English 300W

Winter 2009

Guidelines on the Research Essay

Assignment Weight: 30% of the final grade.

Due Date:  Post the essay at the Turn It In website (http://www.turnitin.com/) by 8 AM on April 25 at the latest.

Length:  Your essay must be a minimum of 4½ pages.  You can, however, exceed this page limit as much as your argument may require. 

Extra Credit:  If you go at least three pages beyond the 4½-page minimum—that is, to 7½ pages—I will give you a significant amount of extra credit: either dropping one absence (if you have exceeded the minimum of two) or adding 3% to your final grade.

Formatting:  Your essay must be formatted according to the conventions that we have discussed throughout the semester.  Most importantly, do not make the essay appear longer than it actually is.  Use 12-point Times (or Times New Roman) font, only 1-inch margins, regularly sized paragraphs, and delete extra spacing around your name, title, quotations, or paragraphs.

Research Requirements:  The essay must directly quote at least five scholarly sources, one from each of the following categories:

1)   One theoretical essay covered during the section (Ella Shohat’s “Tropes of Empire,” Edward Said’s “Imaginative Geographies,” or Judith Butler’s “Gender Trouble”);

2)   One article or book chapter of literary criticism listed in the MLA Bibliography focusing on Tennessee Williams’ play Streetcar Named Desire;

3)   One chapter of literary theory a) of a new historicist, cultural studies, or queer studies orientation, b) not already covered in class, c) directly related to your topic, and d) found either in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism or in The Critical Tradition, both on reserve at the library (see the “Historicism and Cultural Studies” and “Queer Studies” chapters in How to Interpret Literature to remind yourself of the possibilities);

4)   One contextual source by a cultural historian or social scientist closely related to your essay topic, an expert who is not a literary historian, literary critic, or literary theorist, but rather someone focusing on a non-literary topic from the point of view of another academic discipline;

5)   A chapter from one of the books about Tennessee Williams on reserve at the Halle library (see the books listed under my name in the “Course Reserves” tab of the online library catalogue).

Make sure to engage substantively with at least three of these sources in the essay itself, either applying the arguments in an innovative fashion to the primary text, analyzing them comprehensively and critically, or discussing their underlying assumptions and unstated implications, especially those most germane to your own argument.

The remaining sources can be discussed in passing (as a way to support your argument); however, all five sources must be relevant to your focus and argument, incorporated smoothly and logically into the flow of your essay, with the connection between your own argument and that of the quoted passage made clear.  Only those sources that actually contribute to your argument in some fashion will count towards the minimum source requirements, so do not simply use whichever sources that you happen to find most readily in the library or scholarly databases. 

Articles found through online databases (described below) are generally peer-reviewed and thus far more credible than any items found on the internet.  You can cite sources found on the internet in addition to the minimum required sources listed above, but none of these internet materials will count towards the minimum source requirements. 

Databases:  The MLA Bibliography is the most important resource to consult for literary research; it is also extremely easy to use.  See the link on the Halle library’s homepage for Databases (http://portal.emich.edu/remote.htm) and look for “MLA Bibliography.”  Several databases are linked directly through the MLA, making some full-text scholarly articles (but by no means all) readily available in that single location.  Two other excellent databases to consult are Project Muse and JSTOR. See the Researching Literature handout for detailed information about locating research materials: http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/demo.htm.  A powerful search engine is Google Scholar, which makes a great deal of scholarship readily available on the internet; unfortunately, however, the most recent (and reliable) scholarship tends to be copyrighted and thus unavailable in that forum.

The MLA will refer you to both digital and hard-copy materials.  Since only a small portion of this scholarship is available online, you will need to visit the library in person to get the most relevant and interesting materials for your particular focus.  In fact, the more unique and important your topic is, the more necessary an offline, real-world, trudge-up-the-stairs visit to the library will be.  Once at the library, you will be able to get invaluable on-hand assistance from the reference librarians.  

Citations:  The essay must be formatted according to MLA (Modern Language Association) conventions.  Several handouts on these conventions are available in the Electronic Reserves.  MLA documentation requires parenthetical citations within the essay itself; that is, the author’s last name and the page number in parentheses at the end of the sentence (Armstrong 55), or the page number alone if the author has already been identified within the sentence or in the preceding citation (55).  MLA documentation also requires a Works Cited page, wherein you list each source that you have quoted, which may be significantly fewer than those that you have only consulted while researching the essay.  You can model your citations on the common ones that follow, just make sure to alphabetize and double-space, listing them on a separate page under the centered heading of “Work Cited” (without the quotation marks and without bold, italics, or underlining)


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

Chapters in a Book 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.


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

Journals found in an Online Database:

Johnson, Kirk.  “The Mountain Lions of Michigan.”  Endangered Species Update 19.2 (2002): 27-45.  Expanded Academic Index.  Halle Lib., Ypsilanti, MI. 26 Nov. 2002. <http://infotrac.galegroup.com>

Work from the Electronic Reserves (or Other Website):

Haffe, Joquest, and Melissa Smith. “Bioethics: A Third World Issue.” Eastern Michigan University Electronic Reserves. 15 Dec. 2007 <http://reserves.emich.edu/eres/documentview.aspx?=28228>.


Research Presentation:  There will be an informal 8-minute presentation of the research that you have done for your essay during the last class (April 20), the time otherwise scheduled for the final exam.  In it, you will provide background on your topic, thesis, and theoretical approach to the play.  The main talking points for your presentation are as follows:

1)    Give the basic background on your topic, discuss its connection to the play, and describe your main argument about it;

2)    Provide a general sketch of the trajectory of your research essay, that is, 2-3 main sub-topics and/or sub-arguments that you will be addressing;

3)    Either read aloud and discuss one of your favorite passages from your essay, or read aloud and discuss a passage from one of your outside sources (or do both if you have enough time to do so). 

Assessment:  This 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 terms of writing, critical thinking, or literary analysis.  It would be good to consult the Checklist for Essay Three (http://people.emich.edu/acoykenda/227/ck.htm) TO assist you in polishing the paper thoroughly.  Altogether the grade for the essay constitutes 30% of your final course grade.  It will be based on four factors:

1. The importance and originality of your topic and thesis;

2. How well you write and organize your essay and substantiate your argument;

3. The degree to which you demonstrate an ability to think critically about literature;

4. The extent to which you perform the research requirements mentioned above. 

Most importantly, make sure to quote the five required sources in your essay, demonstrating a genuine effort to document those sources properly.  If you do not cite the minimum sources described above, you can expect to receive a C+ at most on your essay.

Academic Integrity:  Understanding and avoiding academic dishonesty is imperative.  Copying the writing of peers, taking credit for works found on the internet, or recycling your own essays for double credit are all forms of academic dishonesty, and for very good reason.  Each interferes with the sole purpose, and the unique benefit, of going to college; namely, the unfettered exercise of an informed mind.  Any instance of academic dishonesty will result in an automatic 0% grade for the assignment; any second instance will result in outright failure of the course.

Plagiarism, put simply, is taking either the ideas or the words of another person and reusing them as if they are your own.  It does not matter whether you are drawing on Wikipedia for mundane information or channeling the most holy of books for heavenly inspiration, you must acknowledge when you make use of the concepts or expressions of other people under any circumstances. 

When describing the ideas of someone else in your own words, make sure to state as such (So and so says X ... ); most importantly, when inserting the words of someone else into your writing, make sure to credit that person for the passage and place quotation marks on either side (So and so says, “X”).  Writing that lacks such acknowledgements will pass as your own by default, and writing that thus seems to be your own, without actually being your own, will be plagiarizing the original source.