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Research Paper This is a 6-8 page paper that presents an argument about one or m

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Research Paper
This is a 6-8 page paper that presents an argument about one or more texts. The argument
must be about the text or texts in question, and it must be an argument about how the text
should be interpreted or understood.
This paper is more involved than any of the other assignments, but it incorporates skills you
have developed in your writing during the semester. For example, the close reading
assignments help you develop literary analysis and interpretation skills; the critical synthesis
essay helps you develop skills necessary to work with sources; the literary argument paper
helps you present an argument. This paper builds on all those skills and asks you to push them
This assignment has several moving parts you will need to manage:
⁃ Choosing a topic
⁃ Conducting research
⁃ Developing a thesis
⁃ Outlining an argument
⁃ Writing the paper
Choosing a topic
To choose a topic, you first need to decide which text or texts you want to examine. For
nearly all students, this will be something from the syllabus this semester, but advanced
students can petition to choose a text not on the syllabus.
Once you have chosen a text, the next step is to brainstorm ideas. Think about what interests
or confuses you about a text. What do you wonder about in the text? I will give you some
possibilities for topics during our live session on November 17, but I encourage you to develop
your own ideas—just make sure you talk to me about your ideas before you get too far; I can
help you avoid dead ends in your research.
Once you have some idea of what you want to explore in a particular text, you should draft
a working thesis, and maybe even write a “zero draft” of your ideas at this point in the process.
A “zero draft” is a document that records all your thoughts about your topic and your
argument as they exist before you have done any research.
A good thesis is a statement about the meaning of a text. A thesis for a literary analysis
paper must:
⁃ make a claim about how to interpret the text
⁃ be debatable
⁃ be supportable with evidence from the text
⁃ be about the text (not, for example, the historical moment that produced the text or about the
author’s life)
⁃ And it should also answer questions like “what does this text mean,” “how does this text
say_________, how should we understand __[a symbol or figure or some other
feature]____ in this text? What does this text say about _____[gender or race or class or
disability or the boundaries of the human or whatever]_____.
⁃ (This list is adapted from Digging into Literature by Joanna Wolfe and Laura Wilder. I highly
recommend this book for those who want to learn more about making a literary
argument and who want to get the best grade possible. The book is on reserve in the
Conducting research
Once you have settled on a topic, you should begin your research. The research for a literary
analysis research paper is different from the sorts of research you might be familiar with in
other classes. Your primary goal is not to gather information about your topic. Your goal,
instead, is to engage with other people’s arguments about the topic. With literature, the evidence
is the text itself, and that text is usually agreed upon by all investigators. Disagreements in
literary analysis occur over how to interpret or understand the evidence, not over what the
evidence is. Your job, then, is to find other people who have written about your text and
(usually) specifically about your topic as well. For example, if you were writing a paper about
the intersection of humans and machines in Moby Dick, you would need to find articles that also
look at this question or one similar to it. An article that focused on some other aspect of the
novel—say homoerotic relationships—would be of little use to you (unless, of course, you could
connect the two topics somehow).
Your goal with the research is to find articles or book chapters that deal with your text and
topic, understand the arguments they present and the evidence they look at, understand how
they interpret the evidence of the text, and then figure out how your own argument can fit in
with those other arguments. It might help to imagine you are sitting around a table with some
people discussing your topic. If you show up, and just repeat what someone else has said, you
have not added anything to the conversation. However, if you disagree, or extend, or change, or
question, or otherwise engage with the things others have said in a way that adds to the
conversation, your contribution to the discussion will be appreciated. Likewise, you need to
figure out how your own argument interacts with the arguments in the research you have read.
Because I want you to engage deeply and fully with your research, the research
requirements for this paper are fairly minimal. You must use at least two high-quality sources
in this paper. What does “high-quality” mean here? It means professional literary criticism that
presents a unique argument.
Below is a list of acceptable databases for this project; you must get permission from me to
use sources from other places. Not everything in the acceptable databases will be “highquality,” but using these databases will make the job of evaluating your sources much easier
because most of what they include are the right sort of source.
Having a tentative thesis will help you find sources that deal with similar topics. I also
suggest you have a zero draft or a brain-dump of all your ideas about your topic before you
begin researching.
You might need to skim many articles before you find two that you want to use. And don’t
be afraid to stop reading an article if you get a page or two in and it turns out to be less useful
than you had hoped.
Once you have settled on a few sources to read, be sure you take good notes. At a minimum,
your notes must include:
⁃ bibliographic information so you can properly cite your source
⁃ a brief summary of the source
⁃ your thoughts about and reactions to the source—especially about how it might fit in with the
argument you want to present
⁃ full quotes and citation information for anything you want to quote or paraphrase directly
Once you have read a source and taken notes on it, I suggest you write a one-page memo that
explains the source and how it relates to your argument. No one but you needs to see this
memo, but you should imagine that you are writing it for an audience of strangers. You might
even be able to use some of the memo in your final paper.
Developing a thesis and outlining an argument
You began the research process with a tentative thesis. Now that you have read your
sources, you will almost certainly need to revise your thesis to reflect what you have learned.
Spend some time really thinking about what you want your argument to show—what do you
want to convince your readers of?
Refer to the short discussion of thesis statements above, but remember that your thesis
needs to be about how we should interpret the text (or some aspect of it), and it needs to be
debatable—a reasonable person should be able to disagree with your thesis.
With your newly developed thesis in mind, brainstorm your argument. What are the pieces
you would need to make your argument? For example, consider this thesis: The Pixar movie
WALL-E looks at first glance to be a progressive satire that attempts to dismantle American consumer
culture; however, a careful analysis reveals that it actually replicates and ultimately glorifies the
consumerism it attempts to lampoon.
What would you need to know to be convinced of the truth of this thesis?
I again want to suggest you look at Digging into Literature to get advice about writing a
literary analysis. The book contains useful information about presenting textual evidence,
building an argument, and using research

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