Today, I want to share with you some of my rules for answering questions about literature. Please leave a comment with any additions or questions you have! Together we can make a master list and raise the bar in classrooms around the country!
How to Answer Questions About Literature in This Class:
- Always use complete sentences. In addition to the typical grammar rules, this means always using proper capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
- Answer the question. This sounds obvious, but when we get in a hurry or forget to pay careful attention, we can easily answer the question we want to answer instead of the one being asked.
- Beware of sentences that begin with the following words: because, that, and so. Only yield those powers if you can control them.
- Generally, authors should be referred to by last name. You may not refer to them by first name only and you should avoid Mr. and Ms.
- Know your audience. If you are not directly speaking to me, avoid use of second person (you). If you are referring to a play or speech, you probably want to discuss the audience. If you are referring to a book or story, you may mean the reader or another character.
- When discussing poetry, do not confuse the author and the speaker.
- Always use precise vocabulary. Instead of saying that something is good, try to say that it is significant or ethical or delicious.
- Remove slang, clichés, and emoticons.
- Use strong verbs. Avoid words like said, quoted, or this also shows...
- Pay special attention to parallelism.
- Avoid unnecessary cheerleading. I know Harper Lee is awesome, but let’s stick to a more sophisticated analysis of her work.
- When quoting, be sure select quotes that actually prove your point.
- When quoting, select short phrases and smoothly embed them in your sentences. Generally avoid long or stand alone quotes.
- When quoting, use an ellipsis (…) to omit words from the middle of a quote.
- When quoting, use [brackets] to add words that clarify within the quote.
- Generally, literature is referred to in the present tense. It is important that tense stays consistent in your work.
- English/Humanities courses abide by MLA format. When in doubt, check The Owl @ Purdue.
Sample Question and Answers:
How does Robert Browning use language to set a tone in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover”? Be sure to name that tone.
- Browning creates a foreboding tone by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- Note the smoothly embedded quotes, strong verb and precise language.
- Browning sets an ominous tone as he describes the speaker’s “heart fit to break” and Porphyria’s struggle with “pride and vainer ties” (Browning 42).
- Note the attention to the speaker and parallel construction.
- Robert says, “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- Do not refer to an author by first name. Also, “says” in this case is a weak verb and the embedding is not smooth.
- Browning sets a bad tone.
- This answer lacks evidence and uses imprecise language.
- Browning gives you scary tone with “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- “Gives” is a weak verb. Take out you. Embed quotes more smoothly.
- Browning writes a beautiful poem by personifying the “sullen wind” as it “tore the elm-tops down for spite” and “did its worst to vex the lake” (Browning 42).
- The cheerleading does not answer the question.
- Browning sets an ominous tone when “she put my arm about her waist” (Browning 42).
- The embedded quote does not support the answer and if it did, it sill needs some work with brackets to clarify and smooth out the sentence.
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