Help for Beginners and Intermediate Students Writing English Literature Papers
First, consider yourself, what you bring to the process and where you are in your education. Have you never written a college-level literary analysis paper before? Do you suspect that any search for meaning in a text is futile or even bogus if it goes beyond what the surface level usage and syntax of the texts appear to mean? If you are honestly suspicious of the whole notion of finding "hidden meanings" in texts, click here for advice and some explanations of how meanings come to be "hidden" in even the most mundane texts. If you tend to think we should take what a work of literature says for the historical author's opinion in fact, click here for some ways in which the concept of literary "personae" or "masks" seriously complicates that position.
Are you somewhat past that stage? Do you basically acknowledge that serious art literature, at least, may be layered with meaning that includes formal structures as well as the meanings of mere words? Have you had some success in finding one or two types of non-obvious meaning in a text, but want to pick up some more strategies for identifying and explaining it? If so, click here for some terms literary analysts use to describe texts and some attributes of those texts which are normally expected, as well as some ways to detect when an author intentionally alters those attributes to produce unusual meanings.
Are you looking for research assistance? That should follow, not precede your own investigation of your primary source text and your extraction of a worthwhile insight about it. If you do secondary critical research before achieving an original insight, you will nearly always risk creating a poorly constructed paper or a paper which is too source-dependent. For advice about how to generate those insights before you research, go back one step to the hyperlink above. For more specific advice about how to find appropriate secondary critical sources and how to use them to find other sources, click here. For more advanced research in online bibliographic databases, consult the library's resources, especially Wilsonweb's "OmniFile" index and the MLA Bibliography Online, both of which can be found through the Julia Rogers Library home page. If you have taken English 215, or any courses in other disciplines which have given you some idea of how to use interpretive theory to construct your argument, click here for some online sites you can use to refresh your memory about terms, important theoreticians, and the analytical techniques based on these theoreticians' works.
Are you writing about what is sometimes called "early literature," works from before the emergence of a modern English nation-state and before its colonies strongly distinguished themselves from the culture of London-center? Especially, are you writing about medieval or early modern literature (900 to roughly 1640)? If so, click here for some advice particularly targeted on the problems facing writers who are attempting to explain how these less familiar genres, themes, characters, and linguistic features operate.
Finally, no matter what your level of expertise or what kind of problem you're working on, please remember to talk with the Writing Center tutors, many of whom have taken 211, and some of whom are taking it this semester. They can help you talk through your ideas, organize your project and focus it, or plan how to get it done by the deadline. If you have questions about any of my advice above, or anything I've said in class, please do not hesistate to contact me right now!