I love criticism so long as it’s unqualified praise. –Noel Coward
I have to stop being afraid of being wrong; I can’t wait until everything is perfect before the work comes out. I don’t have that kind of time.
–Sherley Anne Williams
When I was in graduate school in my early twenties, my friend, Jill, and I went to the symphony. During the intermission, we waited in the long line in the women’s restroom. Afterwards, while washing my hands at the sink, I was dreamily thinking about how lovely everything was: the stirring music, the suits and fancy dresses, the gilded concert hall. I felt a little glamorous, too. I had done my make-up, put my hair up in a French twist, and donned my best black dress.
When I finished at the sink, Jill said, “Uh . . . Lisa?” and yanked me to the side.
I looked at her questioningly. She burst into laughter.
Apparently, the hem of my dress had gotten caught in the top of my underwear, and I was flashing my backside to the entire restroom line.
Jill found this hilarious.
I was a little mortified, but thank goodness she told me. Otherwise, I would have gone on to give the entire concert hall an eyeful.
That scenario can happen, too. I was having lunch with one of my colleagues one day, and she said, with irritation, “Do you know why I don’t wear dresses anymore?” Apparently, she had blithely strolled across the entire UCSB campus one day with her dress tucked up into her britches because no one told her.
Believe it or not, this sort of wardrobe mishap occurred twice more in my life, but, luckily, each of those times, a kind stranger pointed my delicate problem out to me. Once, when I was exiting an upscale office building, a doorman shyly told my brother so that he could tell me. Another time, my husband and I were walking and holding hands on our way to the public library as a veteran sprinted after us calling out, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” He caught us, panting, at the threshold of the automatic door.
I will always be grateful to the vet, the doorman, and to Jill, even though she laughed at me.
So why did I tell you about these awkward personal moments? To make the point that, in the same way, your peer will be grateful if you take the time to point out what s/he might do to strengthen an essay. Working drafts are a chance to get ideas down and practice whereas final drafts are submitted for an actual grade. Isn’t it better to know about a potential fix than to hand in a paper without it? My dissertation advisor said once that handing in an unpolished piece of work was like saying, “Here I am in my pajamas.”
Logicians will tell you that analogies are a weak form of argument because, at some point, they break down. At some point, your messy roommate is not a pig. My own comparison here also breaks down in a key way. Whereas walking around flashing your underwear is pretty embarrassing, forgetting to include a conclusion or transitions or a thesis statement shouldn’t be. It’s just part of the revision process as everyone works to become a better writer. If the feedback is delivered with good will and diplomacy, the writer has a chance to learn and to earn a higher grade at the same time. Oh, and don’t forget the praise. My symphony dress might have been unintendedly revealing, but it did look pretty when the hemline was where it was supposed to be.
To that end, I’d ask you to return to the pattern of feedback that I suggested in the assignment page on “Giving and Receiving Feedback”:
2 concrete ideas for strengthening the essay
1 pattern of mechanics
Working drafts and peer critique groups:
We will be doing peer critique groups on your Essay 3 working drafts. This is so that you can receive feedback on your work as well as have a chance to see other students’ work.
1. Upload your working drafts for Essay 3 to this assignment page by Sunday, November 14th.
2. Review three other students’ drafts, and send them feedback on their strengths as well as suggestions for improving their papers further. Complete these peer reviews by Tuesday, November 16th.
3. Use the following criteria to peer critique your classmates’ papers:
Criteria for Evaluating Essay 3
Opening hook: Make sure that that the author opens the essay in an interesting way that makes you want to read further
Thesis Statement: The thesis statement for this essay should identify the causes of the problem the author is exploring in the essay. (One of the common pitfalls on this essay is that the author writes about negative effects but forgets to discuss causes. In the thesis paragraph, the author can summarize the negative effects of the problem, but s/he must also have a thesis statement which identifies its causes.)
Negative effects: the author needs to discuss negative effects in the body of the essay. These are the bad consequences that happen as a result of the problem. For example, if someone is sleep-deprived, s/he might be more likely to get into an accident. Discussing negative effects helps to inform the reader about the problem as well as to concern the reader about it. A concerned reader is more likely to want to see the situation resolved. As part of the discussion of negative effects, the writer can also talk about the scope of the problem–how big it is, whether or not it’s a growing trend, etc… If you can think of additional negative effects that the author left out, you may suggest them.
Causes: An analysis of causes forms the heart of a causal analysis essay. An exploration of causes looks at why a problem happens. For example, one reason why people are sleep-deprived might be because they work long hours that cut into their sleep time. This part of the essay is so central that without a discussion of causes, a paper will not pass.If you can think of additional causes the author has left out, you might suggest them.
Evidence: the author must provide concrete support to back up his or her assertions. The assignment prompt requires students to include at least three outside research sources to bolster their claims.
Structure: When organizing the essay, the author should keep causes and effects in different blocks of the paper. That is, all of the causes should be discussed at one point in the paper (This can consist of more than one paragraph), and all of the negative effects should be discussed at another point in the paper. (Again, this can consist of more than one paragraph. For example, if you were writing about the topic of obesity, you might look at the negative health effects in one paragraph, the psychological effects in another, and the costs to the health care system in a third.) Sometimes, something can be both a cause and an effect. For example, substance abuse might be one cause of homelessness, but it can also be an effect (i.e., people who aren’t housed might start to use alcohol to blunt the effects of a stressful life on the streets). In that case, though, the author would directly state that something is both a cause and an effect.
Paragraph unity: each paragraph should develop only one main idea. With each new idea, start a new paragraph, and use as many paragraphs as you need. Sometimes paragraphs are long, and sometimes they are short, but they all develop just one main idea.
Topic sentences summarize the main idea of the paragraph. Nearly always, they are the first sentence of the paragraph.
Transitions help to provide a bridge between two ideas. They help to make a paper seem less choppy, and they make it easier for a reader to follow an author’s line-of-thought. They go between paragraphs and sometimes within paragraphs.
A conclusion provides closure to an essay, so it can begin by summarizing the author’s main idea(s). Then it also needs to end on a memorable note. Another way to say this is that it leaves the reader thinking without opening up a whole new topic. If there is entirely new material in the conclusion, it needs to be developed in the body first. One possible way to end this paper is to glance toward a solution. (Don’t develop the solution though; you’ll do that in the next essay.)
Mechanics: an essay should have few surface errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar or style. Not only do these make it hard for the reader to decipher the author’s ideas, but they also detract from his or her authority.