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OWL Sample Feedback

writing assistance

The following are actual responses to some of our recent submissions to the Online Writing Lab, although the names have been changed to maintain the anonymity of student writers. You can expect similarly global-oriented comments and suggestions for developing your own work. Of course, length and type of feedback vary between individual tutors and between essay submissions.

Sample 1

Dear Rachel:

I think you touch on some really nice ideas in this paper, which I'll talk about in a minute, but first I want to address one general concern I had about your writing. You have a tendency to spend too much time summarizing the plot--this is time when you could be advancing your argument. You don't need to tell your reader what happens in the story; you can assume that he or she already knows. For example, look at this paragraph:


Everything that I've noted with square brackets is plot summary. The sentence that begins "Feeling rejected, the creature wanders away..." is borderline because you're making a judgment about the creature's motivations, but in general you shouldn't spend time repeating the events of the story. The second part of this paragraph is much better in that you're talking about motivations and making arguments.

I think you've got some really interesting ideas in this paper, particularly in your fifth and sixth paragraphs, but you need to expand upon them. For example, you might spend more time talking about Millhauser's rationale--WHY does he think the monster should have been presented as a brutal beast throughout? What would be lost in such a presentation? Why is it better that Shelley shows the monster in terms of growth and progression? You introduce this idea in your introduction, arguing that Shelley is deliberately playing with the reader's sympathies, for the monster and for Frankenstein. Could you say more about HOW she does this? What is the effect of the reader's divided sympathies? Where does the sympathy lie at the end of the book? Why might Shelley be interested in this? In general, what is the value of making the creature sympathetic?

I hope you found some of the questions I've raised valuable. You've touched on some interesting issues in this paper, and there is definitely plenty of room for you to develop them even further. If you have any questions about anything I've said, or any further questions, please feel free to write back to me. Good luck with your paper and thank you for submitting to the OWL!


Sample 2


Thank you for submitting your paper to the OWL; I am a Political Science major and very much enjoyed reading it. Below you will find a few suggestions for how to strengthen your writing during the revision process.

You wrote that your major concerns with your paper were "abstract prose" and "elementary points." I did not find your arguments to be too simplistic or "elementary," nor did your language seem too abstract. It did, however, lack clarity and definition at some points. Specifically, there are some concepts that you repeat throughout your paper but never define. One is the "republican role." It may be that your instructor discussed this idea at length in class, or that Machiavelli does in his Discourses on Livy, but there is no such discussion in your paper. A stronger paper would define the proper role of a leader in a republican state from the beginning. Some theoretical questions you may want to consider on this point include: what is the difference between a republican leader and a tyrannical leader? How can one distinguish between the two? Why is it important to prevent against tyranny? Is the leader subservient to the will of the people? Is the leader responsible to anyone? Where does the leader draw his power or right to govern from? What does it mean to "be subordinate to a republican role"? What qualities are valuable in a leader? Which ones are dangerous?

It may be beneficial to read over your paper with a critical eye looking for vague concepts. What ideas do you reference but never fully explain? Do you take certain concepts for granted? If you find such problems, generating a list of questions to focus your idea (as above) can be a helpful exercise. There were two more areas I found especially lacking in definition: the concept of tyranny and a "short time in office."

Thank you again for submitting your paper to the OWL. Your arguments are strong and I hope my comments will help to fine-tune your essay. Please feel free to e-mail me for further assistance or clarification. Good luck with your revisions!


Sample 3


Thanks for submitting your essay-I enjoyed reading it. I hope my comments help you in your revision process.

Your personal narrative is without a doubt at its best when you give vivid details of the day from your perspective, which is, as you describe, a very unique one. The "chalky taste" of the air, for instance, is a detail that really brings the scene to life.

You asked for help with structure, and I think the most sensible structure in this case is a chronological one. It's fine to start with a vivid scene to land the reader in the event, but then it makes sense to step back and tell the story as it happened. To help you accomplish this end, you might consider listing each of the major points you want to cover and then turning them into an outline. It might help, too, to think about the overall message you want to convey. Then make sure all of your details contribute to that message.

As for constructive comments, you never really explain why you were at Ground Zero on September 12. Do you just happen to live nearby? Did you have any special connection to the firefighters or the victims? Why did you decide to help out?

I would also be careful of the very general statements you use to sum up the essay, such as , "That day brought to my attention a side of humanity that had lay dormant in my mind. That moment in time showed me that people have the capacity to act unselfishly." It's best to convey your point through examples rather than summation-the old advice to "show not tell."

It takes a lot of courage to tackle in an essay the events of September 11 and the days following, but I think you have a great perspective, and the ability to look beyond the chaos to the details of the scene.

Feel free to write back as you revise this piece. I'd be glad to talk more about it.


Sample 4

Hello, Angela,

Your paper is coherent, well-organized, and very informative. You do a nice job of incorporating various theorists and applying their ideas to the phenomenon of AHANA. You also do a good job of considering "the opposing viewpoint" and introducing relevant arguments to substantiate your position.

One area I would suggest giving a little more attention to how exactly AHANA functions. You mention that the term was coined as an alternative to the more negative term "minority," and that the group exists to "promote understanding..." etc. But I still want to know more about HOW the group works to achieve their goals; do they sponsor events on campus? hold workshops? etc. You did an effective job of explaining the philosophy of the group, but I would be interested in seeing just a little bit more of how it works in action, so to speak.

The second point is that you might want to explain in greater detail how subjective experiences shape the need for a group such as AHANA. You mention that racial and cultural differences do exist and that the "differing perspectives caused by these distinctions exist regardless of whether they are acknowledged." This is a very integral part of your argument, so maybe developing it further would be helpful. I realize it's a very broad concept to try and condense within your paper, but focusing on explicating that part might be helpful. Overall, I think you have a very strong paper that seems to fulfill the parameters of the assignment quite well.