Literary Research Workshop: Preliminaries
Notes Adapted from Gibaldi’s MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
1. Selecting a Topic (section 1.3)
a. Find an appropriate focus that meets the paper requirements (i.e., expected length, subject matter, specificity, etc.)
b. “Look for a subject or an issue that will continue to engage you throughout research and writing” (7).
c. Look for a topic that yields rich soil for analytical inquiry and theorization and which yields multiple prospects for research.
2. Develop a Trajectory of Writing Goals (note link: “Three-Week Trajectory”)
3. Beginning Research
a. Have a sense of purpose before you go to the library. Conduct preliminary research to see what work has been done on the subject and what materials are accessible (7).
b. Be open to new discoveries and lines of inquiry. Keep the questioning mentality alive.
c. Look for inviting “spaces” within which to situate yourself in a larger cultural/literary debate (your paper, remember, should reflect originality, nuance, and sophistication; you do this by being “conversant” with the body of scholarship surrounding your topic. See, for example, sample student proposal handout)
d. Understand that research should assist and enhance your analysis of the text, establish your credibility as a critic, and never eclipse your voice!
4. “What kind of research?”
a. Literary theory: i.e., Kristeva, Powers of Horror, or Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
b. Literary criticism: i.e., “’Young Goodman Brown’ and the Psychology of Projection” by Michael Tritt, “Environment as Psychopathological Symbolism in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’” by Loralee MacPike, or “A Marxist Approach to A Doll House” by Barry Witham and John Lutterbie
i. Tips for reading and comprehension
1. Look for the author’s key ideological assumptions and driving theoretical questions (more often than not, these are implied rather than directly stated in the work).
2. Look up unknown literary terms and pay attention to “discourse-level” cue.
3. Remember that all reading practices are inherently ideological. Understand, then, that all critics’ positions are informed by a specific politics of identity, as new historians, cultural critics, poststructuralists, etc.
5. “Where to Find Research?” (see section 1.4 in MLA Handbook)
b. Reference works
c. Online Catalog of Library Holdings
d. Full-Text Databases on Online Journals (i.e., JSTOR, Project Must, Literary Online …)
e. Internet Sources (Note well: “Evaluating Sources,” section 1.6 in MLA Handbook)