Essays On Following Direct Orders Refer
Whenever you read an essay, use the following questions to guide your response.
First, keep in mind that, although you may not be a writing expert, you are THE reader of this essay and your response is a valid one. I have found that almost every reader, regardless of experience, can identify the primary strength and weakness in an essay, although their method of describing those issues may be different. The author will welcome your response and your ability to explain your reaction in a new way. Although the author is not required to, and really shouldn’t, respond to everything you say, he or she will take your comments seriously and consider how the essays has enlightened or confused you. Therefore, comment freely, although respectfully. Keep in mind that it is better to begin by noting the strengths of the essay before pointing out the areas that need improvement. I would always include a personal response to questions like the following: What about the essay most connects with your experience? Moves you? Provokes you? Entertains you?
So that is how to respond. So how do you critique? For every essay, regardless of the mode, consider the broad categories of content, organization, style, and correctness.
- Content: Consider the topic (its appropriateness and interest for the assignment as well as a clear focus suitable to essay length) and the way the topic is developed (clarity sufficiency of its argument, its scope, subcategories, amount and type of examples, anecdotes, evidence, etc.).
- Organization: Consider how the essay is introduced and concluded (especially looking for a “frame” to the essay, where the intro and conclusion refer to the same idea), whether the thesis is located in the most helpful place (direct or implied), how the essay is structured, whether the order or extent of development is successful, as well as how individual paragraphs are organized (clear topic sentences, appropriate and concrete evidence, logical organization of evidence).
- Style: Style can refer to the overall style of an essay: whether the tone is appropriate (humorous, serious, reflective, satirical, etc.), whether you use sufficient and appropriate variety (factual, analytical, evaluative, reflective), whether you use sufficient creativity. Style can also refer to the style of individual sentences: whether you use a variety of sentences styles and lengths, whether sentences are worded clearly, and whether word choice is interesting and appropriate.
- Correctness: Correctness refers to grammar, punctuation, and form of the essay. You do not need to know the exact grammatical term or rule to know when a sentence is not correct. Even though you may not know the term dangling modifier, you could identify that the following sentence is not correct:
Rolling around in the bottom of the drawer, Tim found the missing earring. [certainly the earring was rolling, not Tim!]
You could also easily tell that the following sentence actually contains two sentences that need punctuation between them:
The new manager instituted several new procedures some were impractical. [You need to add punctuation (period) after “procedures” and capitalize “some.”]
Feel free to mark the essay at the point of the error with a specific recommendation (“run-on sentence”) or a general comment (“this sentence sounds wrong to me”). You can also simply put an “X” by any sentence that seems incorrect. See the back of WR for commonly used Correction Symbols.
Further Directions for Specific Assignments
Below are more detailed questions to consider when responding to individual types of essays. First, make sure that you have reviewed the description of the essay mode in the Essay Assignment Guidelines. Use at least one or two of these when responding to an essay. Do not simply answer yes or no; offer specific evidence from the text and elaborate on the reasons behind your answer.
Personal Essay Critique:
- Does the writer have a clear but understated purpose to the essay?
- Does it avoid being overly moralistic or heavy-handed?
- Does the essay contain suspense or tension that is resolved in some way?
- Do you have any suggestions for organizing the essay, such as focusing in on one event rather than many, providing more background, turning explanation into action, etc.?
- Does the essay make good use of concrete description, anecdote, and dialogue?
- Does the essay help you to feel the emotions rather than just describe the emotions of the author?
- Does the essay reveal a significant aspect of the writer’s personality?
- Does the writer seem authentic?
- Is this a passionate piece? Is it creative?
Critical Review Critique
- Does a direct thesis convey both the subject and the reviewer’s value judgment?
- Does the review provide a summary or description to help you experience the film, music, event, etc.? Note places where the author provides too much or too little detail.
- Does the essay clearly identify relevant criteria for evaluation? Are they appropriate, believable, and consistent?
- Are any important features of the reviewed subject omitted?
- Logos (logic, content): Does the essay provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details and examples to adequately inform and entertain?
- Ethos (author): Does the author’s judgment seem sound and convincing?
- Pathos (emotional appeals): Does the author responsibly and effectively utilize emotional appeals to the audience?
- Does the author include adequate reference to the opposition and respond to that opposition appropriately?
Information Essay Critique: The questions posed about an informative essay will vary, depending on the purpose and strategy of the essay. The SMGW suggests evaluating for the following issues:
- Is topic clearly explained and sufficiently focused?
- Does the content fit the audience?
- Is it organized effectively?
- Are definitions clear?
- Are other strategies (classification, comparison/contrast, analysis) used effectively?
- Are sources used sufficiently, effectively, and appropriately?
You might also assess the following criteria:
- Does the author utilize vivid detail, interesting examples, and lively language?
- Does the essay avoid emphasizing judgment over explanation?
- Does the essay have a clear focus or implied thesis?
Comparison/Contrast Essay Critique
- Is the purpose for a comparison or contrast evident and convincing?
- Does the essay identify significant and parallel characteristics for comparison?
- Does the author adequately explain, analyze, or reflect on the comparison or contrast?
- Does the author provide appropriate transitions words to indicate comparison and contrast?
- Is the treatment of each side of the comparison or contrast in balance?
- Does the essay provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details?
Feature Article Critique
- Does this article interest you? Do you think it will interest the intended audience? Can you suggest ways to increase interest?
- Can you tell what the “angle” or implied thesis is? Does the author avoid editorial judgment on the subject while still keeping the purpose clear?
- Has the writer done sufficient research? What questions have gone unasked or unanswered? Whose point of view or what information would add further to the completeness of the feature?
- Is the subject presented vividly with sensory images, graphic detail, and figurative language? Do you have suggestions of details or images to include?
- Does the writer use an appropriate mixture of anecdote, quotation, description, and explanation? Would more or less of one of these improve the essay?
- Are the beginning and ending paragraphs interesting and appropriate for the specific audience? Consider the need for a “lead sentence” if intended for a newspaper.
Documented Argument Critique
- Is the thesis clear, argumentative, and effective? Why or why not?
- Are the topic and thesis are reasonable for the assignment, audience, and context of the essay?
- Does the author define his or her terms and provide sufficient background information? What ideas or terms are undefined or inadequately explained?
- Is the thesis supported by clear reasons? Are the reasons clearly worded and supported sufficiently?
- Do the reasons fit logically together and are they placed in the right order?
- Does the author adequately address the opposition? What is another opposing argument he/she should or could have addressed?
- Has the author done adequate research?
- Are the works cited adequately introduced and explained before citing from them?
- Does the paper contain an appropriate blend of well-placed quotations within a context of the author’s own words and paraphrases from other sources?
- Is the writer clearly in charge, naturally introducing and interacting with sources rather than merely reporting on them?
- Do you find the argument convincing? What might you add or omit?
Business Writing Critique
- Does the memo begin with the most important information?
- Does the memo build rapport by involving the reader in opening paragraph?
- Does the memo provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details? Is it focused and brief?
- Does the memo focus each paragraph on one idea?
- Is the memo informed, accurate, demonstrating the author’s grasp of the situation?
- Is the final paragraph calling for a specific action? Is it brief? Does it build good will?
- Is the memo form correct, with concise subject line, initialed name, correct spacing?
- Is the information arranged (indentations and numbering) in a way that makes it easy to skim and still get central information?
- Does the first paragraph identify who the author is, briefly state why he/she is writing, and refer to how he/she found out about the job?
- Does the second paragraph highlight specific strengths, special abilities, or features of the résumé to be noted?
- Does the third paragraph make a specific request of the reader or address what action is to be taken?
- Does the letter provide sufficient, relevant, and interesting details to make the request convincing?
- Is the letter brief and focused? What elements could be eliminated?
- Does the writer achieve his or her purpose? Does it make you want to consider the résumé more carefully?
- Is the tone of the letter courteous without being too formal, relaxed without being too familiar?
- Is the letter’s form appropriate (heading, spacing, greeting, salutation)? Is the letter addressed to a specific person rather than a general “Dear Madam/Sir”?
- Does the résumé contain the necessary features for the position (name/address, position desired, education, work experience, achievements, relevant personal information, references)?
- Does the résumé contain only essential, relevant information for the position required?
- Does the résumé emphasize the applicant’s strengths?
- Does the résumé emphasize what is unique about this person’s experience? Does it demonstrate a common interest or ability (leadership, teaching experience, dedication, creativity, etc.)?
- What additional information might you like to have about this applicant?
- If you were leading an interview based on this résumé, what are two questions you might ask?
- Does the résumé look neat (appropriate spacing, clear headings, good quality paper)?
- Is the résumé easy to read?
- Is the information presented as concisely as possible?
- Are the elements of each section of the résumé presented in a parallel format and style (begin w/ active verbs, put date in consistent place, use of parallelism for elements, consistent underlining or italics)?
This section should be read in parallel with that which looks at the production of introductions and conclusions (next module). Here the emphasis is on the writing which occurs between the two, the main body of the essay. It takes practice to manage the material you use in analysing and interpreting a work of literature. With this in mind it should be stressed that it is important to plan the essay in advance. Even in timed conditions such as exams you must take the time to think about the structure of the essay. Think about what points you want to make beforehand, and then think about the best way of arranging this material in sequence. The order in which you make the points will go a long way to determining how clear the arguments you put forward will be. You do not have to say everything there is to be said about a given subject and you should try to develop a feel for the most important elements.
An essay should be the development of argument, interpretation and analysis through an extended and flowing sequence of points and illustrations. This entails work at the level of the sentence, of course, but also, very importantly, you need to work at the level of the paragraph. The paragraph is a coherent passage of logically connected sentences usually concentrating on no more than one or two ideas relevant to your argument. Do not use very short and unconnected staccato sentences, and develop your use of linking words by which the various sentences of a paragraph are bound together. It takes experience and practice to develop a sense of when a new paragraph is needed and when it has run its course. Examine thegeneral guide to essay writingto get some sense of how the paragraphs, or 'idea units' as they have also been called, have been constructed, and how their 'natural' beginnings and ends appear.
The first sentence of the paragraph should generally be a 'strong' one, used to signal or indicate the idea to be discussed within the paragraph. Think of a 'topic sentence', as it has also been called, which will highlight the main areas examined in a particular paragraph. Connecting and signposting words and phrases should be learnt, used, and practised (examples are 'furthermore', 'moreover', 'in addition', 'to qualify the above', 'however', 'in order to', 'in this connection', 'having established that' etc.). The argument should develop through the language you use and therefore in a short essay sub-headings are unnecessary.
Your essay will be the representation of an argument on a given subject or subjects. It will include only points which are relevant to the subject, so be careful to get rid of material that is not directly relevant. Although students sometimes complain that the lengths demanded of essays are too long, most of the essays you will write are really relatively short. Part of the skill of writing is to write concisely and economically, without wasting material or 'padding' the work with irrelevant diversions and repetition. Once the points have been chosen they should be presented logically and coherently, so do not leap about from point to point. Each point generally will have some connection to the preceding one and the one which follows. If you do leave one part of the essay to move onto another, but intend later to go back to the point you have left and show, for example, how the points may be connected or related, then it can be useful to say so by 'signposting', e.g. 'this point will be picked up later', 'this point will be returned to later, after taking into consideration ...'. After each draft of the essay check that each point is presented in a logical and coherent order. Read each draft carefully and critically. Is there a significant idea you have not included in the essay? Do you need to expand some of the points you have chosen to write about? Are some of the points, after due consideration, not really relevant? Have you been too long-winded or repetitive? If so, cut out and/or reduce some of the text. Does your argument need to be clearer, and do the links between some of the main points need more emphasis? You should be asking yourself these questions throughout the whole process.
Strong sentences are essential in terms of the flow of your essay. When signalling the fact that they now want to begin a discussion about the imagery of the text in question, students often begin paragraphs with a sentence such as the following: 'I will now go on to discuss the imagery, which plays an important role in this story.' Whilst this would be fine in a first draft for more refined essay writing there are much better alternatives and methods. What is wrong with this particular sentence? To start with there is no real need to introduce the subject so mechanically: as you are writing about literature it will come as no great surprise to the reader that imagery is to be discussed at some point. Secondly, as the student has chosen to write about the imagery there is no need to state that it is important. If it was not important then the student should not have chosen to write about it. (Please note that there would be no objection to a sentence such as 'I will now go on to discuss the imagery, which is fundamental to a full understanding of the story', although it would be even better if the type of imagery was identified. This says something different. Do not repeat these phrases mechanically in your essays - the imagery will not always be absolutely key to understanding the story. Use your common sense.)
You can introduce the subject of imagery in a strong sentence, at the beginning of a paragraph, by simply starting to discuss it straightaway. If you have identified a number of images, metaphors, etc., but have decided that, in the end, they can be collected under two separate headings, then it is a good idea to say so. As an example, here is a paragraph which starts to deal with the literary language in Graham Greene's 'The Destructors'. This paragraph would ideally come about a third or half way into the essay, as it comes after the introduction and signals the fact that some analysis has already been carried out.
A discussion of the imagery can reinforce the general points made above; broadly speaking there are two main sets of images and metaphors, dealing firstly with the tensions between the individual and the community, to which I will turn later, and secondly focusing on Christian symbolism. A number of the images have religious connotations. It is significant that Old Misery's house was designed by Christopher Wren, who was the seventeenth century architect of St. Paul's cathedral. By mentioning Wren Greene is attempting to show the presence of the past in the present and how irrelevant it seems to the boys: 'Who's Wren?' asks Blackie, the initial leader of the gang. Their experience of massive destruction has eroded references and deprived them of values. Instead of the integration and shared common values illustrated by, among others, the fact that Wren designed both a public place of worship and a private home, the post-war period leaves them with fragmentation and mutual distrust: the gang are aware of rival gangs, there is distrust between the generations - shown by the gang's suspicion of Old Misery's gift of sweets - and T. rejects all values. For him 'All this hate and love [is]soft, it's hooey. There's only things.' For Greene, the ideological vacuum is reflected in the wasteland in which the gang organises its activities.
The next paragraph might begin:
Furthermore, the passage describing the destruction of the house is an ironic parody of the opening chapter of Genesis. The vocabulary is similar: Blackie notices that 'chaos had advanced', an ironic reversal of God's imposing of form on a void. Furthermore, the phrase 'streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators', used in the context of destruction, also parodies the creation of light and darkness in the early passages of the Biblical book.[...]
There might be another paragraph, or two, on religious metaphors, or the next paragraph might begin:
Images and metaphors concerning the individual and community are centred on Trevor, and are also linked to the theme of leadership. [...]
What are the advantages of such a sequence of paragraphs? Notice that the opening sentence in each paragraph is a strong one. There are several strong points about the first paragraph:
· The fact that literary language (metaphors, symbols, images) are now the focus is signalled efficiently and economically, through the strategy of launching the discussion directly. The main extended images are mentioned in the first sentence, which is preferable to 'I am now going to discuss the imagery of Graham Greene's story.'
· The first sentence, however complex, is clear and does a lot of work by clearly situating the reader in the overall structure of the essay .
· The paragraph refers back to analysis already done, thus emphasising the clear structure of the essay and enhancing the interrelationships of its parts. Importantly, whilst it is obvious that there is to be some reference to ideas already mentioned, it is also clear that there is to be no repetition. Instead, the analysis is to be deepened and extended.
· The paragraph also refers ahead to analysis still to come. The anxious reader, who might be wondering why the important theme of the individual and the community has not been mentioned, can relax and enjoy the analysis of the religious symbolism in the full knowledge that the former theme has not been neglected.
· The images are not merely identified, pointed out and listed.; there is active interpretation and analysis of what they actually mean. In other words the writer is actively engaging with Greene's story.
What of the second paragraph? Firstly one might ask why a second paragraph is needed, given that the theme is still that of religion. True, but the first paragraph is becoming quite long, it is reaching the 'natural' length of a paragraph. There are no hard or fast rules and regulations here - no writing committee has decreed that a paragraph should contain an ideal number of words or sentences or run a certain length over a page. Extended writing practice will give you a 'feel' and an instinct for realising that a paragraph is complete and it is time to start a new one. More importantly here there is a very strong sense that the first paragraph in the model is 'full'. The writer has identified a link between the house and the ideological vacuum in which the gang exist and has tried to interpret and explain it. Next s/he wants to highlight the links between Greene's vocabulary and that of the book of Genesis. The theme is still religion, but the writer is now going to approach a different aspect of it.
The third paragraph begins to produce what has been promised: an analysis of the theme of the individual and the community. Note how this is done. There is no need to state mechanically that this is the theme that is now to be discussed. It has already been anticipated and the 'full' nature of the first sentence makes clear what is being discussed. Again, the reader is being clearly led through the arguments in a well structured and thought out manner.
One further point, by way of providing another model. The analysis in the second paragraph could lead in the following direction. 'The Destructors' deals with, obviously, destruction, whilst the book of Genesis deals with creation. The vocabulary is similar: Blackie notices that 'chaos had advanced', an ironic reversal of God's imposing of form on a void. Furthermore, the phrase 'streaks of light came in through the closed shutters where they worked with the seriousness of creators', used in the context of destruction, also parodies the creation of light and darkness in the early passages of the Biblical book. Greene's ironic use of the vocabulary of the Bible might be making the point that, for him, the Second World War signalled the end of a particular Christian era. Now, it is perfectly arguable that the rise of fascism is linked to this, or that it is the cause. The cult of personality and secular leadership has, for Greene, taken over from the key role of the church in Western societies. In this way the two main themes identified above - the tension between individual and community, and religion - are linked. In terms of essay writing this link could well be made after the discussion of the theme of the individual and the community, and its links with the theme of leadership. This might be the general conclusion to the essay. After thoughtful consideration and interpretation a student may well decide that this is what 'The Destructors' boils down to: Greene is making a clear link between the rise of fascism and the decline of the Church's influence. Despite the fact that fascism has been recently defeated, Greene sees the lack of any contemporary values which could provide social cohesion as providing the potential for its reappearance. However, whilst this is the conclusion the student has come to, this should not be mentioned for the first time in the conclusion / concluding paragraph. This is the climax to the essay, but the concluding paragraph should generally be a brief paraphrase or summary of the essay. This also adheres to the generally held view that the conclusion should not introduce new ideas.
Paragraphs need to be coherent, which will be only achieved through the careful arrangement of the sentences within them. Staying with an analysis of Graham Greene's 'The Destructors', let us see how this can be achieved.
(1) The apple is compared to Old Misery's house and this house symbolises perhaps the Church. (2) Actually it may mean that the Church is losing its credibility, first from inside, and then, when everything will be lost, a single push could destroy it. (3) But why the Church? (4) We know that as well as the destruction of everything this house symbolises temptation too; hence the image of the apple: it refers to Adam and the temptation. (5) If Adam ate the apple, all his happiness would be destroyed. (6) For Trevor, the house is the only thing that tempts his urge to destroy.
This is by no means a terrible paragraph, but there are weaknesses within it, the chief of them being that whilst it demonstrates that the student is going beyond superficial summarising and interpreting the story, the ideas are struggling to make themselves heard. Some of the sentences lack detail or are a little ambiguous, and at times there is a lack of tight connection between several of the sentences. Various ideas are referred to and introduced without ever being fully explained or analysed. For example there is no explanation for the introduction of the notions of happiness and temptation. To some extent the reader has to guess what the writer is really trying to express. This is a crucial point: you must present your arguments clearly and unambiguously, and grades will we lost if the marker has to try to guess what is being said.
(1) In the first sentence there is a lack of detail and also inappropriate emphasis. First of all, no apple has been mentioned before in the essay and its introduction here is a little confusing. This is because in the story the apple is not compared to a house, but it is the house which is compared to an apple. Furthermore there is no evidence provided for the assertion that the house can be linked to a church. In addition, the 'perhaps' does not inspire confidence that the student is fully on top of the idea. (2) There are several problems with the second sentence. Most importantly there is no clear connection with the preceding and succeeding sentence. Also, the 'actually' is too informal and, equally importantly, it suggests that the idea to come has just popped into the student's mind. The first 'it' is ambiguous, and it is not exactly clear what it refers to. Finally, the overall idea - that weaknesses within the church make it vulnerable to attacks from the outside - is not very clearly expressed. (3) There is no problem with the third sentence, and a question can be a good way of introducing or emphasising a particular subject. The problem with this paragraph lies in the other sentences. (4) The fourth sentence does not really address the question just asked in any coherent way. 'The destruction of everything' is too sweeping and needs more detail. The phrase 'it refers to Adam and the temptation' is a poor one - it should be 'it refers to the tempting of Adam'. The main problem with this sentence is that it has become detached from the first sentence of the paragraph, and one of the problems of the paragraph is that the theme of temptation is referred to and hinted at without ever being fully interpreted and analysed. (5) The fifth sentence is far too vague and empty, and introduces a subject - Adam's happiness - which is not picked up on. Where in the story could the religious references suggest that this is a significant point? Why happiness? (6) The sixth sentence contains some of the problems of some of the other sentences. The writer shifts the emphasis from Adams's temptation - which has not been analysed - to Trevor's temptation, without explanation. There is some dislocation in that whilst there was an earlier suggestion or hint (again unclearly expressed) that the church was destroying itself, now there is a suggestion that Trevor is solely responsible for the destruction of the church, in the symbolic form of the house. Furthermore, there is a weakness in the comparison in that Trevor's destruction of the house is in no way punished.
The comparison of Old Misery's house to an apple may recall the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Adam, given the many religious images in the text and the fact that T. says 'We'd be like worms, don't you see, in an apple'. Perhaps not the house in itself but the prospect of completely destroying its beauty certainly represents a strong temptation for the new leader. An important difference is obviously the fact that whilst Adam fell from a state of grace following his transgression, T. escapes any punishment. This suggests that without a coherent and integrated system of values contemporary society has no way of deciding what is right and wrong.
Please note that there is a very large sense in which the student example cannot really be redeemed, given its contradictory arguments and lack of clarity. Students should learn how to interpret literary texts and go beyond a mere recounting of the plot or themes, for example, but they should avoid wild extrapolations.
The theme of impersonality is embedded in the story in complex, perhaps ambivalent, ways, reflected by the T.s own ambivalence towards the house. T. persuades the gang to destroy the house he paradoxically admires: he finds the interior of the house 'beautiful', and is particularly impressed by the old staircase and 'the opposite forces' which prevent it collapsing. It should be noted that his finding the house beautiful initially causes tension within the gang. Blackie is immediately suspicious and, whilst it is explicitly stated that this suspicion is related to class, implicitly it is the fact that T. is making a personal response that is the source of the tension. Evidence for this is found in the fact that 'it only needed a single use of his real name and the gang would be at his heels.' His personal response, symbolic of a set of values, is not permitted and it threatens the identity he has within the gang.
The power the gang has to name is also linked to impersonality: one's previous identity, symbolised by a 'real name', has to be sacrificed in order to join. The gang itself has the characteristics of a separate society; it has elaborate rules and punishes the breaking of them, it is disciplined, it elects leaders, and it is also self-policing, symbolised by the surveillance carried out during the game of stealing rides. In other words it is a very impersonal society which permits little individuality, symbolised by the description of it as 'a hive in swarm.' Blackie also refuses to take his loss of leadership personally, and stays because of the potential fame the impersonal gang might gain.
Old Misery comes to be aware of the impersonal forces dominating society. Locked in a toilet which has earlier been described as a 'tomb in a neglected graveyard', which symbolises a lack of respect and a brutal and callous world, his cries for help are ignored and he is instead 'rebuked by the silence', suggesting a lack of personal communication. At the end of the story the lorry driver insists that his laughter is 'nothing personal', echoing an earlier statement made by an unnamed member of the gang. Ironically the driver denies his own humanity and expresses the callousness and impersonality of world lacking values.
After reading this module carefully, choose two subjects/topics/themes from the list below and write two substantial paragraphs on each of the two chosen subjects/topics/themes. Each paragraph should consist of a minimum of five full, preferably rather complex sentences (see module 2, Sentences). Use clear links and transitions and make sure that the first sentence of each paragraph is a strong one (see above).
1. The theme of advertising in Larkin's 'Sunny Prestatyn'. How is it related to stereotyping?
2. The atmosphere evoked by the description of Mr Duffy's house . ('A Painful Case' by James Joyce.)
3. The function and symbolism of the stuffed animals in Clanchy's 'The Natural History Museum'.
4. The theme of challenging authority in 'The Conversion of the Jews' by P. Roth.
Feel free to write complete essays on any of the subjects, or ask your tutors to provide you with more subjects and themes to write about. Click here to go to Essay questions in Short Stories and Sample Essays.