ENGL 3000-01 (Practical Criticism: Research and Methods)
Fall Semester 2011
Mitzi McFarland

Final Research Paper (25%)

Due Date: Tuesday, December 1, 2011 at the beginning of class. See the syllabus for guidelines on turning in late papers. Otherwise, papers turned in late will be marked down one letter grade for each day they are late.

I consider all guidelines below--those pertaining to requirements for length, MLA format, secondary sources, topic restraints--as the constraints of the assignment. Those that do not meet these minimal requirements will likely receive a failing grade.

Assessment: In addition to the the constraints of the assignment (above), essays will be assessed according to the criteria approved by the English department for writing assignments at the 2000 level and above. These include the following: 1) the strength and specific focus of your thesis; 2) your ability to support your focus (thesis) with specific textual references; 3) MLA format; 4) grammar and organization. Click here for specific assessment criteria. Remember: It is very important that your essay establishes and writes in support of a specific thesis (an argument about the text). Your focus needs to be very precise and specific. Overly generalized observations and analysis will not result in a successful paper.  Use specific references to and/or examples (quotations) from the primary source(s) to support your argument.

Basic Guidelines

1. Topics: Your research essay should focus on some aspect of a work we have discussed this semester: either Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street or Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese. Using at least one of the theoretical/critical lenses we have studied in class, write a carefully developed essay that explores the text in relationship to a specific theme, idea, argument or question. This can be something we have discussed in class or something that you have been considering independently and want to analyze further. I will reward to a greater degree essays that exhibit independent, original research and analysis or that build upon what we have discussed in class, as opposed to essays that simply repeat what has been presented in class. Use this as opportunity to focus on something that interests you about the work. I will be glad to meet with you in advance to discuss ideas and possible topics with you.

First, while you are free to pursue your own research interests, your essay should provide a careful reading, analysis, and interpretation of the novel from a theoretical perspective.  Furthermore, your essay must do more than summarize the plot of a literary work.  Instead, you should establish a specific focus and analyze the work.  To accomplish this, you will need to develop a thesis (an insight, idea, or argument about the work that you want to explore).  Keep in mind that an excellent paper will have an original thesis. It will not simply repeat what you have learned in class; rather, it will apply concepts and ideas you have learned in this course in unique or insightful ways. In your essay, you should include specific examples and quotations from the work to support your thesis. Your essay must work toward analysis, not summary or illustration. Second, your essay must reflect your thoughtful, critical engagement with secondary scholarship related to your topic. This involves becoming conversant with the established research that defines your field of study and integrating this research into your paper in support of your own thesis. It must involve more than simply summarizing what others have said about the work.

Do not write a biographical essay. Your paper may include background information on the literary work you have chosen that is relevant to your chosen topic. However, you should avoid simply surveying the life of a writer or historical event or simply summarizing the plot of a particular work.

2. Length: A minimum of 8 typewritten pages. Your paper may be longer and good research papers often exceed the minimum.

3. Secondary Sources: One of the first things a good scholar must do is become conversant with the primary and secondary sources related to her or his topic. You must have a thorough knowledge of your topic and be able to analyze specific details associated with it. You must also know what other scholars have said about the work in significant secondary sources. Successful research papers will reveal a sophisticated use of secondary scholarly materials and theoretical perspectives that help us to understand the meaning of a work in new or more precise ways. Keep in mind that secondary sources can include not only what scholars have said about these works but also can include theoretical ideas (think back to the theories and theorists you encountered in ENGL 3000) that can be applied to works from this era. So when you are considering sources, look beyond what writers have said about a particular work; look for ideas or concepts that can be applied as critical methods to the work or genre.

However, keep in mind that your research must do more than summarize what other scholars have said. This kind of “research” results in little more than a glorified book report and does nothing to advance our understanding as a community of scholars. To avoid this, it is best to establish your thesis or critical perspective prior to consulting secondary sources. After you have accomplished this, you can consult secondary sources and establish a dialogue with them to support your analysis.

You should incorporate a minimum of 6 outside sources into your paper, although excellent research papers often include significantly more. These should come from a variety of scholarly sources, such as books and academic journals, since these provide different kinds of critical information and scholarly perspectives. It is your responsibility to:

1) read secondary material in a way that critically evaluates its scholarly value (if you use questionable materials, it will diminish the quality of your paper);

2) incorporate secondary material into your paper effectively;

3) use a variety of scholarly sources.

If you have questions about what secondary sources are acceptable, please see with me. You will be held accountable for the quality of the sources that you use.

Secondary Sources—Guidelines

·  A minimum of 6 sources from a variety of scholarly venues;

·  At least two sources from different books;

·  At least two sources from different articles in scholarly journals (these can be found in the library or from online academic journals from JSTOR, etc.);

·  NO MORE than two Internet sources can count toward your minimum of 6 sources (unless these are web sites for on-line scholarly journals--see above). PLEASE evaluate the reliability of web-site sources very carefully;

·  While you must list them in your works cited page, please note that encyclopedias, dictionaries, and other basic reference or general background sources are not adequate enough to count as secondary sources.

4. Format: Information on the format for the research essay can be found in the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. Quotations and ideas taken from primary and secondary sources (including internet sources) must be documented using the MLA system of internal documentation.  Information on how to document sources, how to cite quotations, and how to prepare a works cited page can be found in MLA. Papers will be marked down if they are not correctly formatted according to MLA guidelines, so pay special attention to this when working on the final revisions to your paper.

Your essay must conform to MLA documentation style. This includes the format of the first page as well as the format of all quotations and the citation of all primary sources (the literary work you are analyzing).

1. Margins: Except for page numbers, leave one-inch margins at the top and bottom and on both sides of each page. 

2. Spacing: Your paper should be double-spaced throughout.  Paragraphs should be indented five spaces from the left margin.

3. Heading and Title: You do not need a title page. Instead, begin one inch from the top of the first page and flush with the left margin, type your name, your instructor's name, the course number, and the date on separate lines, double-spacing between the lines. Double-space again and center your title.  Double-space between the title and the first line of the text. Do not underline your title, put it in quotation marks, or all in capital letters.

4. Page Numbers: Number all pages (except the first page) in the upper right-hand corner, one-half inch from the top.  Type your last name before the page number, as a precaution in case of misplaced pages. Double-space between the page number and the text of your paper. 

5. Corrections: Proofread your paper carefully before submitting it.  Brief corrections can be inserted in ink directly above the lines involved, using carets (^) to indicate where they go.  Do not use the margins or write below the line.  If you have lots of corrections, retype the page.

6. Make sure you keep a copy of your paper on file.


►Topic Approval – Proposal: In 150-180 words, in formal language, complete sentences, and type-written, you will write a formal proposal, due on Tuesday, November 15th at the beginning of class (if you are late, the proposal is late). The proposal has three initiatives: (a) to establish the main issue your paper will deal with (b) to incorporate TWO relevant critical sources you have discovered that help you theorize, historicize, and/or contextualize your subject; and (c) to propose a driving theoretical assertion, or thesis.  You need to be specific as possible in describing your topic. The more details you provide, the better I will be able to assist you in determining if the idea is appropriate for this assignment and provide you with suggestions for organizing and researching your paper. After you have turned in to me your proposal, we can arrange to meet to discuss your topic further.  This will give us an opportunity to identify any potential problems, locate sources, and consider strategies for writing and research. If you do not communicate with me about your research project in advance, you run the risk of spending lots of time and effort on a paper that will not be acceptable for this assignment, one that will most likely receive a failing grade. Click here for sample proposals.

A Word of Caution: UWG defines plagiarism as taking personal credit for the words and ideas of others as they are presented in electronic, print, and verbal sources. I expect that students will accurately credit sources in all assignments. An equally dishonest practice is fabricating sources or facts; it is another form of misrepresenting the truth. Plagiarism is grounds for failing the course.  Any student caught submitting materials (in part or whole) as their own work from online websites will fail the course automatically and be referred to the Academic Discipline Council. Be careful. If you can find it online, so can I. I’ve already seen examples of your writing, so I am familiar with your writing style.

Please remember that I am available to help you at every stage in this process.  If you would like to discuss possible topics for your project or need assistance in organizing your paper, please set up a time to meet with me.