Writing good comments in the humanities

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There are many forms a reading comment can take. One is asking questions about the text and another is answering other students’ questions. These are elaborated on in the table below. 

Type How to write this type of comment High-quality examples by real students
Ask a question State what you understand as well as what you don't. For example: “I understand ... but I don't understand...” I understand that Nick is presenting himself as a reliable narrator of facts so we believe his story, but why does he contradict himself in the same sentence?
If possible, suggest answers to your question. E.g., “I don't understand why .... Could it be because ...?” Why does Nick makes himself look judgmental when he tells us he's not? Is this a conscious choice on the author's part? Is Fitzgerald telling us we can't trust Nick as the narrator so we question his description of the events in the novel?
Answer a question Answer the question clearly and concisely. Hi @Stacy, good catch! I didn't even notice that Nick contradicts himself. I think we're supposed to see Nick as lacking self-awareness. He thinks he's a better person than he actually is because he doesn't see that he's judgmental.
If the help-seeker has also proposed an answer, evaluate the answer, providing additional explanation. You bring up a good point about Fitzgerald showing us we can't trust Nick as a narrator, @Trey. I do think this was an intentional choice by Fitzgerald. If we can't trust Nick's perspective, then we have to evaluate the other characters' motives ourselves and try to find the meaning in the novel's events on our own.
Refer the help-seeker to another part of the text or provide a link to another helpful resource (e.g., a video) - but also provide an explanation in your own words. @Alex, I'm coming back to this comment because I just read the part in chapter 3 where Nick says “I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.” It seems like Nick's credibility as the narrator is a bigger theme in the text. Fitzgerald keeps making us question whether we should believe Nick or not.
Speak directly to the “asker,” remembering that they are a person. For example, quote their name using the @ symbol and give a positive comment. (See above examples)

Here are three more useful ways you can comment on the reading.

Type How to write this type of comment High-quality examples by real students
Clarify Explain differently:
  • Find different/new ways of expressing an idea, don't just shuffle words around.
Nick is telling us that his family pretends to be descended from European nobility so they can look wealthy and important, but the truth is that his ancestor was a Civil War draft dodger who started a hardware business that made his descendants rich.
  • Restate the key ideas from a section of the text in your own words, leaving out the less important details
What we need to know here is that Nick comes from a long line of people who have lied about their ancestry to look rich and important. He's used to people pretending to be something they're not.
Give additional useful info:
  • Provide info to help clarify what is meant, e.g. give missing info or extra examples
Important context: Fitzgerald himself was born in the Midwest and fought in World War I, like Nick. Like Gatsby, he fell in love with a wealthy Southern socialite, Zelda. It's interesting how parts of his own life appear in his characters.
Connect Connect to another part of the text or another part of the course. We've talked a lot in this class about the American Dream and whether it's real or not and who can reach it. This passage makes me think it's an illusion. Gatsby did all this stuff to get rich so he could get Daisy and died still chasing her, even though she used him and threw him away. Meanwhile, Daisy and Tom are rich enough to move on like nothing happened after causing the death of two people. This reinforces to me that the American Dream is only real for the people born into the right social class to begin with.
Connect to other courses:
  • Remember to quote relevant passages from the text.
In my history class, we talked about the prevalence of racism and fear of foreigners in the U.S. in the early 20th century. I definitely see that playing out in all these descriptions of Gatsby being “tanned” and not being good enough for Daisy. Her family doesn't just object to him because he's poor. He's also not white enough, especially for white, Southern aristocracy.
Connect to your life:
  • Remember to quote relevant passages from the text.
Gatsby had to change everything about himself to be successful, to the point where he was a completely fake person. I think we see this today with influencer culture. People curate identities to be successful. It makes me wonder if it's ever possible to reach the “American Dream” of fame and fortune without completely changing yourself.
Extend Take the ideas beyond what is expressed in the text or build on a classmate's ideas.
  • Give extra explanation or question going beyond what is taught in the text.
  • Get creative - imagine and hypothesize.
  • Provide links to other resources.
  • Remember to quote relevant passages from the text.
I'm really curious how it would change the meaning of this book if Gatsby got Daisy in the end. Would this still be considered a novel that captures the idea of the America Dream because Gatsby worked to become successful and reach his goals? Or is his not being able to reach the goal what makes this a story about the American Dream?
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