot speak to an author’s intentions.
Why? • You cannot speak to an author’s intent – or anyone’s intent – unless you spoke to them or are quoting an interview. • We are not mind readers, and we are not equipped to know what Mr. Shakespeare or Ms. Lee were thinking while they were writing. • How do I say what I want to say? • NOTE: Also avoid saying what the audience thinks or feels or what the reader thinks or feels.
Softening Words • Perhaps • It seems • Might • Could be • Implies (Infer is for the reader – Imply for the author) • Suggests • Raises the possibility • Maybe • Is possible
Examples • Incorrect: Shakespeare wanted young people to learn a lesson from the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. • Better: Perhaps Shakespeare wanted young people to learn a lesson from the star crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
Example • Incorrect: Harper Lee wanted Atticus to be a representation of all the goodness of the 1930’s. • Better: It seems as if Harper Lee created Atticus Finch to represent all of the goodness of the 1930’s. • Bottom line: You can make the point you want to make. You simply need to choose your words carefully.
Book Review • Shakespeare is brilliant in the way he masterfully develops a plot of love and tragedy that keeps audiences enthralled to the very end of the play. • Harper Lee does an excellent job of creating a character everyone loves and respects: Atticus Finch. • It is incredible that William Shakespeare included so many styles of love in this play. • No one tells a better story than Harper Lee. • Do NOT make statements like these in academic literary analysis papers!
Why? • You have not read all of the works by the author. • You have not read all of the works in the genre. • You have not read all of the works with a similar theme. • You have not read all of the books in the world, or all of the plays, poems, etc. • You do not hold a degree from a university in the study of literature. • You are not “qualified” to judge the author.
Slang/Informal • Calpurnia always treats Scout like she is just a kid. • Romeo is completely clueless about the plan Juliet and the Friar made. • Chance and coincidence play a huge role in Romeo and Juliet. • Do NOT use the word “huge” to mean “significant. Huge is about physical size and mass. It is also an overused word. Taking it out of your writing is a good idea.
Absolutes – Do Not Use Them! • Every • Everyone • No One • Nobody • Never • Always • Everybody • All • None
Do NOT add to the topic given • For example, if you choose to write about chance and coincidence, then do not include luck and fate. • Do not bring in “nowadays” or how things in present day are different than the work you read. • Do not speculate about the “what if’s.” For example: • If Friar John would have gotten the letter to Romeo in time, then he and Juliet could have lived happily ever after.
Address your entire topic in your thesis statement • A topic is a starting place for your thesis statement. • After you choose a topic, you must formulate a thesis that covers all of the things the topic requires. • A hint is to look for the verbs in the topic – they tell you what you need to “do.” • Explain, discuss, analyze, etc.
Example • One of the most inspiring characters in 20th century American literature is Atticus Finch. He is a morally upright lawyer, a committed and loving father, and an overall good citizen, Finch is regarded highly by most citizens with a sense of justice. Write an essay in which you analyze Atticus Finch’s character. You may wish to focus the content of your essay by selecting a single quote or passage (consider a portion of the courtroom speech, for instance) and explaining how it reflects Finch’s character strengths. Address whether Finch has any flaws, and explain how he conveys his beliefs to his children and his community.
Example continued • Analyze Atticus’ character • Explain character strengths • Address his flaws • Explain how he conveys his beliefs to his children • Explain how he conveys his beliefs to his community • Atticus Finch is a man with a strong moral code, even though he does have a weakness as a disciplinarian; he conveys his personal beliefs to both his children and his community through his unwavering behavior.
Connect all of your body paragraphs to your thesis • The purpose of your body paragraphs is to prove and support your thesis. • Take the previous Atticus thesis. You would not want to get sidetracked into talking about the loss of his wife, how he does not want to play football in the church game, or even a physical description. • Every paragraph should act as evidence for your thesis.
Explain your quotes • Do not simply include a quote with no explanation. • You must explain how the quote relates to your thesis statement. • The explanation can come before the quote or after the quote, but it must be there. • NOTE: Do not include lengthy quotes in an effort to make your word count higher. Most teachers (and college professors) will not count them toward your word count.
Generalization • Generalizations are unfocused statements that are not specific to proving your thesis. • Example: “Many people experience infatuation at an early age. Infatuation is not real love, but the person feeling it does not know it is not the real thing. Usually infatuation fades after a few weeks, especially if it is one sided.”
MLA • Learn your MLA and follow it. Do not try to enlarge your font or margins in an effort to make your paper look longer. • It was on the rubric!
Misc. • Do not contradict yourself. • Read your paper out loud – you will find your errors that way. • Do not make handwritten corrections on your final copy. • Pay attention in class and follow your notes about writing. • Read your comments and process them. Save your graded major papers.
Then and Than • Then is about time, or order. • We are going shopping, then we are going to the movies. • Bill got a job, and then he bought a car. • Than is about comparison. • Jay is taller than Mitchell. • The flowers at Publix are much nicer than the ones at Kroger. • Her job pays more than mine.