Context, Context, Context! -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Context, Context, Context!

by Brian Timmerman, Senior Writing Consultant

I find myself saying this a lot in paper responses, asking students (undergraduates, graduates, and PHD candidates) to please just give me a bit of info so that I can understand how one sentence (say, a Freud quote) relates to another one (say, some snarky Lacan one). What I get though, is usually something like this:

"The essential point is that one has a painful feeling of shame, and is anxious to hide one's nakedness, usually by means of locomotion, but is absolutely unable to do so" (Freud, 1911/2006, p. 33). Lacan (1944) claimed that "we realize, of course, the importance of these imaginary impregnations (Pragung) in those partializations of the symbolic alternative which give the symbolic chain its appearance" (p. 47).

Now unfortunately, I'm not really sure how those two comments are interrelated. In fact, technically speaking, I'm unaware of who even made that first comment since the author hasn't provided me with any commentary as to how I should read and interpret it. I'm left feeling like Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The point, of course, is that we need some context, some idea as to how you're bridging the gap between these two pieces of dialogue.


The key to transitioning (if you're interested) is to really figure out how the quotation you're providing relates to the previous information. For instance, if I was talking about homelessness in the first sentence, my second sentence (with citation) should include some sort of acknowledgment of that first sentence. Something like this: This problem could be largely attributed to what Johnson (1999) called "a deficient welfare system" (p. 333). Does that make sense? Do you see how I've integrated the quote into my commentary? Do you see how I've provided context here?


  1. Amen and thank you! It is so difficult to read other students' work at times, when it appears that their contributions are nothing more than strings of paraphrases strung together. It's like reading a paragraph of bullet points, without the benefit of the bullets.

  2. Brian and Walden Writing Center Staff,

    I hope your blog catches on with Walden students. There's something to be said for receiving critical feedback when the finger isn't pointing at me alone. :)

  3. Andy,

    I think you bring up a good point there; stringing paraphrases together seems to be common. I’m wondering too if this all comes back to thesis construction. Does the student not have a firm grasp on the intent of their paper? This might explain why there's no context; the student isn't creating any tension with the literature and therefore can only provide this sort of bullet-summary approach you're referring to. Maybe I’ll play around with this in another blog post.