English 2020: Re-reading childhood
The Research Paper Assignment
DIRECTIONS: For this assignment, complete a research paper of about 7-8 pages plus a Works Cited page exploring one of the topics listed below. This paper should include 4-8 sources of outside critical commentary and must conform to MLA standards of documentation and citing of sources.
Suggested topic/ approach:
- Or, focus on how one of these classics has been illustrated over the years, or how one of the stories has been adapted to music (in these cases, you would be discussing how the artwork or the music interprets the original story).
What to turn in and when:
- A research topic sheet (see the one posted on Pipeline). I must approve this topic sheet in writing before you begin a serious rough draft, and you must turn in this approved sheet with the final draft. Once we have agreed that this is what your paper will be on, I do not expect a different paper on a different topic, though you may make minor changes, of course.
Ø This sheet is due when you come talk to me for the out of class conference that you are supposed to have with me during the weeks of Oct 18-27. You MUST have an approved topic by the end of October.
- A final draft, with a title page and a Works Cited page, PLUS a rough draft, PLUS a research log (diary or log of what you did while working on this project). The paper is due December 8 (the day this class is scheduled for its final exam. This is also the day of your presentation of this paper; see below).
Ø the research log is a record of what you did to put together this paper: how often you worked on finding sources in the library, how much time you spent on writing the paper, any time you spent in the writing center or reading (or watching) your sources, etc. It can be brief, but it MUST be in a dated list that shows what you did and how long you spent on it. For example:
10.15.16 Spent two hours looking through the Walker Library Project Muse database for articles on Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. Found 3 useful articles.
- A short presentation to your classmates about what you did your paper on. You’ll have 5 minutes to explain: 1) your topic and why you chose it, 2) your thesis idea, 3) the main points you made in your paper, and 4) your secondary sources. This presentation will take place on Dec 8 from 1:00-3:00 (this is your “final”).
è This assignment is worth 40% of your total grade. Of this 40%, 10% will be based on turning in all the items above, including the presentation and including the out-of-class conference.
Things to remember:
- This is a research assignment, so you have to use other people’s ideas to develop your discussion in some way. This does not mean patch together lots of quotes or paraphrases, nor does it mean plop a few quotes in here and there just for decoration, so to speak. Nor does it mean using material from websites such as E-Notes, Wikipedia, blogs, websites that have no academic validity, or other non-credible sources.
Remember that a research paper is not a mishmash of comments from other sources that you have pulled together. Rather, it is a sustained argument by you, the writer, regarding a thesis idea about a work or works of literature, an argument which you develop through both your own insight and the insight of others, and also perhaps information from contextual sources that help inform your thinking. The place of the secondary material is to add to your thinking, not to think for you. Because this is a paper for an academic (university) class, you must demonstrate that you know how to find academic-level secondary material and how to use it to build your own discussions.
- The length of this assignment implies that I want an in-depth discussion of your topic, so do not try to cover too much or include a lot of quotes and story summary just to meet the length requirement. In order to have a well developed analysis, you will need to focus on one specific literary element, such as characters or setting, and just one text (or two, if you’re doing the comparison of a modern retelling with the original). Push yourself to think deeply, and limit your use of quotes, paraphrases, and summary to what is necessary to prove your main ideas.
- I highly recommend that you let me see a rough draft of your paper (including your works cited page) before you turn it in, and also that you see me if you are unsure as to what type of items to include.
- I expect you to follow recent MLA guidelines for using and documenting source material in completing this project; use a recent grammar handbook as a guide. Failure to conform to MLA guidelines, especially in documenting sources, will seriously impact your grade on this assignment. (NOTE: Either the 7th edition or the 8th edition of MLA is acceptable—I prefer the 7th. Just don’t combine them).
- Policy on plagiarism: Plagiarism is the failure to adequately document sources used in writing. This applies to both paraphrased material and quoted material used in a research paper or other paper and to entire works written by someone else. Plagiarism, whether intentional or committed through carelessness or ignorance, will result in a failing grade on this project and possible further disciplinary action by the University. Consult with me or one of the tutors at the Writing Center (Peck Hall 325) if you have not done a research paper in an English class recently or if you feel uncertain about the requirements for this assignment. In sum, do not take material off the Web or from print sources without attributing it and/or using it correctly. This is considered academic dishonesty.
How I Will Evaluate This Paper:
- Content—does your thesis reflect a thoughtful consideration of the author or work/s under consideration? Do your body paragraphs have in-depth discussion backed up with examples from the text? Do the outside sources you use support your discussion, or are they just thrown in because they are required? Is there a clear relationship between borrowed ideas and your own ideas? Is this paper a synthesis of your own analysis of the topic you’ve chosen, supported with relevant opinions or comments from other sources?
- Organization—is your paper organized smoothly? In other words, is it readable, does it “flow”? Are sources worked in smoothly? Are there enough transitions? Is there a clear thesis, and do the introduction and conclusion paragraphs fulfill their purposes? Did you revise?
- Grammar/mechanics —did you proofread? Have you followed standard academic guidelines for sentence and essay structure, typing, and so forth?
- Use of outside sources—what sources did you choose to include, and why? Are they cited correctly? Did you use introductory phrases that clearly mark where borrowed ideas begin? (see below on Using Sources). If direct quotes are used, is there an obvious reason for using a quote rather than a paraphrase? Did you follow proper guidelines for using quotes? For paraphrases, are they good paraphrases, or weak ones? Did you quote or paraphrase accurately?
- Remember that the paper must incorporate from 4 to 8 reliable sources of critical or analytical information (besides those sources that provide you with “common knowledge” of the author/illustrator, which you do not necessarily document), and must include those sources in a Works Cited Page (per MLA style) at the end of the paper.
- Following directions and submitting all required parts of this project.
>>You are welcome to come talk to me about possible topics at any point before turning in your topic sheet. You are also welcome to bring a draft by my office to discuss at any point in this process.
How to Write This Paper
>>Note that finding critical commentaries on your topic is NOT the first step, nor even the second or third. Library work is only useful if you have an idea of what you are trying to say, first.
- Read (or view) the work or works you intend to discuss again in order to develop a tentative thesis about the author’s style, purpose, etc. You may also read some basic overviews or discussions about the author or work to get a sense of what people say, but do NOT do intensive research at this time (and do keep a record of what your read, in case you find yourself drawing from these sources in your drafting.)
- Freewrite about your tentative thesis and the works you are dealing with to get your ideas going. (“Freewriting” means jotting down whatever ideas and responses you have about the story and/or author.) Remember that this paper should primarily be your ideas and discussion; you are merely supplementing these ideas with opinions and explanations from scholars who have studied the authors or works you are exploring. I am interested in YOUR ideas, not a patchwork of quotes and references.
- Briefly outline your paper as you imagine it at this point, based on what you see as the major points of discussion in your freewriting draft. This is a tentative outline, meant just to get your thoughts organized, but this step is necessary to have a cohesive paper of this length.
- Find critical material to supplement your ideas that you have identified in the draft and outline. As you read outside commentary, do two things:
- Notice what statements the critic makes that you have already observed about your subject. You can use these statements to back up your own arguments if you wish.
- Notice any new observations that the critic makes that either extend your understanding of the story and/or author, or that challenge your own interpretation.
- Make notes carefully. I suggest that you photocopy or print out your source and highlight pertinent comments. This allows you to have the context of the statement at hand and the exact wording; therefore correct paraphrasing/quoting is easier.
- Write a rough draft (or two or three), working the critical commentary in with your own discussion from your earlier draft. Be sure to note to yourself which are your ideas and which are taken from someone else. USE INTRODUCTORY PHRASES—they are essential in marking off ideas.
- Wait a few days and revise your rough draft as you deem necessary, remembering the difference between revising and editing. If possible, get a peer review from a classmate or friend.
- Write a final draft using current MLA guidelines for documenting sources, using quotes, and so forth. Be sure your Works Cited page includes both the sources of the stories you are discussing and the sources of the critical commentary you used.
Remember, you will need to bring a brief outline of your paper (as far as you can tell at this point) and a list of primary and secondary sources with you to the one on one conference. That means you need to have done steps 1-3 and at least part of 4 before that time.
Using Sources in Your Research Paper
The criteria of including 4-8 sources of critical commentary means that you have to use four to eight different venues of literary analysis or critical opinion at least once in your paper. There is, however, no limitation on how many times you use a particular source.
This criteria does NOT include primary sources (the actual books that you discuss by the author or illustrator) or sources of common knowledge (see below). It does include documentable critical comments that you found in a commentary of some sort. These items go in a Works Cited page. Items that you merely read, or sources of common (non-documentable) knowledge do NOT go on this page.
How to use critical sources in a research paper:
- To back up your own opinions. Find critics who agree with your viewpoint and refer to them, adding their arguments to your own (while giving them credit PROPERLY in your paper). Naturally, you need critics whose opinion matter for some reason — is this a scholar who is well known, or a specialist on this author? Is it the author commenting about his or her own work?
- To add new observations about your subject. Find commentary that extends or adds to your discussion with ideas that you honestly had not thought of before. Again, give credit where credit is due! WARNING: You need to have your own ideas clearly thought out before this step.
There are 3 instances in which you must cite a source for an idea:
- when you quote word for word (a direct quotation)
- when you restate a source’s words into other phrasings and word order (a paraphrase)
- when you condense a source’s ideas into a few words or sentences (summary)
All of these instances require you to follow the borrowed idea with a parenthetical citation. In addition, introducing the borrowed idea with a phrase such as listed below helps establish where your own idea ends and the borrowed one begins. Use these phrases for BOTH quotes and paraphrases.
John Smith says that . . .
As Jane Tompkins argues, . . .
According to Mary Johnson, . . .
An article by Jim Jones includes the following comment: . . .
ð The introductory phrase marks the beginning of a borrowed idea; the parenthetical citation marks the end. Everything within those items should come from the cited source; everything outside of them should be either your own words and ideas or common knowledge that need not be documented.
- Avoid using direct quotes unless you really feel you need those exact words. Otherwise, the implication is either that you don’t understand the quote or that you are too lazy to reword.
- Also remember that you can quote just part of an idea and paraphrase the rest. The general rule is that three or more significant words in sequence from a source is considered a direct quote—put that phrase in quotation marks!
- ALL borrowed ideas, quoted or paraphrased, need to be documented. Using quotation marks only marks a phrase or passage as a direct quote. The parenthetical citations mark it as borrowed.
- Know the difference between a quote and a paraphrase, and know the rules for using quotations, including punctuating quotations. Visit the Writing Center if you are unsure!
- It’s always best to follow a direct quote with a comment of your own that ties the quote back to your general discussion or thesis. Don’t leave a quote hanging in your paper, and don’t let the quotes do your talking for you. If you need a direct quote, follow it by explaining how it relates to your argument.
Ð What is common knowledge? What is documentable information?
Common knowledge is the basic facts about a person or a work that can be commonly found in a number of sources readily available, such as most websites, textbooks and encyclopedias, biographical articles, and the like. The general rule is that if something is fact, not opinion, and found in more than two readily available sources, it is common knowledge , and you do not need to indicate where you found the information (unless, of course, you directly quote it. ALL direct quotes are indicated as such and documented). Basic plot summary is also common knowledge and needn’t be cited, as are common definitions.
- Just because something is common knowledge does not mean you can copy the material freely—
paraphrase any common knowledge ideas you use. DO cite ALL quoted material, specific opinions held by a specific person, or information you only found in one source.
Documentable information is anyone’s opinion regarding interpretation or literary analysis, or any information that is not readily found elsewhere but is not self-evident from a simple reading of the work. Direct quotes are always documented (and marked with quotation marks). If you are unsure, err on the side of safety and document or cite the information you are borrowing from a source.
Ð What is a reliable source?
In addition to knowing the different between documentable information and common knowledge, you need to know the difference between reliable sources and non-reliable. This is especially true if you rely on electronic means of finding information. Remember, just because you found it on the internet, that does not mean it is a valid source of information, either documentable information or common knowledge. Verify the source:
- Is it from an academic database or an academic website? (NOT an instructor’s class page!)
- Is the owner of the site, or the poster of the information, someone who logically would know what he or she is talking about? How do you know this is so?
- Is the site a general analysis site, an electronic Cliff Notes kind of site? (There are lots of these, and they may be useful for introductory information, but again, verify where the information comes from).
Finding Sources for This Paper
You have several options for finding critical commentary that will supplement your own ideas:
- Electronic databases and the Internet
- Items in a reference work or series of works
- Books devoted to the author or to a particular aspect of literature pertinent to your thesis
- Scholarly articles
- Commentary by the author himself or herself on the craft of writing or on his or her own work (some authors do this, some don’t.)
- Critical introductions, forwards, etc. in an anthology about the author or the type of short story you are working with
- Electronic databases (these and print sources are the preferred venues for this assignment)
Electronic sources are not the same thing as websites. They are databases that you access via a computerized network, such as from the Walker Library research guides or JEWL search. Because of their nature, electronic sources are considered reliable sources of information. Most of the time, these sources are also in print, and therefore they are documented a bit differently from true web pages—they are considered electronic databases. See the MLA guidelines for how to cite these in the parenthetical citations and in the Works Cited Page.
How to find these:
Go to the Research Guides link on the library homepage and find the guide for English. Click that, and then find the link for “English Language and Literature.” You will be taken to some suggested literary index sites. I would suggest using the JSTOR, Project Muse, and the Literature Resource Center databases. The Literary Resource Center database will take you to a collection of basic critical articles compiled from printed sources produced by the Gale Research Company, such as Contemporary Authors. This is helpful, although it’s mostly biographical information, but the articles do list further sources of information. Project Muse and JSTOR index articles from scholarly journals, most of which you can read online at the database.
è do not simply do a JEWL search (the box that appears on the homepage of the library. It is a very broad search engine and will not be the most helpful.
- Web-based sources
Yes, you may use Internet sources for this paper. However, use the Internet judiciously—Googling your author is not the most efficient first line of research. Also, make sure that the webpage owner/ maintainer is an authority in the field, not just someone who likes Lewis Carroll, for example, or someone who has to create a webpage as part of a class assignment. Also avoid “cliff notes” types of websites, since these are not considered authoritative venues of critical commentary. Plenty of universities, libraries, professors, and qualified critics maintain web pages that are reliable and authoritative for your purposes. Check the “about this site” link, or look at the main page of the site to see who takes credit for the information on the site and their credentials for doing so. (You will need this information anyway for the Works Cited entry.)
NOTE: Internet sources are easy to find, but are NOT always (or even very often) the best venues for relevant and documentable information. Try the electronic databases first.
3. Scholarly articles and books
Yes, plain books are still quite useful for doing research.
- Find books in our library by looking in the Catalog link (found in the box on the Library’s main page). Type in the author’s name as “author” for the books he wrote, and as “subject” for books about him. Also use “subject” for books about the books you are writing about. E-books are the same as a hard copy; they are not considered “electronic sources.”
- You don’t have to have a whole book on your author and/or book; collections of critical essays (called anthologies) are quite useful.
- Also useful are the critical introductions in the scholarly editions of the books I ordered for you. These will count as a secondary source.
è MTSU’s Research Coaches are trained to help you use the library’s materials for your research needs. If
you have trouble finding information, ask to talk to a researc
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Category: English and Literature