Midterm Paper Tips for English 211
For students writing their
first serious literary analysis paper in a course required for the English
major, many questions may arise. I hope I've answered some of them here.
If you have others, please email me and explain
your problem as well as you can.
- What do you need to see in an email or
memo about my midterm paper's thesis?: Please consider trying out your proposed
thesis on me by sending a short version of it in an email or printed memo. But give
me what I would need to tell whether you had an independent thesis supported by adequate
evidence that was being logically analyzed. If you've never done this before, take a
look at this email by a student familiar with what I'm looking for.
- Can I see sample
papers? I have kept copies of successful midterm papers from
previous years and you can read them in my office. The page linked to
the hyperlink summarizes the kinds of topics the authors handled within the
3-page limit. Keep in mind that any of these topics could support many
papers arguing different, correct, well-supported theses. The fact that
a previous student has written about it does not mean you cannot do so.
The page also explains some basic things I do and do not want to see in the
paper, in addition to the advice contained on this page..
- Can I use "I" in this paper?:
an answer to an apparently simple question reveals an important way of understanding how
the paper should function as a way for you to communicate with your colleagues about
something you care about in this literature.
- What is a scholarly source?: in addition to your primary
source (the poem/play/etc. you're working on), may use, even at this early
stage in the course, some secondary
scholarly sources in your paper. Ordinarily, all college level writing
routinely uses others scholars' previous publications to help contextualize
its theses. If you use such sources, all of them should be scholarly,
which is synonymous with "peer-reviewed." The link, "What is
a scholarly source?," describes the peer review
process and explains why it's necessary to get accurate, soundly reasoned opinions about
literature or anything else scholars study. Using "sources I found on the
Internet" (e.g., through a Yahoo search) will seriously damage a paper's credibility
and will lower its grade, perhaps even causing it to fail should the source
introduce an error into the thinking that produces the thesis.
should I use scholarly secondary sources?: I do not require scholarly
secondary sources for the midterm paper, though some are required for
the final paper. To make sure you know how and when to use them, see
this web page. Above all, avoid "the deadly embrace," finding a source
whose argument so persuades you that all you can do is echo it. Your
paper must start, develop, and end with an independent thesis based on some
kind of original insight.
- Critical Methods and Literary Terms: how do we analyze literature in the English
major, and what terms do we use? This is a short introduction to a big subject,
intended for incoming majors who have not yet taken English 215,
and for non-majors trying to figure out how to read like a professional.
- Poetic Personae and Literary
"Truth": Americans tend to wear masks only on Halloween, and they have
little conscious knowledge of what they're doing when they put those "vizers"
on. The poet's "persona," from the Greek word for the dramatic actor's
mask, is one of the most important creations in all literature. The synthetic
projection of other personae within the work extends the notion of personae (plural) until
they populate works with all the "people" which we take for granted, and by
which authors manipulate us. Though based on Elizabethan lyric, this short
discussion has real "legs."
- How will my paper be evaluated?:
I have attempted to explain my evaluation criteria in terms that link the paper's
functional performance at objectively identifiable stages to the grade it will get.
These criteria may use rhetorical terms which you're not familiar with, so be sure to ask
me for explanations if they're not entirely clear to you.
- Pre-Turn-In Paper Check List: Ask
yourselves these questions about your paper and answer them correctly to eliminate obvious
problems that will affect your paper's grade (and my experience reading it!).