English 362: British Literature II

Guidelines for Short Paper

Fall 2005

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon
Ferrum College

Course Schedule

Focus for Paper 1

Select any work of British literature (after 1780) that interests you and discuss, in a 2-to-4-page essay, how it illustrates one major characteristic of Romanticism. Use your class notes and background in The Norton Anthology to develop a clear understanding of the feature of Romanticism you are discussing. (See instructions on using quotations if you quote directly from the anthology). If you write about literature written after the Romantic period, discuss its demonstration of the influence of Romanticism, or, if you want to write about work(s) or children's literature, talk to the professor if you want to develop a different focus relation to children's literature. Most Victorian literature shows the continuing influence of Romanticism. If you wish to write about a work not on the course syllabus, consult the professor before writing the paper.

Basic Steps for Writing a Literature Paper

Pre-Writing Suggestions

It may be helpful first to submit a journal entry with a short discussion of your potential topic, or a "brainstorming" list of ideas and details that could be used in a paper on a topic you are exploring. Or use the attached worksheet to get feedback on your topic before writing the paper.

Reread the literary work, or relevant portions of it if it is long, and make notes on all details relating to your topic that you might add to your paper. You will be expected to provide more supporting details for each point of analysis than are required in informal journal entries.
Develop a Thesis

If you haven’t developed a good central point of analysis in pre-writing activities, you need to focus on a writing a strong thesis. If you start with a journal entry that was based primarily on facts about plot or on personal reactions, it is essential to develop an interpretive thesis—a precise statement about the topic. If you change your mind later about the point of interpretation stated in your thesis (since we often discover new insights as we write), reword it and revise the rest of the essay accordingly.

Sample Thesis Statements

  • Focus on character: Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, with his mysterious compulsion to tell his bizarre story, illustrates the Romantic poet’s interest in extreme and obsessive psychological conditions.

  • Focus on plot: The knight’s mysterious experience in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” shows that Keats, like other Romantic writers, was influenced by old ballads about tragic love affairs and supernatural events.

  • On symbolism: In Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality,” the images from the rural landscape in spring represent his belief that being close to nature brings spiritual renewal.

Use an Outline

Notes made while rereading will produce more material than you can use in a short paper. (If they don't, you are not reading carefully or you have not chosen an appropriate topic for that work.)

To restructure an informal journal entry or rough outline into a more coherent and unified paper, construct an outline in which you select details from your original notes, and arrange them in groups according to subtopics or major points that will make up the body of the paper. Decide on a logical and effective pattern of organization to use in the paper to move the reader from the statement of your thesis to a demonstration of its validity.
Write the First Draft of the New Paper

In the first draft, do not be concerned about grammar, punctuation, spelling, and style. It is more important at this stage to get your thoughts written out. If you have trouble with beginnings, skip the introduction and begin writing at a point where you feel confident about what you want to say on a particular subtopic. In the end, the essay should have the following parts.

Required Parts of Paper

Title: The title should indicate your topic in a clear and precise way, not just repeat the title of the literature. Avoid titles that are too long, too general, or vague (e.g., "What Is It with Dr. Frankenstein?" or "Dr. Frankenstein" are too vague). Don’t use just the title of the literature as the title of your paper.

The introduction should contain a precise statement of the subject (do not rely on the reader's familiarity with the title) and should move from a general discussion of the subject to an indication of your limited focus and the specific thesis. Stress the significance of the topic in relation to the work as a whole.

You may begin with general background on the subject, but don't be too general or vague or obvious (as in, "Irony is an important technique used by writers of literature," or "Tennyson was a great Victorian writer."). Avoid empty sentences such as, "In this essay I intend to discuss the differences and similarities in two poems." The reader knows this is your essay and these are your ideas; repeated references to your own process of thinking and writing are awkward and unnecessary, so instead state your precise ideas directly and support them well.

Make the scope of the essay clear in the beginning. It is a good idea to give a listing of subtopics to be discussed in the body of the paper (e.g., what are those similarities and differences?) or at least give some indication of the direction the discussion will take.

Every detail in the body of the essay should develop and support the thesis. Treat every paragraph as a unified, coherent mini-essay with a topic sentence and details that support that subtopic.
• Interpret, don't summarize the work of literature.
• Avoid digressions and irrelevant references to personal experiences or beliefs.
• Avoid cliches and unsupportable generalizations.
• Use quotations sparingly to support your discussion.

Don't end the paper abruptly, on a specific subtopic, but don't add a lengthy summary to a short paper, either. A concluding paragraph should tie together the specific points found in the body of the paper, and give it a sense of completeness and significance. Return to a general level of discussion and to the main idea of your thesis (perhaps by giving it a new twist or different wording), but do not make unsupportable generalizations that go far beyond the scope of your paper (e.g., "Welty struggled against racial prejudice.")

Revise and Polish the First Draft

After you have written the first draft, go back to it and correct faulty grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Improve the style by making sentences clearer and smoother. Look carefully for inconsistent shifts in verb tense (a common error in essays describing literary characters and plots). You may cut or expand or rearrange passages of the essay to make it more effective.

Remember that professional writers may revise their work dozens or even hundreds of times; you should do so as many times as deadlines and your abilities allow. (Of course, this means you must start early so that you can set the essay aside between revisions.) After the essay is typed and printed, make a final check for mechanical errors. Typos will count as errors and a careless typing or proofreading job can ruin a paper with good content. Don't forget to number the pages.

Marking Symbols and Terms for English Papers

Quotations and Documentation

Extensive quotations and documentation are not needed in this short paper. Use MLA format as explained in handbooks such as The Little, Brown Handbook and see the guidelines Quotations and Documentation in Literature Papers at this link. Note the format for quoting lines of poetry.

Revisions of Graded Papers

If your grade is unsatisfactory, a second short paper will be required. If your grade is C or above, a rewrite or a second short paper is optional. A revision grade will be averaged as 1/3 of the short paper grade. A second paper will be averaged as 1/2 or more of the short paper grade. Revisions must contain substantial improvements in content, besides any necessary mechanical corrections, in order to receive a new grade. The revision will be graded separately (no limit on how much its grade could improve). Don't forget to turn in the original with the revised paper.

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