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The NUMBER ONE Mistake in Analytical Papers

The NUMBER ONE Mistake in Analytical Papers

Hi my name is Alexandra, and I’m a
bibliophile. Welcome back to A Lovely Jaunt where we read better not more. Today I have a very special video for you. So the number one
video on my channel by far is How to Annotate a Book. I think that’s because
it’s quite a bit more general than say how and why Homer makes Hector an
empathetic character in the Iliad, which is rather specific. But hey it’s what I
love talking about. So I have been racking my brain about ways to create
other videos that would be helpful for viewers in a similar way, that’s sort of
like widely applicable, but as always I want people — I want to make it useful I
want people to be able to get something out of my videos when they’re done
watching it. They learn something new that they didn’t know before. So
today we’re going to look at some common problems that students at like the
high school and college level have with their English papers and ways to fix
them. And actually we’re just going to take a look at one today, because it
ended up taking me so long to talk about it and think about it that it’s gonna
comprise this whole video. But if you have other problems that you need fixed
I have a few other ideas well. Probably make this a series. So I have edited a
lot of papers for people. I’ve written bad papers myself. And I used to run my
own tutoring company and one of the things that I taught was English. And I
helped students write papers a lot. I’ve read a lot of papers, which is why I
have I have these opinions. And this problem is so common and so widespread, it’s one of those things that you kind of don’t notice until I point it out to
you and then you’re like all OMG I have done this on every single one of my
papers. And really what it is like failing at the very core of what a paper
is supposed to be. Great. Which is not a good thing and the
other thing it’s that you may even get paper get like A’s on papers that are
absolute failures because you’re a good and organized writer and that can kind
of obfuscate the issue and this mistake can go completely unnoticed by very
competent English teachers. Once I pointed out to you, you’re gonna see it
everywhere and of course the counter-argument is like, “If it’s a
failure of the paper, but I’m still getting As on it, and
everyone does it, is it really a mistake?” And yes! Yes it is, okay? Just stop doing
it! And again don’t feel bad. I used to do this. I’ve seen this at like high
level college papers. It’s just a very very common mistake. All right so let me
break this down for you. It is a very common mistake for English students to
write lovely, very sophisticated book reports, but papers that fail at the
level of literary analysis. So what do I mean by this? What you write actually
never sort of like leaves the realm of observation to get to the realm of
analytical reasoning. For example, a common paper topic might be about the
use of epic similes in the Iliad. We’re gonna probably talk about the Iliad a
lot because it’s like fresh in my mind it just read it. A paper that makes this
mistake will be a paper of observation. Okay, here’s an epic simile, and here’s
another epic simile, and here’s an epic simile, and in conclusion the Homer used epic similes. That’s gonna be essentially the level of reasoning at
which this paper exists. You may even use secondary resources to show that other
people notice that there’s epic similes as well and this secondary resource may
offer some analysis that is an explanation of why the epic similes are
significant and you remain may report that other person’s analysis, but you
never answer that question of why it’s significant. You never tell me if you
agree with their interpretation of why that secondary source thought that it
was significant. If I can finish your paper and ask the question, “So what? So
what if there’s a big similes everywhere?” All right, another way to say it is like,
“Why is that significant? What does it mean? What do they do? How do they work if?”
I can still ask those questions and those questions remain unanswered by
your essay, then it is an insufficient literary analysis essay. It does not do
any analysis. So I try really hard to kind of like model this type of
reasoning in my videos. I bring up observations in my videos, but I’m also
trying to offer my thoughts on why I think it’s significant. And sometimes I
haven’t figured it out yet, and I still point that out.
Obviously I don’t have to turn it in as a paper, but recently in a video that I
filmed for heard the Odyssey I’ve said like, “Hey I noticed that when Odysseus
goes to the underworld he talks to a whole bunch of princesses in a row, all
of whom have babies by Zeus or Poseidon or some other high level god. This is
obviously doing something on purpose, but I don’t know what the significance
is.” And that’s because I’m constantly asking myself that question and that’s
really the end goal here: is we’re trying to figure out what it means, right?
A way to think about it it’s like: I’m always trying to look for a through-line,
a unification for the things that I observe in a text and you should be
looking for that too. And the problem doesn’t just happen when you’re looking
at like rhetorical strategies or rhetorical devices, it can happen when
you’re writing character analysis as well. So a character analysis is not a
five paragraph essay in which you pick out like two positive traits and the
negative traits for your body paragraphs and then like in conclusion, “Sally was
patient, intelligent, and a big fat liar.” Right? Instead a character analysis
should include some entree into the realm of analytical reasoning. So, for
example, — this is completely made up — “That Sally’s deceptive nature taxed her
intelligence, but also increased her patience, as she waited for her
deceptions to come to fruition. She also used her intelligence to
justify her choices to herself, often engaging in mental gymnastics to satisfy
her guilty conscience. While essentially an immoral character, Sally’s devotion to
morality ultimate ultimately unravels her sanity. Her characterization reveals
to us all our own duplicity, that is, literally our double mindedness. The
narration therefore makes an argument that to hold two contract — contract… That to hold two contradicting beliefs at once is the definition of insanity and
will ultimately destroy the mind.” So the difference there is that I’m actually
coming up with some exclamation… Exclamation? Some explanation however
tenuous of why a character might combine these traits and what that’s sort of
doing for the narrative what kind of argument is being presented by the novel.
That’s me interpreting what’s there on the page, not just observing what’s there
on the page. So the solution. First you have to
notice that you’re making this mistake. And again if you get to the end of your
paper and you can kind of shrug your shoulders and say, “So what? Why should
anyone care?” Ghat’s a pretty strong sign that you’re making this mistake. I often
think of like these types of essays are kind of similar to there’s the Saturday
Night Live character that’s a girl that you wish you hadn’t started talking to
at a party. Learn a book. She talks about social political and economic issues in
a way that shows she clearly doesn’t comprehend them very well. Her monologue is kind of like a soup of undigested ideas. Well that could be your paper. Your
paper could be the embodiment of that your paper could be the embodiment of
that dude who repeats Joe Rogan podcast, but adds no ideas of his own, or even
tells you whether or not he agrees with Joe Rogan’s opinion. And and again it’s
it’s not about the person, it’s about the quality of ideas that they represent or
that they present. It’s about the quality of their thinking and expression of
ideas that I’m criticizing. And I know that there were very few classes or
teachers who required me to write at this level, to think at this level and I
truly believe it’s something of a lost art. Some of the best ideas take time,
take focus, take research. Sometimes you just have to sit there and think about
it and like, like really let it digest in your mind. And our society doesn’t really
favor things that take time. It’s a very instantaneous society. And this lack of
deep thinking I think contributes to the polarization in our political landscape
today. I don’t think it’s a modern trend. I do think it’s easy to supply people
with opinions and with a party line with propaganda and that goes unquestioned
and unanalyzed. And I unfortunately I think cancel culture adds like only
another layer to making it more difficult for us to question these
established ideas, because you know thinking deeply is a difficult
mental exercise. It’s like working out. It’s not really something that you know
comes naturally or easily necessarily. You have to like work it out in the
brain, you guys, but if you add a layer of like moralization, against even
questioning the establishment, then you sort of like couple that with a
threat of like social rejection and isolation. I mean those are some heavy
consequences that as a society, as persons we face. So not only does it take
like the mental exercise, but now it takes a certain amount of courage and
bravery increasingly in our culture as well. So I mean I think we’ve all had
that teacher where you knew if I argued this one particular way that I would get
graded down because I know that my teacher personally disagreed with that
idea, right? So anyway maybe think deeper, but don’t post it on Twitter is I
guess my advice. Well it seems I have wondered a great distance from how to
write a great paper to how to survive Twitter, but they are really circling
around this idea of having deep analytical type reasoning, both presented
in your paper and maybe in your personal life and in your own opinions. But that
is all that I have for you today. Until next time I’m Alexandra, and I’m still a

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Very good advice! When my son gives me a paper I will write down my questions on it and make him go back an rethink what he wrote. Of course our thinking is different. He thinks more scientifically and comes up with analysis that I wouldn't have considered. Which gives us a lot to talk about. =) Now I'm off to find your annotate video, because I'm not sure I've seen that one. 👍

  2. That annotating video was wonderful, many of the tips have since become crucial to my own annotation process. I know this video will also be super helpful to remember down the line. Personally I love that you make both widely applicable content and more specific, in-depth analyses, and I’m sorry the latter doesn’t seem to garner as much attention. I hope you will not be discouraged from continuing to make those sorts of videos. One of my reading goals this year is to take on the Iliad and the Odyssey and I’m already looking forward to watching your series on each after.

    I just really appreciate the thought, time, and hard work you put into these videos, and of course the choice to make it all free when it takes that sort of dedication. Thank you!

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