Tutor profile: Laura P.
In the sentence "This summer, I'm going to read William Shakespeare's play Much Ado About Nothing," do I need a comma before the title of the play?
This is a great question because comma usage is so contextual. In the example sentence above, we shouldn't have a comma because "Much Ado About Nothing" is a restrictive (or essential) clause. What makes it restrictive? If you take it out, it changes the basic meaning of the sentence. William Shakespeare wrote a lot of plays, so if we aren't told the title of the play we're talking about, the sentence no longer makes sense. Okay, here's the tricky part: Because the comma here is dependent on whether you need the information after it, you can have a sentence with the exact same syntax and get a different answer! For example, if you wrote "This summer, I'm going to read Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights," you would need to add a comma before "Wuthering Heights." Why? Well, Emily Brontë only wrote one novel, so we don't need the title to know what you're talking about. Therefore, the title becomes a nonrestrictive (or nonessential) clause and should be set apart from the rest of the sentence by a comma.
Subject: Study Skills
How do you effectively take notes on a novel?
Annotating a novel can be a tricky task if you're used to only taking notes on lectures or textbooks. The first question you might ask is "What should I mark?" Here are a few ideas: - Characters and their descriptions. The way a character is introduced is often important, so it’s good to mark where they first appear and any associated descriptions (I usually put a box around the first instance of the name to make it easy to find again, and then I underline the important descriptions after) - Plot developments/reveals. This is pretty simple—if something surprising happens, mark it! - Changes in time/location. Sometimes a lot can happen a single paragraph! It's important to keep an eye out for markers like "Three years later" or "When we left for dinner" that indicate a shift in the setting. - Any words you don’t recognize or aren’t sure how to define. Look these up (just a quick Google search usually works) and write out the definitions either in your notebook or in the margins of the book itself. - Phrases that stand out to you. Does something make you laugh? Are there startling images? Does it use interesting literary devices? - Anything that confuses you. Just a question mark in the margin will do; or, if something raises a particular question (Such as “Why is Edmund lying to his siblings?”), maybe jot down some key words too (“Why lie?”). - Personal reactions. I often put smiley faces or exclamation points in the margins when I’m reading. If nothing else, marking these can help you find the passages again. With all those possibilities for notes, it's easy to feel lots in the details. Here are a few questions you can ask to get to the important information: - What themes/ideas get repeated? - Is there a particular word the characters or narrator uses again and again? What does it mean, and does its meaning change? - In a given scene, what do the characters do or talk about? - Do their words and actions match? If not, why? - How does each scene begin and end? Do the opening and closing paragraphs allude to any of the themes? How do they frame the scene as a whole? - Who or what receives the most attention/description in the story? Why? Once you have your notes, here's what you can do with them (if it’s a long book, you might want to stop and do this after each chapter or after a certain number of pages). - Look back through your annotations - Take note of the important characters and write down anything you might want to remember - In your notebook, write a brief summary of the plot - Look over the things that confused you the first time. Do any of them now make sense? How might the context of the whole book or story illuminate what’s happening in the scene or sentence? - Make note of what caught your attention the first time and what jumps out at you now. Write a word or two to remind yourself of these ideas so that later you can easily remember what interested you about the reading.
How do I analyze a poem?
Before you begin to analyze a poem, whether you're participating in class or writing an essay, you have to make sure you understand it. To start, read the whole poem out loud. Doing this gives you an idea of the big picture, and it helps you notice the flow and sound of the words. You might want to jot down your observations or impressions—what stuck out to you? Are any lines or ideas especially powerful? Is anything confusing? If you have the option, be sure to look up any words you don't know, or even words you do know that seem to be used in an unfamiliar way. Just be sure to credit your source if you use any of these definitions in an essay! Next, consider the context. What do you know about the poem's author, the time in which it was written, and the style of poetry? How might these facts influence your reading of the poem? Once you have a working understanding of what the poem is communicating, it's time to look at how the author achieves her meaning. A good first step is to pay attention to the imagery—most poems incorporate concrete images, even if they're about abstract ideas. Ask yourself what pictures the author is trying to pain in your mind. Then ask what these pictures are supposed to make you feel or think. Next, look for literary devices, whether in structure (syntax, line breaks, repetition, punctuation, chiasmus), sound (alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhymes), or meaning (personification, allusion, comparison, synechdoche). Finally, it's time to summarize your findings. Reread the poem, focusing on the devices that appear most frequently or most powerfully. Ask how these might connect to the purpose of the poem. For instance, a writer's repeated use of questions might convey uncertainty or the personification of plants might communicate the importance of the environment. If you see connections to the author's life or context, those are also great things to note. In the end, you want to be able to articulate how specific choices the author made contribute to the overall effectiveness (or perhaps ineffectiveness) of a poem.
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