illustrated portrait of American poet Robert Frost

Robert Frost

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Can you help me analyze the following quotes for quality and interest?

Tens of thousands of domestic drones are zipping through U.S. skies, inspecting crops, tracking wildfires and even spotting criminal activity, often flouting federal restrictions on drone use that require even the police to get special permits.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
It was a fine September evening, just before sunset, when yellow lights struggle with blue shades in hairlike lines, and the atmosphere itself forms a prospect without aid from more solid objects, except the innumerable winged insects that dance in it.

"A Late Walk," Robert Frost
When I go up through the mowing field,
The headless aftermath,
Smooth-laid like thatch with the heavy dew,
Half closes the garden path.

Expert Answers

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Above are a few random quotations from a news source, a novel and a poem. Whether something is written well or badly is a hotly debated issue. It is generally agreed however that for something to be well written it must be:

  • clear and understandable
  • correct in grammar and syntax
  • interesting in detail
  • sophisticated for its particular education level

People generally think each of the above examples fit these minimal criteria for being well written. The Reuters news quote might be compared to a similar quote from the BBC. You might note that the education level of the BBC seems to be perhaps lower as the sentences are shorter and contain less information in each. You might compare both to your hometown newspaper or to The New York Times or to USA Today.

If the Hardy quote is compared to Emma, by Jane Austen, you might notice that Hardy uses many words describing physical qualities while Austen uses more words describing relationships and inner qualities. If you compare both to Harper Lee of Joseph Conrad, you'll find entirely different contrasts and might find that one or the other, Lee or Conrad or both, may rank lower on the scale of "well written."

People moved slowly then. They ambled across the square, shuffled in and out of the stores around it, took their time about everything. A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird)

The Frost quote might be compared to one from Wordsworth, perhaps from The Ruined Cottage, and one from John Donne and from A. E. Housman. These will give very interesting comparisons and challenge the application of the well-written scale as much as the novel comparison might. Quotes from short stories that might be compared are from O Henry's "Twenty Years After," Hardy's "The Son's Veto," or Stephen Crane's "The Open Boat." This should help you get started.

The cook squatted in the bottom and looked with both eyes at the six inches of gunwale which separated him from the ocean. His sleeves were rolled over his fat forearms, and the two flaps of his unbuttoned vest dangled as he bent to bail out the boat. (Stephen Crane, "The Open Boat")

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