Writing About Literature

One of the goals of this course is helping you begin to understand how to make interpretive judgements about ambiguous elements in literature. One way you demonstrate this is crafting a good thesis statement that clearly makes a claim about something works in a given play, poem, or story.

Another goal is to help you learn to think along with others who have demonstrated expertise or understanding. The first part of research is reading previously published material that has been approved by other academics (a process called peer review).

Stitching quotations, paraphrases, and summaries of these secondary sources into a coherent whole is the the work of the research paper.

In a similar way a quilt uses existing material, your paper should thoughtfully incorporate these authors into a new pattern that demonstrates you have thought about the original play, poem, or story.

For an academic research paper, sources from the open internet are not acceptable.

Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, and other common search engines are not the correct tools for this project. SparkNotes, Cliff’s Notes, Shmoop, GradeSaver and similar sites are not acceptable.

Instead, you should demonstrate you can use library resources: books, articles, and other material from the digital databases.

Note: Due to the circumstances of this semester, no physical books or articles are required. Electronic versions from the library databases are acceptable.

For more about searching the library databases, see the following module.

Remember, these database search engines are not multimillion dollar companies like Google or Microsoft. You will need to be more particular in your keyword and your subject search.

Once you have located sources you want to incorporate into your paper, you must be sure to give credit to the original author.

Poor: Some critics suggest the grandson in “A Worn Path” is dead.

Better: According to Roland Bartel, “The assumption that the grandson is dead helps explain Phoenix Jackson’s stoical behavior in the doctor’s office” (289).

Notice the secondary author is clearly named. Quotation marks indicate this is not a summary or paraphrase, but a direct quotation. And the page number of the source is inside the parenthesis, and the period is on the outside.

If a source does not have author, date, and title, find a different source.

For a model paper in MLA style, see p. 87

Research Paper
1000 word minimum.

3 outside sources plus the original source.

Make a claim about an aspect of the work (theme, symbol, character, imagery, etc) and support that claim with evidence from the original work and the expertise of outside sources.

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