>>> Principle • An upper-division or graduate English course should enhance your capabilities not just as a close-reader, but also as a clear, careful, and constructive writer. Being able to analyze and interpret literary texts and their contexts by means of shapely and compelling, research-informed essays constitutes an essential skill—one that takes effort and practice.
RESEARCHED TERM PAPER
>>> Rubric • A rubric-driven, researched term paper is required. While there are other, additional ways to structure an effective literary-critical essay, an advantage of using the rubric is peace of mind as regards knowing what constitutes "A" content in your instructor's universe. Below, find a diagram that summarizes the rubric, followed by a brief discussion of some necessary features.
>>> Length • Number of pages is an irrelevant metric. In the case of upper-division students, the final document should contain no fewer than 1750 and no more than 2500 words. Typically, the latter figure yields slightly over five pages of text when rendered in size-11 Times New Roman font, single-spaced, as the course mandates. Graduate students should espouse a minimum of 2250 and a maximum of 3250 words. When determining the word count, do not factor in the following elements: (1) the paper's title and subtitle; (2) the epigraph/s; (3) block quotations; (4) footnotes or endnotes; (6) the Works Cited section; (7) material that details your name, the instructor's name, the course's name, number, or meeting time.
>>> Title • Your title should spread over two lines, with no white space between the lines. The top line should be a succinct quotation from the focal text—that is, the text your essay primarily interrogates. The bottom line constitutes the subtitle, and it should explain the essence of the essay. Be sure that the subtitle indicates the main name of the text and the family name of the author. Here are a couple of successful examples:
>>> Sources • Your paper should deploy, in a substantive manner, at least four outside sources. Among the core sources, a minimum of two must be unambiguously literary-critical in nature. An example of such a source is an essay from a respected, peer-reviewed literary journal, such as PMLA, Victorian Studies, or New Hibernian Review. Additional sources, both primary and secondary, are welcome, but students need to analyze all sources they invoke. Mere rehearsal of external content serves only as "filler" and works against production of a good essay and, consequently, receipt of a good grade.
>>> Thesis • Whatever one's sources, they must serve to advance and/or complicate the central dimension of the paper: a detailed and specific thesis. The following is an unacceptable thesis: "America's Civil War influenced Emily Dickinson's poetry-writing." However, here is an excellent thesis, from Benjamin Friedlander's essay "Emily Dickinson and the Battle of Ball's Bluff," which appears on pp. 1582-1599 of the October 2009 issue (Volume 124, Number 5) of PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association. Friedlander contends, "Scholars must begin to take account of the fact that Dickinson's wartime writing encompasses multiple, contradictory forms of response, a diversity of representational strategies, and...a project of coming to terms with war...in which the [Civil War] provided both a constraining pressure on the imagination and an opportunity for exercising it....Dickinson expressed in her poems what she was willing and able to say about the [Civil War] but not necessarily what she believed" (p. 1583). Note the much more focused, developed, and enlightening nature of the second thesis, versus the first.
>>> Signposting • As directed by the rubric, immediately after your thesis sentences you should offer a "road map" of the journey on which the essay will take the reader. In the first place, it constitutes good manners to help the reader understand how she or he will be investing an hour or so of valuable time. In the second place, by demonstrating that you own a grip on the material and argument, signposting inspires the reader with confidence in you as a scholar-author.
>>> Cose Reading X 3 • Close readings of three relevant passages or sites from your focal text will be the highlight destinations upon the intellectual journey that is your essay. In these readings, you can "strut your stuff," showing that careful, even painstaking attention to what's said and how it's inscribed can reveal new understandings of a text, no matter how many critics have analyzed it already. Probing small things can yield big insights. For example—when, in the 1930 poem "Byzantium," William Butler Yeats's speaker uses the phrase "mere complexities" in relation to "all that man is," he could—by the adjective "mere"—mean "nothing more than" or "nothing better than"; however, he could also have in mind the older sense of "mere," namely, "pure" or "unmixed." (This knowledge comes from consulting the etymology and usage sections of the entry for "mere" in the Oxford English Dictionary, available online when you connect to the university network.) Clearly, there is a significant difference between "nothing more than complexities" and "pure complexities"—a difference that requires further analysis and commentary.