I. Defining the Research Paper
A literary research paper—unlike a research paper on gun control or the legalization of marijuana—focuses on critically analyzing/interpreting the meaning of literature. What’s more, the term “research” implies that you will be incorporating research from reputable secondary sources into your paper. In short, you will be analyzing/interpreting a piece (or several pieces) of literature and supporting your analysis with “research.” Of course, this also means that if “gun control” or “marijuana’s legality” are issues related to something we’ve read, then they are fair game! For instance, I had a psychology major write her paper on stalking and obsession in Joyce Carol Oates’ “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” for her research paper and it was excellent. She used her psych textbook as one of her sources! I also had a student do a research paper on domestic violence in the early 20th Century African American community, which he tied in to the Hurston readings. It was great! So really think of what interests you in the stories and go from there.
The research paper must be at least eight (8)-ten (10) pages in length, and it must adhere to MLA standards and guidelines. You must include (that means read) at least five (5)-seven (7) secondary sources that will appear on your Works Cited page.
Furthermore, you must pass the research paper with a grade of “C-” or higher to pass Eng102.
II. Getting Started
Your first step in writing the research paper is to decide which author(s)/text(s) you would like to write about.
Texts/Authors to choose from:
1. “Araby” and “Eveline” by James Joyce
2. “Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
3. “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut
4. “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas” by Ursula K. LeGuin
5. “The Bloody Chamber” “The Courtship of Mr Lyon” and “The Tiger’s Bride” by Angela Carter
6. Selected Short Stories by Donald Barthelme (“The School,” “The Game,” “Some of Us Have Been Threatening Our Friend Colby,” “Me and Miss Mandible,” “The Glass Mountain,” “The City of Churches”)
7. “The Gilded Six-Bits” and “Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston
8. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor
9. “The Mark on the Wall,” “Kew Gardens” and/or “A Room of One’s Own” by Virginia Woolf
10. “Lost in the Funhouse,” John Barth
11. Lorrie Moore short stories
12. Poetry: Any of the poems that we read for class from the following poets: cummings, Jarrell, Roethke, Brooks, Collins, Kinnell, Langston Hughes, Bogan, Kumin, Frost, etc.
The next and most obvious step in the process is to read and then reread the text or texts you have chosen. In order to say something meaningful about the text, you need to know it inside out! The next step is to develop an angle of analysis. In other words, you need to decide how you want to organize your paper. There are several different ways to organize a literary research paper, but more likely than not you will want to adopt one of the following organizing principles:
A. Literary Elements/Fictional Devices: A research paper that is organized around literary elements generally includes a focused discussion on one or more of the following: setting, speaker, symbolism, theme, irony, imagery, tone, language, etc.
B. Themes: A research paper that is organized around a theme and includes a focused discussion on the role a particular theme plays in the chosen piece of literature. We have discussed so many over the course of the semester: love, death, sex, violence, religion, gender issues/relationships, discrimination/race issues, family, government, conformity, fantasy vs. reality, natural vs. artificial, beast vs. human, social class/money, etc.
C. Critical Approaches: A research paper that is organized around a specific critical approach/lens (like historical, feminist, psychological, biographical) generally includes a focused discussion of the text from the chosen critical perspective.
III. Defining the Parts of the Research Paper
A. The Thesis Statement: A thesis statement is the main (and significant) point you are making about the literature you are discussing. All of the information in your paper should, in one way or another, work to support your thesis statement. A good thesis statement is ARGUMENTATIVE in nature and is supported with a detailed interpretation of the text(s).
B. Primary Material: The text(s) that you choose to write about is/are called your primary text(s), the main material that your thesis is organized around. In other words, “primary quotations” will serve as your primary form of support (textual evidence).
C. Secondary Material: The research you will do ABOUT the author(s), text(s), and/or critical approaches is considered your secondary or “outside” material. In other words, you will be gathering information from outside sources that are relevant to your thesis and which help support your main points. Your goal is to balance your paper with your own analysis, with direct quotes from the text(s), and with quotes from others (secondary sources) who have written about the author(s) and/or text(s) you are discussing. ANd don’t think that the sources will speak FOR you; they won’t. They are only used as SUPPORT/evidence for your thesis/main supporting points.
IV. Some Rules for Writing
• Include the title(s) and author(s) you are discussing in the first or second paragraph of your paper.
• Assume your reader has read the work(s) you are discussing but does not remember them in detail. In other words, be sure to provide your readers with enough information (textual examples, etc) so he or she can follow your analysis, but DO NOT simply SUMMARIZE big chunks of the texts!
• When you directly quote something, make sure you incorporate the quote into your own analysis. Do not simply stick the quote into the middle of your writing. You must introduce it and then comment on it. Therefore, make sure the context of the quote is clear, why it is important, and what it is helping to prove.
• If you are using a quote that is longer than four (4) lines (when you type it in your paper), indent the entire quotation and remove the quotation marks.
• Use quotation marks around titles of “short stories” and “poems” and “critical essays” and underline (or italicize) titles of books and plays.
• Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism is grounds for failing the class and for possible dismissal from the college. Any material that you take WORD FOR WORD must be quoted. Any IDEAS that you take from a source (even if you don’t take the material word for word) also needs to be cited.
V. Works Cited Page
The “Works Cited” page gives full publication information for all of the sources you use in your paper, both primary and secondary. It is the last page of your paper, begins on its own page, and should contain the title “Works Cited” listed at the top and center of the page.
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