Guidelines on the Research Essay: Expansion of Revision One, Revision Two, or Essay Three


Due Date:  Monday, December 20 at 11 AM.  Drop your essay in my mailbox in the English Department, 612 Pray Harrold, or slide it under my office door, 603G Pray Harrold.  Also leave a self-addressed, stamped manila envelope if you want commentary on your essay.


Length:  Your essay must be a minimum of six pages.  If your essay is shorter, the grade will go down proportionately: 17% for 5 pages, 25% for 4˝ pages, 50% for 3 pages, etc.  You can, however, exceed this page limit as much as your argument might require. 


Formatting:  Your essay must be typed, double spaced, and formatted according to the writing conventions found in the Short Guide to Writing About Literature and other handouts that we have read throughout the semester.  The key thing to remember: do not try to make the paper appear longer than it actually is.  Use a twelve-point Times New Roman font, only one-inch margins, and regularly sized paragraphs, and altogether avoid extra spaces around your name, title, or paragraphs.  Save a copy of your essay both on a disk and in print before turning it in to me.


Citations:  The essay must have a Works Cited page, formatted according to MLA (Modern Language Association) conventions.  A handout on MLA formatting is available in the Electronic Reserves; it is also detailed quite extensively in the Short Guide to Writing About Literature.  MLA documentation requires parenthetical citations — that is, the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence, e.g. (Said 55) — as well as the Works Cited page, wherein you list the sources that you have quoted, which may be significantly fewer than those sources that you have only consulted.  Common citations are as follows, except that they should also be alphabetized and double-spaced:


Gillespie, Paula, and Neal Lerner.  The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring.  Boston: Allyn Press, 2000.


Duvall, John N.  The (Super)Marketplace of Images: Television as Unmediated Mediation in DeLillo’s White Noise.”  Arizona Quarterly  50.3 (1994): 127-53.

Chapters in an Anthology or Collection:

Harris, Muriel.  “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers.”  A Tutor's Guide: Helping Writers One to One.  Ed. Ben Rafoth.  New York: Heinemann, 2000.  24-34.

Research Requirements:  You must consult at least five sources, with at least one of the following: 1) cultural/historical context, 2) secondary literary criticism, 3) theorists not otherwise covered in this class or a different work of theorists covered in this class.  You must significantly engage with at least four of these sources in the essay itself (again with at least one from each category), either by applying the scholar’s argument in an innovative fashion to the primary text or by using the primary text to complicate or even contest the argument.  No internet materials will count for these minimum source requirements, although of course articles found through the online databases are fine, if not ideal, to use.  Since you will have room to consult only a few authors directly, pick your sources wisely in terms of relevance and substance.  


Databases:  Not only is the MLA database the most important resource to consult for a well-researched essay, it is also extremely easy to use.  See the link on the Halle library’s homepage for Databases ( and look for “MLA Database.”  Several databases, e.g. FirstSearch and Wilson, are linked directly through this database, making many full-text scholarly articles (but by no means all) readily available online.  Two other excellent databases to consult are Project Muse and JSTOR, also available on the “Databases” web page.  In addition, you will have to find some articles in person in the library in order to have the most relevant and interesting material for your paper.  The MLA will refer you to these materials as well, whether they are in a book collection or in an anthology, or in one of the many fine journals that are (as yet) unavailable online.  See the “Recommended Databases for Literature” for further information about using the databases and locating research materials, which is available both online and in the Electronic Reserve: acoykenda/demo.htm.


Essay Presentation:  There will be an informal five-minute, in-class presentation of the research that you have done for your essay during the last class (Wednesday, December 15, 9:00 - 10:30 AM:), the time otherwise scheduled for the final exam.  In it, you will provide background on your topic, thesis, and theoretical approach to the literature.  The main talking points for the presentation are as follows: 1) contextualize your topic, likely drawing on the historical work that you have uncovered; 2) offer a provisional thesis/argument about your topic and sketch the trajectory that your research essay will likely take; 3) describe and discuss critically other scholars’ arguments about your text or topic, especially those scholars who we have not already discussed in depth in class; 4) apply your argument to the primary texts, preferably by identifying one or two relevant quotations for support. 


Annotated Biography:  To organize your research and to help your fellow students follow along with your presentation, write up an annotated biography, photocopy it, and pass it out to the class (around 10 copies will do, for some people can share).  The annotated biography needs to have the following information: the provisional title of your essay, a brief description of your topic and thesis, at least one select quotation from each of your five minimum sources, the correct bibliographic information above those quotations (MLA style), and one or two relevant passages from the primary texts.  Your peers might be able to use the quotations from your annotated bibliography in their own essays, and visa versa, supposing that you have provided the proper bibliographic information. 


Research Essay Grade:  The research essay will be similar to a final exam in that it must demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the skills that we have covered over the course of the semester, whether in writing, in critical thinking, or in literary theory.  Your grade will be based on four factors: 1) to what extent you demonstrate an ability to think critically about literary texts, 2) the importance and originality of your topic and thesis, 3) how well you write and organize your essay and substantiate your argument; and finally, 4) the extent to which you perform the criteria mentioned above.  Most importantly, if you do not address the four scholarly sources in your essay (and make a sincere effort to document them properly), you can expect at most to receive a C.  Also remember that plagiarized papers will receive no credit, jeopardizing your final grade and perhaps even your ability to pass the class.