I often write “Dig deeper” in the margins of student essays. What does it mean to “dig deeper”?
“Dig deeper” means:
Do not be satisfied with the first thesis which comes to mind. Whatever thesis you first arrive at, assume such a thesis, if well defended, will earn you a C. Take your first thesis and ask yourself, “How can I make this better?” When I write “Dig deeper” in the margins, it means you probably wrote the first thing which came to mind.
What makes a thesis better? Particularity, certainty, distinction, deceptive simplicity.
Digging deeper means acknowledging that appearances can not only be deceiving, but dull.
Digging deeper appeals to St. Paul’s teaching that the soul is “the inner man,” that the quickening spirit of a thing is beyond the reach of sight, and must be intuited, discerned, reflexively discovered within the mind. Just as a man has “an inner man,” so the French Revolution has “an inner revolution,” stories have “inner stories,” political theories have “inner political theories.” Digging deeper means finding the inner thing.
Solomon teaches that, “The end of a thing is better than its beginning.” What is “the end” of the thing you are speaking of? Where does it all finally go?
Digging deeper assumes an audience. High school writers are typically unaware of the fact they have readers. Digging deeper pities the teacher, seeks the delight of the teacher. Digging deeper assumes the reader is merely human, capable of boredom, distraction, ennui. Digging deeper means imagining your words being read by another as you write them.
Digging deeper assumes a small editorial devil sits on your shoulder and regularly scoffs at thinly composed sentences, filler, vain repetition of information provided earlier.
“Dig deeper” in the margins of your paper means, “We have been studying this book for three weeks. These are not the thoughts of a person who has been studying this book for three weeks. Someone who read a Wikipedia summary of this book could have easily written what you have written here.”
Digging deeper means digging deeper than the self. “Be imitators of me…” teaches the apostle. By the time junior or senior year rolls around, students should have a favorite intellectual, a favorite theologian, a favorite philosopher. Digging deeper means not writing essays as yourself, but writing essays as Rousseau, as Burke, as Aeschylus. Digging deeper means writing to satisfy not merely the teacher, but the author’s intellectual hero.
Digging deeper means pretending you are a genius when you sit down to write, and after years of pretending to be a genius, accidentally becoming one.