Writing a Literary Research Paper How to Read an Article of Literary Criticism
What are the goals of a research paper about literature? • Goal 1: Offer an interesting, defensible interpretation of the piece of literature. • Goal 2: Successfully use a critical theory to inform and guide your approach. • Goal 3: Successfully use quotations and evidence from the work of literature to support your interpretation. • Goal 4: Thoughtfully integrate articles that use your chosen critical theory and/or address your chosen work of literature into your research paper.
How do I formulate a question? • Ask yourself what confuses you about the work. Where do you see room for differing interpretations? Where do you find yourself asking why a character took a certain action, or what symbolic meaning an object or event has? • What theories from your handout seem to be well-suited to the work you have chosen? • Narrow your interest to a specific character, event, or theme. • Even after you have formed a question, it may change as you begin to do your research. Be flexible.
How do I use a critical theory? • Get REALLY familiar with the type of criticism you choose. –Check out one of the books in the library that offers an introduction to critical theory and examples of each kind of criticism (these also might be “introduction to literary theory” books) –Read example essays using your theory • Make sure you choose a work of literature that matches well with the type of criticism –The issues that your critical theory cares about should SOMEHOW be relevant to your work of literature.
Where do I find articles of literary criticism? • Mission College has several databases that may be useful to a student of literature. The most useful for your purposes will probably be: • The Gale Literature Resource Center • MagillOnLiterature Plus • I would also suggest searching the library’s physical collection. (Ask our librarians for help. They know me, and they know this assignment.) • Our school is located in LA County, which has a very impressive public library system. Take advantage of it.
How do I read an article of literary criticism? • Most works of literary criticism are published in journals, and can range from brief, four or five page articles to fifty or sixty page essays. Before you begin to read, identify: • Who is the author of the article? • Can you tell which critical theory the author is using? • Read the abstract (if there is one). This should give you a summary of the article. • Identify the thesis (provoking or arguable claim)of the article. • How does the author support his or her thesis? • If the author quotes the work of literature, look at those quotes in context. Do you agree with the author’s interpretation? • How does the author incorporate the ideas from the critical theory into his or her analysis?
How do I use an article of criticism in my essay? • Agree with the author’s interpretation, and use it to complement your own. • Use the author’s ideas about your chosen critical theory as a springboard for your own. • Analyze a passage the author didn’t discuss and show how it fits with his or her ideas. • Disagree with the author’s interpretation. • What has the author overlooked? • Where do you see evidence for a different, contradictory interpretation?
Suggestion #1 • Become very familiar with the theory that you are using. Re-read the section on your chosen theory in your handout. Do additional research on your theory in the library and on the internet. Learn the terms and assumptions that are unique to that theory. Read several works of criticism that use that theory, even if they are not related to the work of literature that you are writing about.
Suggestion #2 • Become very familiar with the literary work(s) you will be analyzing. Reread them carefully, mark them, highlight them, look over the reading journals you did for them. What new insights do you have on this second reading? What themes/patterns/literary techniques do you notice? Have your textbook open to the work as you read literary criticism so you can refer to the original story/poem/play.
Suggestion #3 • Keep good records of where you find ideas. If you wish to use an idea that you found in your research, that is perfectly acceptable, but you must tell me where that idea came from, which means that you need to keep records. That way, you can always find the information you need when it comes time to make your works cited page.
Suggestion #4 • Don’t wait until the last week to begin this project. • I have given you three weeks to work on this paper, and the amount of work that is required of you will take up all of that time. Don’t put it off. • Set goals for yourself each week when it comes to this project.
Research Paper Weekly Goals • Week 1: • Choose literary work and critical theory. • Research and become familiar with critical theory by reading three or four articles that use that theory. • Reread story/poem/play and heavily annotate • Formulate (come up with) a rough idea of the question you will research. • Begin to do research in library databases and other reputable sources for critical articles that are relevant to your question. • Continue to research and find literary criticism that is relevant to your question. • Find out what debates are going on about your work of literature. Adjust your question if necessary.
Research Paper Weekly Goals • Week 2 • Read the literary criticism you find carefully, highlighting, annotating, and keeping track of interesting ideas from each source. • Take notes on your reactions to these critical articles. Do you agree? Disagree? What can you add to the ideas that are presented in the articles? • Construct a rough thesis statement that is an ANSWER to the original question you asked. • Make an outline of your paper where each paragraph contributes to the goal of supporting that thesis. • In your outline, decide where it would be appropriate to include ideas/quotes from your sources. • Begin to write a rough draft of your essay.
Research Paper Weekly Goals • Week 3: • Complete your rough draft. • Read your work of literature again. Do you have any new insights now that you have read several articles of literary criticism about the work? • Revise your rough draft. Make sure that your ideas are clearly, thoughtfully explained. • Check to make sure that all ideas that are not yours are cited correctly. • Proofread.
Use My Office Hours • I am in my office during the hours listed on your syllabus. If I’m not there, it means I’ve stepped out for a moment, and I’ll be back. • If you are struggling with this assignment, or if you would like me to look at a working thesis, an outline, or a draft, I would be happy to do that with you.