Research Essay- English 311 (Spring 2020)

The course research essay you will write this semester is an opportunity for you to explore a novel of your choice (see the syllabus for the due date for your choice) in detail.  Although your essay length is twelve pages--double spaced manuscript style--you are working with large novels, so be sure your focus is narrow enough. Remember that for a literary analysis you are making an argument (your thesis) about how to read/interpret a work of literature.  This means your claim (thesis) needs to be debatable, specific, and supported--your reasons/examples and quotations from the works/secondary sources.  You might also contextualize your novel within the history of the English novel.  These considerations will help shape your research.

Length: 12 pages, double-spaced
Documenation style: MLA
Sources:  A minimum of 4 secondary sources.  Consider information you need to support your argument and how much of a source you are using. Primary sources--the novels--do not count here.  Also, although you may use the critical introduction to your Penguin edition as a source, it does not count as one of your secondary sources.  Also, dictionary entries (e.g., Oxford English Dictionary) and other reference-type sources (e.g., specialized encyclopedias) do not count towards your source total although you might still use them as extra sources.

Assessment Criteria:  1.) Effective introduction (interesting, engaging topic) 2.) Clear, specific thesis statement 3.) Clear, effective organization 4.) Effective analysis (reasons, examples, quotations from the novel)  5.) Effective use of relevant, credible secondary sources 6. (Grammatical effectiveness, attention to mechanics, formatting)

Throughout the semester, I may ask you to bring to class/turn in your outline, parts of your draft, and research materials.


 Once you choose a topic, conduct preliminary research to see what sources you can find as a way to test your topic and see what sources might be available.  If you can't find any, ask a librarian for help before switching topics.

Sources will be journal articles, essays from a collection, and books [specific author(s), editor/advisory board, notes and works cited page/bibliogrpahy].  Use the library databases to search for journal articles (e.g., JSTOR, MLA International Bibliography).  Books can be found in our library or through universal borrowing.  Some websites that contain scholarly essays maybe helpful. See our course website: Resources menu----British Literature Links.  Note:  I will add some websites as I find them.  Ask librarians for help if you cannot find the information you need.  Remember, for sources, consider currency (e.g., 2019/2020) and credibility.  Common dictionary and encylopedia (general reference sources) entries are not suitable here.  General educator or commerical sites (general, unsigned, often of mixed, unvetted quality) are unsuitable too.  Look at the bibliographies in our Penguin editions to see types of scholarly sources.  Scholarly sources you find will also have works cited pages/bibliographies.

You might also try freewriting as an invention strategy:  Write out the name of your work and topic and then write nonstop for 20-30 mins--everything about the topic that comes to mind without worrying about structure or grammar. Analyze this freewriting for key ideas. Then proceed to your working thesis and outline. 

Once you choose your work(s) and topic, begin by r(re)reading, notetaking, and thinking about the work(s) you are writing about. Formulate a main question your essay will answer. Study your chosen work and line up your evidence. Draft a working thesis and then an outline (10 pts--Sample Scratch Outline with Notes) that gives you a view of the entire essay - structure and content. See Course Note page.


See the audience considerations for the web pages assignment. Your research essay raises additional questions.  Is there some need for plot summary? What will your readers expect to learn from your essay? What will be their reason for reading it?  How will readers understand your secondary sources? Keep these questions in mind as your draft and revise. Also, consider this essay in relationship to the other information on your web pages.


Begin your essay by naming the work your are writing about. Frame the issue you are exploring or ask a key question(s) that you will address. You might also briefly contextualize the work you are writing about within the author's other works. Then state your thesis--the main point, conclusion, or claim you are making about your chosen work(s).


(Thesis is in brackets)

Title: Marriage as an Experience in Eliot's Middlemarch

Intro: After reading Middlemarch, one's thoughts focus on the novel's two central marriages. Since both marriages result in unhappiness, it appears as though George Eliot views marriage as a confinement or a source of self-inflicted pain. This interpretation results from taking a narrow view of the novel and not considering its entire scope. [Through its central marriages, Middlemarch reveals the growth or loss which results from marriage. Marriage is not an end, but a beginning, a single fragment of human experience resulting in a fruitful relationship or an unfortunate loss.]


After you have formulated a thesis, find the best evidence you can to support it. Do not organize your essay around "the plot"; organize it around the central idea you are presenting (in your thesis). Select the best examples to illustrate your ideas. You should use a few/some direct quotations--let the work speak for itself and present readers with emphatic or telling examples that would lose their impact if paraphrased. Be careful if you use block quotations (make use of ellipses) and do not use too many quotations. Remember, quotations are not a substitute for your own thinking. You must interpret them for readers. Quotations supplement your thinking.  For prose, fiction, and drama, use page numbers; for poetry cite line numbers.  See the MLA Handbook (8th ed.) for the mechanics of quoting. Copies are in the library.  In-text Citations:  For Robinson Crusoe: (Defoe 165); For Emma (154; vol. 1, ch. 17)

For citing dialogue from a movie, you do not need parenthetical citations if it is clear you are citing from the movie since there are no page numbers.  You will can reference the movie in the essay.  If you are citing the movie plus other sources in the same paragraph, then use parenthetical citations--for the movie, cite the title to match the works cited page.

In your essay, you might reference other works yau have studied this semester to make apposite comparisons.


You will need a work cited page.  Again, consult the MLA Handbook (8th ed.) as needed.  Copies are available in the library if you don't own one.  If you are not familiar with MLA, you should begin reviewing the MLA Handbook to get a basic understanding of how to use in-text (parenthetical) citations and construct a works cited page.  the library also has "cheat sheets."  Online sites that generate citations can be useful, but you need to check citations yourself too.


Feel free to see me if you have any questions. I'll also be glad to look at outlines/drafts as you write them.