I. DEFINING THE RESEARCH PAPER
A literary research paper- unlike a research paper on abortion or euthanasia-focuses on critically analyzing/interpreting the meaning of literature. Plus, the term "research" implies incorporating research from reputable secondary sources into the research paper. In short, students will be analyzing/interpreting a piece (or several pieces) of literature and supporting their analysis with "research."
The research paper must be at least six to eight (6-8 full pages) in length, and it must adhere to MLA standards and guidelines. Further, include a minimum of seven (7) sources in your paper, six (6) of which must be considered "secondary sources" (explained below), and it must include a "Works Cited" page.
II. GETTING STARTED
The first step is to decide which author (or authors) to use for this assignment. Make selections from any of the authors discussed in class this semester, and texts from your chosen author (or authors) that were not included on the syllabus.
After you have decided which author (or authors) you are interested in writing about, you need to decide which texts to include in your discussion; this may change as the paper progresses, but you should begin with a clear idea of which texts you would like to include in your analysis.
The next and most obvious step in the process is to read and then reread-several times-the text or texts. In order to say something meaningful about a text, know it backward and forward. As one critic relates, "have a sure sense of what the work itself is like, how its parts function, what ideas it expresses, how it creates particular effects, and what your responses are." In short, read, reread, and then when you think you are finished- read some more.
Once comfortable with the text (or texts), the next step is to develop an angle of analysis. In other words, decide how to approach and organize this paper. There are several different ways to organize a literary research paper, by adopting one of the following organizing principles:
- Literary Elements: A research paper that is organized around literary elements generally includes a focused discussion on one or more of the following: setting, speaker, symbolism, irony, imagery, tone, language, etc.
B. Themes: A research paper that is organized around a theme, such as death, life, love, race, gender, class, cultural identity, etc., generally includes a focused discussion on the role a particular theme plays in several pieces of literature.
C. Critical Approaches: Truth be known, essays #1 and #2 adopted a specific approach to analyzing literature in a "formalist" approach to interpretation. For the second essay, some papers focused on how the historical, political, and/or social context informed the work; this was called an "historical" approach to interpretation. There are, of course, a number of other "critical" approaches to interpreting literature, such as feminist, Marxist, pluralist, structuralist, post-structuralist, sociological, biographical.
III. CHOOSING A RESEARCH TOPIC
There is a good chance that after thoroughly reading the text (or texts) and choosing an angle of analysis, there is already a sense of what to argue in this assignment. An excellent way of making that decision more clear is to write out several possible titles for the research paper. For example, a title that reads "Religion and Politics in James Joyce's Dubliners" will likely adopt an "historical" approach to the text and discuss such issues as how the story both critiques and embodies the ideologies of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Dublin. Whereas, a title that reads "Symbols in the Short Works of Ernest Hemingway" will adopt a more "formalist" approach to interpretation and will likely be focused around an extremely careful discussion of the text.
IV. DEFINING THE PARTS OF THE RESEARCH PAPER
- The Thesis Statement: A thesis statement is the main point about the literature under discussion. All of the information in this paper should, support the thesis statement. A good thesis statement is ARGUMENTATIVE in nature and is supported with a detailed interpretation of the text (or texts). Do not write want a thesis statement that is FACTUAL (Toby Keith is a man), or that is SPECULATIVE (What if Toby Keith is really a woman?), or that states an OPINION (Not only is Toby Keith a bad writer, he is also ugly).
B. Primary Material: The text, or texts that the paper is based upon are called primary texts. They are the main material that the thesis is organized around. In other words, "primary quotations" will serve as the primary form of support (textual evidence).
C. Secondary Material: The research may revolve around the author(s), text(s), and/or critical approach(es) is considered the secondary or "outside" material. In other words, the gathering information from outside sources that are relevant to the thesis and which helps support the main points. The goal is to balance this paper with focused 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) under discussion.
V. THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO CONDUCTING RESEARCH
When conducting research on a piece of literature, confine the research to reputable sources. In general, books and journals are considered reputable sources, while magazines and newspaper articles are considered non-reputable sources. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, so if an outside source is questionable please discuss this source with me.
LAMC's library subscribes to several academic databases, many of which contain full-text reprints of scholarly articles from reputable journals. In general, conduct researching by using these resources. In addition, LAMC library's catalog, is a wealth of relevant material, including collections of essays on specific writers and histories of specific literary periods.
VI. SOME RULES FOR WRITING
- Include the title(s) and author(s) under discussion in the Introduction .
- Assume the reader has read the stories or poems under discussion. Be sure to provide the reader with enough information (textual examples, etc.) to follow the analysis.
- Incorporate quotes into the analysis. Do not simply stick the quote into the middle of the writing. Properly introduce it and then discuss it completely. In other words, make sure the context of the quote is clear, why it is important, and what it is helping to prove.
- If 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.
- Do not summarize the text.
- Do not plagiarize. Plagiarism is grounds for failing the class and for possible dismissal from the college. Always remember to cite a source.
VII. WORKS CITED PAGE
The Works Cited page gives full publication information for all of the sources in a paper, both primary and secondary. It is the last page of the paper, begins on its own page, and should contain the title Works Cited listed at the top and center of the page. The sources are listed in alphabetical order by the author's (or authors') last name(s). Here are examples of some of the more common entries:
BOOK (WRITTEN BY A SINGLE AUTHOR):
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
TWO BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR:
Gray, Spalding. Swimming to Cambodia. New York: Theatre Communciations Group,
---. "Spalding Gray." Interview. With Eleanor Wachtel. Writers and Company. Toronto: Knopf, 1993. 33-48. Print.
BOOK (WITH MORE THAN ONE AUTHOR):
Best, Steven, and Douglas Kellner. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. New York: Guilford Press, 1991. Print.
ESSAY (IN A BOOK OF COLLECTED ESSAYS):
Thion, Serge. "Genocide as a Political Commodity." Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia. Ed. Ben Kiernan. New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1993. 200-215. Print.
ARTICLE (IN A SCHOLARLY JOURNAL):
Demastes, William W. "Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia and the Evolution of
an Ironic Presence." Theatre Journal 41 (1989): 75-94. Print.
ARTICLE (REPRINTED IN AN ONLINE DATABASE):
Horvitz, Deborah. "Nameless Ghosts: Possession and Dispossession in Beloved." Studies in American Fiction 17.2 (1989): 157-67. Literature Resource Center. 18 Nov. 2002. Web.