Textual Support for Interpretation

Whenever you’re going to interpret a work, you are going to identify the author’s methods. Their tone, their use of language, their plot, major characters, setting.

Then, you’re going to decide on one of those aspects of the writing, pick just one, and evaluate and analyze that one aspect.

Mini-test: Textual Support for Interpretation 

Read the following student essay. Then answer the questions that follow it.

Internet Plagiarism 

[1] Not all thieves lurk in dark alleys and parks. Some sit with their faces lit by the glow of their computer monitors, copying, pasting, and printing.

[2] It may seem like just another helpful source of information, but the Internet has taken the theft of “intellectual property” to a new level. Part of the problem is that most students don’t really know the exact definition of plagiarism or its consequences. Some say that using someone else’s ideas without attributing them is a form of theft, but most people don’t think of it as a serious crime.

[3] For teachers, Internet plagiarism has been especially problematic compared to “theft” from other sources. This is because it is so easy to copy and paste from the Internet. To counter student plagiarism, services designed to detect copied material have emerged to aid teachers. One company,, has developed a system for detecting material plagiarized from the Internet. Teachers can upload student works onto the site, which searches for similarities to material from all over the Web. The teachers receive an “originality report” within a few days.

[4] “The threat of using [these programs] will stop a lot of students. They will be afraid they’ll be caught. Unfortunately, fear is what works,” English teacher Judy Grear said.

[5] A main concern is not only the use of a few plagiarized sentences, but of entire papers. “Paper mills” like and Evil House of Cheat are some of the most popular sources for pirated papers.

[6] In addition to such blatant “cut and paste” plagiarism, most teachers agree that students must be wary of the theft of ideas. One plagiarism-detection program, Word Check, asserts through their Web site, “Whether you agree or disagree on how information should be used or reused in digital form, one thing is clear: protecting intellectual property from theft and infringement is the number one security issue.”

[7] By some definitions, it seems like everyone plagiarizes. But for many students who feel that they might unknowingly plagiarize, programs like are intimidating. The detection system on, which is a part of, claims to detect plagiarism down to the eight-word level, which many fear could include accidental lifting of words.

[8] The thieves are out there, and they aren’t wearing stocking caps. They’re not robbing banks; they’re stealing words.

[Dan, from The Write Source web site, sample essay]

1. Where is the best location to add this quotation?

“I think that the idea is good,” Chris M., a senior, said. “But it might be a little extreme because some phrases are common enough that they might be in more than one essay.”
2. Which paragraph would benefit from the details given in the following sentence?

Sites like these, which have achieved fame and notoriety among slackers everywhere, were the motivation for and similar sites.


Next Lesson: Making Commas Flow

The transcript is provided for your convenience
You want to give your opinion on what the author was trying to do with the use of this character, or with the use of a certain tone. What was their purpose in doing that?

But, you want to make it stronger, and one way that you can make your evaluation, your interpretation of this work stronger is to root your interpretation in the text.

That means, you go through, and you find specific examples in the text that support what your interpretation is. The examples from the text support your ideas. So, it doesn’t look like it’s just things that you’re coming up with out of your head, it’s things that you came up with because of something specific in the story that made you think.

So, one thing you can look at is quotes. Look at what characters say. This could be something that affects the tone, or it could be something that reflects on a character, or it could be something specific, letting you know what’s happening in the plot.

Look at details from the story. It could be how someone looks, so, physical characteristics. It could be specific things that happen in the plot. It could have to do with the tone as well, it could have to do with the specific language that the author used.

But, find those details, and then put them into your evaluation. Find these quotes, and put them into your interpretation.

So, if you’re trying to describe how a character acts, or how you felt about a character, go back and find something specific about that character in the story, and put it into your interpretation, so that your essay now has roots in the text, and it’s going to be stronger.

Another thing you can do, which isn’t going to pull information directly from the text you read, but is going to make your work stronger is to find statistics, or facts relating to your topic.

Now, if you’re writing about cellphones, you might say a lot of people use cellphones. Well, instead of using that general phrase,  you could give an actual number of people who use cellphones. Or if it’s people using cellphones while driving, or while at home, or while at work, or under or over a certain age, you could look up that statistic, and put it into your paper, and it’s going to help, because it makes things more precise.

It shows you did your research, it shows you aren’t just making things up from your head, you’re actually going out and finding this information somewhere. The same way that you giving your opinion of a character,  or the theme of a work is based on the quotes that you find, or details that you find in the writing.

So, whenever you’re giving an interpretive essay, you want to find textual support for that interpretation. Identifying the author’s methods, finding what aspect to focus on, and evaluating and analyzing that is all important,  but to make it even stronger, you want to root your interpretation in the text.

Next Lesson: Making Commas Flow