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Ending An Essay With A Question Mark

Ending An Essay With A Question Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Period Is Pissed

The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”

Say you find yourself limping to the finish of a wearing workday. You text your girlfriend: “I know we made a reservation for your bday tonight but wouldn’t it be more romantic if we ate in instead?” If she replies,

we could do that

Then you can ring up Papa John’s and order something special. But if she replies,

we could do that.

Then you should probably drink a cup of coffee: You’re either going out or you’re eating Papa John’s alone.

This is an unlikely heel turn in linguistics. In most written language, the period is a neutral way to mark a pause or complete a thought; but digital communications are turning it into something more aggressive. “Not long ago, my 17-year-old son noted that many of my texts to him seemed excessively assertive or even harsh, because I routinely used a period at the end,” Mark Liberman, a professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told me by email. How and why did the period get so pissed off?

It might be feeling rejected. On text and instant message, punctuation marks have largely been replaced by the line break. I am much more likely to type two separate messages without punctuation:

sorry about last night
next time we can order little caesars

Than I am to send a single punctuated message:

I’m sorry about last night. Next time we can order Little Caesars.

And, because it seems begrudging, I would never type:

sorry about last night.
next time we can order little caesars.

“The unpunctuated, un-ended sentence is incredibly addicting,” said Choire Sicha, editor of the Awl. “I feel liberated to make statements without that emphasis, and like I’m continuing the conversation, even when I’m definitely not.”

Other people probably just find line breaks more efficient. An American University study of college students’ texting and instant messaging habits found they only used sentence-final punctuation 39 percent of the time in texts and 45 percent of the time in online chats. The percentages were even lower for “transmission-final punctuation”: 29 percent for texts and 35 percent for IMs. The same is likely true of Twitter, where the 140-character limit has made most punctuation seem dispensable.

“In the world of texting and IMing … the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all,” Liberman wrote me. “In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”

It’s a remarkable innovation. The period was one of the first punctuation marks to enter written language as a way to indicate a pause, back when writing was used primarily as a record of (and script for) speech. Over time, as the written word gained autonomy from the spoken word, punctuation became a way to structure a text according to its own unique hierarchy and logic. While punctuation could still be used to create or suggest the rhythms of speech, only the exclamation point and question mark indicated anything like what an orator would call “tone.”

“Explicit representations of the emotional state of the person doing the writing are fairly rare,” said Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks . Writers, linguists, and philosophers have occasionally tried to invent new punctuation marks to ease the difficulty of inflecting tone in writing. 1 The “irony mark,” in particular, has been proposed many times. But none of these efforts has been successful.

Now, however, technology has led us to use written language more like speech—that is, in a real-time, back-and-forth between two or more people. “[P]eople are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing,” Clay Shirky recently told Slate. This might help explain the rise of the line break: It allows people to more accurately emulate in writing the rhythm of speech. It has also confronted people with the problem of tone in writing, and they’re trying to solve it with the familiar punctuation marks that the line break largely displaced.

It’s not just the period. Nearly everyone has struggled to figure out whether or not a received message is sarcastic. So people began using exclamation points almost as sincerity markers: “I really mean the sentence I just concluded!” (This is especially true of exclamation points used in sequence: “Are you being sarcastic?” “No. ”) And as problems of tone kept arising on text and instant message, people turned to other punctuation marks on their keyboards rather than inventing new ones. 2 The question mark has similarly outgrown its traditional purpose. I notice it more and more as a way to temper straightforward statements that might otherwise seem cocky, as in “I’m pretty sure he likes me?” The ellipsis, as Slate noted. has come to serve a whole range of purposes. I often see people using it as a passive-aggressive alternative to the period’s outright hostility—an invitation to the offender to guess at his mistake and remedy it. (“No.” shuts down the conversation; “No…” allows it to continue.)

Medial punctuation, like the comma and parentheses, has yet to take on emotional significance (at least as far as I’ve observed). And these newfangled, emotional uses of terminal punctuation haven’t crossed over into more traditional, thoughtful writing. (I have used the period throughout this story, and I’m in a perfectly pleasant mood.) Perhaps one day it will, though, and our descendants will wonder why everyone used to be so angry. For posterity’s sake, then, let my author bio be clear:

Ben Crair is a story editor at The New Republic!

My favorite use of a period is in the last sentence of Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table. Its final chapter tells the story of a single atom through all of history. It winds up in a cell in Levi’s brain—the very cell that “is in charge of my writing” and “guides this hand of mine to impress on the paper this dot, here, this one.”

A speaker is also able to shape the meaning of his words with facial expressions—which is probably why emoticons and emoji became popular in chat and texts.

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Comparative essay structure

UPDATE – September 2014.

Again and again it’s been pointed out at marking conferences and in marking schemes that YOU MUST RESPOND TO THE QUESTION. Stock learned off answers are not being rewarded – and rightfully so! Using what you know to offer your opinion is what counts – agree, disagree, partially agree, partially disagree – it’s doesn’t matter as long as your essay is directly responding to the Q asked throughout and is doing so in a comparative way.

Here’s an extract from the Chief Examiner’s Report

examiners were pleased when they saw candidates trust in their own personal response and demonstrate a willingness to challenge the ‘fixed meaning’ of texts. The best answers managed to remain grounded, both in the question asked and in the texts ”.

Examiners complained that students had pre-prepared answers which they refused to adapt to the question asked. Don’t get confused here: in the comparative section you have to have done a lot of preparation prior to the exam. The similarities and differences are unlikely to simply occur to you on the day under exam conditions and the structure of comparing and contrasting, weaving the texts together using linking phrases and illustrating points using key moments is not something you can just DO with no practice. It’s a skill you have to learn. But you MUST be willing to change, adapt, and select from what you know to engage fully with the question asked.

This compliment, followed by a warning, was included in the 2013 report:

Many examiners reported genuine engagement with the terms of the questions, combined with a fluid comparative approach. As in previous years, examiners also noted that a significant minority of candidates were hampered by a rigid and formulaic approach “.

At the 2011 marking conference, a huge emphasis was placed on students engaging with the question – and the point was made that all too often they DON’T. You may have a general structure in your head but if this structure doesn’t suit the question that comes up DON’T just doggedly write what you’re prepared anyway. Use what you know to answer the Q. The basic structure will remain (text 1 key moment, link, text 2 km, link, text 3 km, general observation) – it’s not rocket science. But you must prove (if you want a grade above 70% in comparative) that you can engage with the question throughout your answer (not justthrow it in @ beginning and end) and conclude by showing how your essay engaged with the question asked. So the moral of the story is, if you puke up a pre-prepared answer & completely ignore the question, don’t be surprised when you then do badly!

Anyway, you still want to know what the basic comparative structure IS but remember you do not know what you will write until you see the question. Even then, your brain should be on fire non-stop as you write your answer. This is not about ‘remembering’ stuff – this is about knowing it so well, that it’s all there in your brain and you just have to shuffle it about so that it makes sense as a response to whatever question is asked.

Sorry, I don’t intend to scare you – but nor do I want to you be under some illusion that you just write one essay for each comparative mode during the year and that will do. IT WON’T…

Right, here goes…

The quality of your links is REALLY SUPREMELY important. This section of the course is called ‘comparative studies’ for a reason. The more detailed a link is the more marks you’ll get for it. Thus just using the words ‘similarly’ or ‘by contrast’ isn’t really enough. Link individual characters from different texts, establish the ways they or their circumstances are similar but also point out subtle differences. You can extend this comparison throughout your paragraph/section if necessary (in fact this is a good idea) – but don’t simply repeat yourself.

Here’s some general advice on how you might structure your comparative essay, but I repeat, adapt, adapt adapt to the question asked .

Theme or Issue. Address the Q, introduce your theme, then your texts – genre, name, author and mention the central character who you will focus on in your discussion of this theme.

General Vision & Viewpoint. Address the Q, introduce the idea of GV&V (briefly), then your texts – genre, name, author and mention the major emotions you associate with each.

Cultural Context: Address the Q, introduce the idea of cultural context (briefly), then your texts – genre, name, author, plus where and when they are set. You may want to mention the aspects of cultural context you intend to discuss.

Literary Genre: Address the Q, briefly introduce what literary genre means, then introduce your texts – genre, name, author. Outline the aspects of literary genre you will discuss (depends on the Q asked).

Look at the following examples. Imagine the Q is “Exploring a theme or issue can add to our enjoyment of a text”

“I found it fascinating to explore the central theme of plagiarism in my comparative texts. In the novel ‘Old School ‘ (OS) by Tobias Wolff I was intrigued by the narrator’s self delusion after he entered a competition with a short story he had not written. By contrast, I found the film ‘Generous’ (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner quite disturbing. It explores a young girl’s obsession with becoming famous as she ‘borrows’ outrageous online articles to make her blog more popular. Finally I found the play “IMHO” by Judy Price hilarious. It looks at how we all ‘copy’ ideas from others and pass them off as our own at dinner parties. Thus exploring this theme greatly added to my enjoyment of each text”.

Now look at how this changes for a different mode. Imagine the Q is “The general vision & viewpoint of a text often offers the reader both joy & despair”

All of my comparative texts took me on a rollercoaster ride through the highs and lows experienced by the central characters . In the novel “Old School” (OS) by Tobias Wolff I experienced the narrator’s joy at the visit of Robert Frost, and his despair when his cheating was uncovered. Similarly, the film “Generous” (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner begins in elation for Emily as her blog goes viral but ends in complete mental and physical collapse. By contrast, the lighthearted play “IMOH” by Judy Price offers a hilarious look at the falseness of modern dinner parties and the only despair the audience feels is lamenting the complete lack of self-awareness of the central characters. Thus the vision & viewpoint of each text offered me a wide and varied range of emotions from joy to depair”.

Now look at how this changes again: Imagine the Q is: “Characters are often in conflict with the world or culture they inhabit”

The novel ‘Old School’ (OS) written by Tobias Wolff is set in an elite American boarding school in the 1960’s and the unnamed narrator certainly comes into conflict with his world. This text explores cultural issues such as social class, ethnic identity and authority figures. Similar issues are explored in the film “Generous” (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner and set in modern day London as Emily comes into conflict with her parents, peers and teachers. My third text the play “IMOH” by Judy Price set in Celtic Tiger Ireland also looks at the conflicts which occur as a result of people’s social snobbery and their desire to escape their cultural identity and heritage. In this text the major authority figure is Susan, the host of the dinner party, who desperately tries to keep her guests in line. Thus I absolutely agree that these three texts made me more aware of the ways in which people can come into conflict with the world or culture they inhabit”.

Finally look at this literary genre question: “The creation of memorable characters is part of the art of good story-telling” .

The unnamed narrator in Tobias Wolff’s novel ‘Old School’ (OS) is a fascinating and memorable character because he is struggling to come to terms with his own flaws. Similarly, the film ‘Generous’ (GEN) directed by Frank Faulkner has a central character Emily who we emphathise with despite her many flaws. Finally, the play ‘IMHO’ by Judy Price with its emsemble cast creates many memorable characters but for the purposes of this essay I will focus on the dinner party host Susan.These characters live on in our memories because of the writer’s choice of narrative point of view, because of the vivid imagery we associate with them and because the climax of the action revolves around their character.

NEXT you need to think about structuring the essay itself. The most important thing to decide in advance is what aspect you wish to compare for each page/section but this may need to change to adapt to the Q.

For theme or issue you might plan it out like this but at all times focus on answering the Q:

  1. How is this theme introduced? How does this theme affect the central character/characters?
  2. How is this theme developed? Do the central characters embrace or fight against it? How?
  3. Do other characters influence how this theme unfolds?
  4. How does the text end & what are our final impressions of this theme as a result?

Asking the same question of each text allows you to come up with the all important links (similarities & differences).

For general vision & viewpoint you might plan as follows but at all times focus on answering the Q:

  1. What view is offered of humanity (are the main characters likable or deplorable?)
  2. What view is offered of society (is this society largely benign or does it negatively impact on the characters)
  3. How does the text end & what vision are we left with (positive or negative) as a result?

Alternatively you could just take a beginning, middle, end approach but you must at all times focus on whether the vision/feelings/atmosphere is positive or negative and how this impacts on the reader/viewers experience.

For literary genre you must focus on the aspects mentioned in the question – possibly some of these:

  • Genre – diff between novel/play/film
  • Narrator / point of view
  • Characterisation
  • Chronology – flashback / flashforward
  • Climax / twist

For cultural context you must decide which of the following issues are most prominent in all three texts – try to find links before you decide. At all times focus on answering the Q asked

  • Social class / social status
  • Wealth / poverty
  • Job opportunities / emigration
  • Authority figures
  • Religion
  • Sex / Marriage (attitudes towards)
  • Gender roles
  • Stereotypes / Ethnic identity
  • Politics

You may find some overlap between 2 of these – for example social class often influences a person’s wealth or poverty; religion often effects attitudes towards sex and marriage; marriage can often be a financial necessity for those with limited job opportunities (mostly women, so this overlaps with gender roles). Choose your sections carefully so you don’t end up repeating yourself.

You might plan as follows for the example given above but everything depends on the texts & the question.

  1. Social status
  2. Ethnic identity
  3. Authority figures
  4. How does the text end? Do the main characters escape or remain constrained by their cultural context?

Once you’ve decided what sections to include your structure for each goes a little something like this:

STATEMENT – ALL 3 TEXTS e.g. All of the central characters are deeply aware of their social class and wish to ‘climb the ladder’ as it were in the hope that they will achieve recognition, the envy of their peers and ultimately a better life.

STATEMENT – TEXT 1 e.g. In OS, the narrator hides his background (he comes from a broken home) from his wealthier peers.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 1 e.g. This is evident when he discusses how, at school, your social class was defined not just by your clothes but also by how you spent your summers – in his case “working as a dishwasher in the kitchen crew at a YMCA camp” a fact which he vows never to reveal to his classmates.

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 2 e.g. Similarly, in GEN, Emily comes from a broken home, but it is her family’s absolute impoverishment which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Like the narrator in OS, she fears their pity but unlike him she is already dealing with the harsh reality of being a social outcast at school.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 2 e.g. During one key moment she describes leaning down to tie her shoes, all the while talking, only to look up and find her friends have walked off and are now laughing at her for talking to thin air. Thus her desire to escape the limitations of her background is more urgent than in OS.

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 3 e.g. By contrast, in IMHO, Jane, Lucy, Joel, Zach & Max all come from upper middle class backgrounds. Their social status is more secure than the narrator in OS or Emily in GEN, yet they are all obsessed with creating the impression that they have links to the aristocracy – or in Zach’s case, royalty.

KEY MOMENT TEXT 3 e.g. Several key moments spring to mind, the funniest of which is when Lucy boasts about the diamond necklace she’s wearing being a family heirloom bequeathed by her Aunt Tess, only to have one of the so-called diamonds fall into her soup. Joel the jeweller then delights in pointing out the evident ‘fake’ in the room (the woman AND the diamond).

STATEMENT ALL 3 & PERSONAL RESPONSE TO QUESTION ASKED e.g. Thus I found it fascinating, tragic and at times hilarious to see how all of these characters were so deeply affected by their obsession with their social status and to observe the conflicts – both internal & external – which resulted.

This all sounds very technical but if you break it down as follows it’s not so complicated (easy for me to say!)

STATEMENT ALL 3 TEXTS

STATEMENT TEXT 1 & KEY MOMENT

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 2 & KEY MOMENT

LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 3 & KEY MOMENT

STATEMENT ALL 3 & PERSONAL RESPONSE TO QUESTION

Now look at how the paragraph/section flows when you put it all together.

All of the central characters are deeply aware of their social class and wish to ‘climb the ladder’ as it were in the hope that they will achieve recognition, the envy of their peers and ultimately a better life. In OS, the narrator hides his background (he comes from a broken home) from his wealthier peers.This is evident when he discusses how, at school, your social class was defined not just by your clothes but also by how you spent your summers – in his case “working as a dishwasher in the kitchen crew at a YMCA camp” a fact which he vows never to reveal to his classmates. Similarly, in GEN, Emily comes from a broken home, but it is her family’s absolute impoverishment which she keeps hidden from her classmates. Like the narrator in OS, she fears their pity but unlike him she is already dealing with the harsh reality of being a social outcast at school. During one key moment she describes leaning down to tie her shoes at her locker, all the while talking, only to look up and find her friends have walked off and are now laughing at her for talking to thin air. Thus her desire to escape the stigma of her background is more urgent than in OS. By contrast, in IMHO, Jane, Lucy, Joel, Zach & Max all come from upper middle class backgrounds. Their social status is more secure than for narrator in OS or Emily in GEN, yet they are all obsessed with creating the impression that they have links to the aristocracy – or in Zach’s case, royalty. Several key moments spring to mind, the funniest of which is when Lucy boasts about the diamond necklace she’s wearing being a family heirloom bequeathed by her Aunt Tess, only to have one of the so-called diamonds fall into her soup. Joel the jeweller then delights in pointing out the evident ‘fakes’ in the room (the woman AND the diamond). Thus I found it fascinating, tragic and at times hilarious to see how all of these characters were so deeply affected by their obsession with their social status and to observe the conflicts – both internal & external – which resulted.

This paragraph only establishes that the characters want to hide or improve their social class. You could now look at some of their attempts to improve their social status.

If a paragraph gets too long, break it into two. The linking phrase will make it clear that you’re still talking about the same issue.

For the 30 / 40 marls question just take all of your statements & key moments for Text 1 and put them together, all the while answering the question and offering personal response. This is your 30 marks part.

Then take all of your statements & links for texts 2 & 3 and put them together, all the while answering the question and offering personal response. This is your 40 marks part. You will refer back, in passing, to Text 1 but only when establishing your links.

Also, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: the more detailed a link is the more marks you’ll get for it. Thus just using the words ‘similarly’ or ‘by contrast’ isn’t really enough. Link individual characters from different texts, establish the ways they or their circumstances are similar but also point out subtle differences.

This structure applies no matter what the mode – theme or issue / general vision or viewpoint / cultural context / literary genre.

P.S. If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the film Generous or the play IMHO, I can explain. I made them up.

Hi just wondering if there is a 40 mark question and a 30 mark question (2006 cultural context) and the first question asks you to compare two of the texts you have studied and the second question asks you to talk about your third text..well do you only compare two of them in the first part and not even mention the third text? And then for the second question do you mention the two texts from question one at all?

Yes, you only discuss the two texts in part one (40 marks). Then in part two (30 marks) the marking scheme says you are not required to make links to the first two texts but you may do if you wish. You obviously discuss your third text but you could link back occasionally to what you said in part one, only for the purposes of comparison.

Why did you choose to answer this question with two texts that you made up? I mean surely that just allowed you to make connections and links that wouldn’t be as easy to make with some of the prescribed texts. Would it not have made more sense to compare 3 of the texts currently on the LC or that have been in the past or even just 3 real texts?

Hi there, good point. Basically I’ve heard horror stories of students accidentally selecting texts that were on in previous years but failing to check the prescribed texts for their particular year. If you write on a text that’s not on the list the result is pretty severe in terms of how badly you are marked down in the exam. Also, because I won’t be changing the essay structure post every year I decided to focus on the ideas rather than on actual texts. As for how hard it can be to link them, I guess that’s why comparative is considered so difficult! But I can also tell you from years of practice that it is possible. Chin up, the end’s in sight

Brian Hanney says:

What about key moments? If the term “key moment” is used, do you really have to limit most of your answer to just one moment? Do you lose marks if you discuss other examples from the text?
PS Are you the Evelyn O’Connor who’s coming to INOTE in Galway? It’s unlikely that there are two of you!

It depends on the question. It may specify that you should focus on one key moment but more often it says oneor more key moments. Obviously it would be very difficult to sustain an entire answer focusing only on one key moment from each text… I think the point I wanted to illustrate is that students don’t have to discuss everything that happens – it simply wouldn’t be possible. Zooming in on three or four key moments in each text (in some detail) which illustrate the points you want to make is better than skimming over twelve or fourteen things that happen in the novel/play/film because if you do this multiplied by three texts if would be incredibly difficult to achieve any kind of coherence in an answer.
And yep, I’m the Evelyn who’s doing a talk in Galway Education Centre in December! See you there maybe?

how long does your comparative essay need to be?

I think 3 seems a bit skimpy but there’s no hard and fast rule. Discuss three and then the ending of each text would prob work. Also, you’re better to do three and keep within the time frame than obsess over getting four in and run over time, which lots and lots of students do with the comparative. To my mind one of the most important things student should do in the exam is STICK TO THEIR TIMINGS. Paper 2 – 60 marks, 60 minutes, 70 marks, 70 minutes, 20 marks, 20 minutes, 50 marks, 50 minutes.

Thank you, this site is so helpful. Could I ask if you’re familiar with Purple Hibiscus, Sive and Children of Men what issues would you choose to discuss in the CC question? Our teacher has us doing role of men, role of women, family and role of the individual but I know I’ll end up repeating myself and I don’t want to do those so I was thinking of doing role of women, religion, authority figures and maybe another. If you’re not familiar with these texts it’s all good though!

Hi Evelyn
Does the structure you have above for the cultural context question work for the theme or issue just as well?
STATEMENT ALL 3 TEXTS
STATEMENT TEXT 1 & KEY MOMENT
LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 2 & KEY MOMENT
LINKING PHRASE & STATEMENT TEXT 3 & KEY MOMENT
STATEMENT ALL 3 & PERSONAL RESPONSE TO QUESTION

Hi Serena,
Hard to say. I used to use this structure as my bible but I felt some of the comparisons I was getting back were very simplistic. Basically some students were only pointing out obvious similarities but failing to comment on subtle differences between the texts. As long as you bear in mind that subtle differences matter every bit as much as similarities, you should be fine to use this structure. This example might also help (it’s cultural context rather than theme but the same basic principles apply) http://leavingcertenglish.net/2013/12/sample-comparative-link/

Ooh, also, this example compares TWO texts. For honours English you generally have to compare THREE! So this example is fine but you’d then need to continue with a short paragraph which links your third text to what you said about the first two, again pointing out similarities and differences. HTH, Evelyn

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