Writing a commentary is your opportunity to discuss a written work, through your own analytical point of view. An effective commentary doesn’t summarize a work; instead, it discusses the important elements the author used to create the work. While a commentary references specific events in the work, as well as specific decisions the author made about the style of the writing, it also uses these references to build a case for the work as an effective tool to deliver the book’s main theme. As an analytical tool, you can use commentaries to build your literary understanding and analytical skills.
Read the prose piece, while noting any important themes presented in the work. Make a list of each theme you notice while reading, and their location in the work, paying careful attention to repeating or changing themes. Note how each theme is originally presented in the work, and how each them is resolved.
Note the voice narration of the work, such as first person, third person, omniscient or passive. Consider how this narration guides the story and whether it has an effect on the story’s outcome. For instance; if the work is written in first person narration, to create an environment where the reader is affected by the perceptions and views of the narrator, note this as an element of the work.
Ask yourself if the story is easy to follow, grammatically. Ask yourself if you frequently found yourself distracted by the author’s word choice or sentence structure. If you noticed problems or distractions in the writing, consider the grammar more specifically, looking for abundant passive voice, poor word choice or sentence ambiguity.
Organize the notes you made regarding the work. Use those notes to form a narrative for your commentary by placing them in an orderly fashion, to create an argument for the purpose of the book. As an example; if you notice a recurring theme in the work that focuses on female empowerment, organize your notes to explain how the narrative voice forces the reader to see through a female's perspective, the way the author uses the female empowerment theme to push the story, and whether the author resolves the theme in a favorable way.
Write your introductory paragraph to identify the prose work, explain your argument for or against the book, and provide a brief commentary for whether the author is successful in addressing the theme. Keep your introduction clear, giving readers an understanding of the position you will take in the body of your commentary.
Use the body paragraphs of your commentary to establish your argument, explaining briefly the methods the author uses to present each important element. Avoid excessively citing direct quotes from the work, as a commentary is your reaction to the work and not a summarization of the work. Use contextual clues to point to events in the book, such as “Veronica faced competing feminine views, while in the company of her sisters.” Use this to identify the situation Veronica faced, the events surrounding this challenge, then move into the challenge itself, rather than quoting a passage from the story and moving to an analysis.
Conclude your commentary with a review of each main theme. Write the conclusion to answer the final question regarding the success of the author, to deliver the main theme of the work.
Kristyn Hammond has been teaching freshman college composition at the university level since 2010. She has experience teaching developmental writing, freshman composition, and freshman composition and research. She currently resides in Central Texas where she works for a small university in the Texas A&M system of schools.