A research paper is a different beast from a small 3-5 page essay. They can run anywhere from 15-30 pages, and if written well enough and revised well enough they can even be publishable. They are also extremely difficult to churn out the night before they are due, even for those particularly good at writing and research. Thus writing your research paper in this class is designed to be a long, integrated project that will involve significant preparation for an initial draft.
Your three writing assignments will be wrapped up into the project as a whole. The first will involve the identification of a research question and the creation of a preliminary bibliography of texts you will use in your research. The second will involve the creation of a detailed outline of the paper and the drafting of an introduction. The third will be the final product, a work of research 15-25 pages in length. While all of this will require a good amount of work, each step of the project renders the next step more manageable. Writing a long, detailed essay with proper citations and bibliographic materials is much easier if one has already created a detailed outline of it, and creating a detailed outline of such an essay is much easier if one has already crafted a research proposal with a list of primary and secondary sources to work from.
Part I: Drafting a research proposal
Due date: October 9th
In this first step, your task is to find a subject to research, gather some preliminary sources, and produce a page-long proposal for your project. You will be given considerable freedom on the subject you choose, but there are a few constraints. First and foremost, the subject must pertain to literature in some capacity; I suggest you choose a book on the syllabus or another narrative work that interests you to make your primary source. Second, the project should relate the literary work (or group of works) you choose to history—yes, current events count, qualifying as they do as ‘recent history’. Beyond those two constraints, however, the nature of the research paper will be up to you. If you do not choose to focus on a book that’s on the syllabus, however, you must get my approval of the text you will be studying ahead of time. I will try to be as accommodating as possible, but I reserve the right to veto some ideas if I think they are probably unworkable for this class—I may need to read some or all of the text you select, so something like an exhaustive study of an obscure 3,000 page novel might simply be undoable.
Your page-long proposal should be prefaced by a research question and followed by five to ten secondary sources in addition to your primary source. They should be formatted properly in MLA style and at least three should have annotations. Each annotation should first summarize what the text is about and then explain how it might be used in your essay. They should be brief, but substantive.
Part II: Creating a Detailed Project Outline
Due date: November 4th
The second step in your project will require you to write a draft of your essay’s introductory section and construct an outline for the rest of the paper that indicates where and how you will be using your sources. In addition to the five to ten you collected for your proposal, you will be required to add at least two more—but are encouraged to add however many you think you need. The paper should be structured in sections, and here a familiarity with the ‘five paragraph essay’ might prove useful, as it actually provides a decent guideline for how to arrange your sections. There should be an introductory section, three ‘body’ sections that unfold your argument and a conclusory section. Each section should have a pithy title, and your outline should list under each section heading what sources will be deployed in that section, and which parts of them will be used. (i.e., the specific chapters and/or page numbers)
Meanwhile, the draft of your introductory section should perform all the functions of the age-old ‘introductory paragraph’: it should grasp the reader’s attention, preferably with an epigraph; it should succinctly state your argument’s premises and conclusion(s); and it should guide the reader into the next section.
Part III: Writing & Polishing a final draft
Recommended rough draft completion date: December 4th
Final draft due date: December 14th
The final step is writing the rest of the essay, using your completed introduction as a starting point and your outline as a guide. Each section should boast strong transitions and each should be a step in an argument that ultimately concludes with a definitive answer to your research question. The conclusory section must summarize the argument, re-state the conclusion, and consider the ‘upshot’ of the project—all without sounding overly repetitive.
But revising is just as important as getting everything down on paper. You should leave yourself time to weed out the last vestiges of style and grammar errors from your work through multiple proofreadings, and to polish any rough spots you see in your argument. (including, perhaps, footnoting a response to criticisms you had not thought of when you were crafting your first draft)
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