Writing commentary is undoubtedly the most difficult part of writing any essay. All other parts of the essay are more formulaic in nature. There are standard rules for how to write a thesis statement, a topic sentence, a blended quotation, etc. But when it comes to commenting on evidence, there isn’t one set way to do it. In fact, there are many, many comments one can make about a piece of evidence, and no two people will explain the same piece of evidence in the exact same way. Likewise, the exact same piece of evidence can be used to prove two disparate arguments. Nothing shows this is true more than the literary analysis essay.
If you were to give your students the exact same thesis statements and quotations to use for an essay, you would be amazed at how different the essays would actually turn out! How can this be? This occurs because the writer’s voice comes through the commentary. It is within the commentary that students share their original thoughts and unique insights about a piece of literature. This presents a challenge for students who are often left asking what to write, and it can be tricky to teach students how to write commentary without putting words in their mouths.
For several weeks now, we have been identifying the essential elements of essays and learning how to incorporate these effectively and successfully. We have discussed that the thesis statement is the glue that holds the entire paper together, the body paragraphs are the meat where the majority of your argument will be found, and last week we looked at how the details are the key to unlocking your argument. Today we are going to take a look at the other extremely important factor in writing a well-thought out essay. It is needed for every single detail that you write. It is the commentary.
When you write commentary, you are explaining to your reader how the details relate to the thesis statement. Commentary does not contain facts. Instead, they help explain why the details are relevant to the topic.
You are going to need at least two sentences of commentary for every detail sentence. A good rule of thumb is that your commentary should be twice as long as your details. Otherwise, your paper is just full of facts. We want to know how YOU think these facts prove your point and what YOU think they mean.
Here are a few different methods for writing commentary:
1) Opinion: this is where you write your belief, subjective judgment or way of thinking about a detail .
2) Interpretation: your explanation of something that is not clear.
3) Character and Subject’s Feelings: when you describe what the character or subject of the detail is feeling (ideal for literary analysis papers)
4) Personal Reaction: your personal emotions about the detail.
5) Evaluations: your objective judgment of a detail.
Commentary is the Treasure
Your commentary is the treasure that makes your paper shine. It should always strengthen and extend the details. This is your chance to show us what you’ve got. It is where you can impress us with your analysis and interpretation skills.
“What and Why” Method
You may be thinking, “Analysis and interpretation skills? What if I don’t possess those skills?” Well breathe easy, because interpretation is really just a fancy word for “what,” while analysis simply means “why”.
So if you are struggling to write your commentary try using the “what and why” method. First, tell the reader WHAT your detail is talking about by defining or explaining. Next, let your reader know WHY this detail is relevant to your thesis statement.
Starting Commentary Sentences
If you are struggling to start your commentary, consider beginning your commentary in one of the following ways:
“This shows that…”
“This is important because…”
Obviously, you cannot start every sentence you write like that since this would be redundant. However, even if you do not write these phrases at the beginning of all of your sentences, it is helpful even just to think these phrases in order to guide your commentary in the right direction.
Applying Commentary Techniques
Now that we have discussed the different options for writing commentary, and the method for doing so, let’s put them together and see what is looks like.
Commentary Type: Opinion using the “what and why” method
Detail: According to the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress Reading test, 80% of students score below grade level in reading.
Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my opinion?” and (2) “WHY is my opinion relevant to my thesis statement?”
(1) A statistic like this shows the poor state of the education. (2) If we are to help students become successful adults, we need to change the way we are educating our children.
Commentary Type: Interpretation using the “what and why” method
Topic: benefits of college
Detail: First of all, of 2,350,000 college students enrolling per year, only 1,750,000 will graduate.
Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my interpretation?” and (2) “WHY is my interpretation relevant to my thesis statement?”
(1) This shows that the high demand placed on students during their college years is too much stress for many. (2) However rigorous it may be though, the pressure and expectations are reflective of a future career and help prepare young adults for these challenges.
Commentary Type: Character or Subject Feelings using the “what and why” method
Topic: cost of higher education
Detail: For example, Benjamin Davis, a recent college graduate with a degree in Business, struggled for many years to find a job because of the recent unemployment struggles in America
Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is the subject’s feelings?” and (2) “WHY is subjects feelings relevant to my thesis statement?”
(1) He, like most, experiences extreme frustration at spending a great deal of time and money obtaining his degree, but feeling like he has very little advantage over others without a degree when finding a job. (2) As a result, many who find themselves in a similar situation are left wondering if higher education is worth the high cost.
Commentary Type: Personal Reaction using the “what and why” method
Detail: Also, a bully might speak cruelly in order to intimidate, steal a student’s belongings, or intentionally exclude one from a group .
Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my personal reaction?” and (2) “WHY is my personal reaction relevant to my thesis statement?”
(1) It is extremely upsetting to know that most children undergo this type of treatment at school. (2) It is hurtful, isolating, and can have long-lasting psychological damage on those students who experience bullying often.
Commentary Type: Evaluation using the “what and why” method
Detail: Naturally, a bear, when threatened, will rise up from the ground, growl loudly, and begin charging at a speed of up to 35 mph.
Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my evaluation?” and (2) “WHY is my evaluation relevant to my thesis statement?”
(1) Although this is a frightening experience, it is not entirely the bear’s fault. (2) In fact, most of the time when a bear attacks a person, it is the result of a person not understanding that when going out into the woods, he or she is entering a bear’s environment; forgetting to be respectful and cautious can cause the bear to react thusly.
When To Use Commentary Types
Depending on your assignment, choose the types of commentary that best fits your argument. Use of a variety of different types of commentary to write a well-argued paper.
Go back and look at step two of writing details from last week’s blog. Look at the commentary you wrote and update it to fit into the “what and why” method using some of the above types of commentary. If you did not do that step last week, go ahead and use the worksheet found here.
We hope this helped you when writing commentary. If you still need help, call Oxford Tutoring for support or to schedule a writing tutoring session.
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