English 126: Research Paper

For this assignment you must research and write an original paper on a topic which relates to some area within the broad category of “The Humanities.”  Specific disciplines can include aspects of music, art, religion, language, philosophy, dance, photography, etc. in addition to the aspects of literature which make up the bulk of our classroom study and discussion.  You must receive a passing grade on this assignment to pass the class.

Essentially, your approach should be that of a critic.  Your paper should have the underlying purpose of providing some analysis, interpretation, and/or evaluation of the particular area you choose to research.  In other words, you should not merely report trends, standards, principles, perspectives, etc. which are or have been at the cutting edge of your topic.  Your discussion should add to the current discussion.

In your paper you need to base your criticism from the perspective of one or more of the schools of literary theories discussed in class handouts or our text, Literature: A Portable Anthology, edited by Janet E. Gardner, et al.  In your paper you need to provide some background or explanation of the particular criteria used by the theoretical school.  Then the bulk of your paper should be a discussion of how you see those criteria applied to the text to produce meaning, value, insight, etc.  (You may wish to explain how the criteria reveal the lack of these as well.)  For example, you could use principles of historical criticism to analyze how Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll can be understood as an allegory of the historical political situation in England at that time, or you could use formalist (New) criticism or Mythological Criticism to examine the character of Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi as a classic messianic hero who struggles with his own humanity.

Many texts offer commentary on social issues which may be contemporary and current both to the time of the text creation as well as our contemporary social situations.  However, the focus of your discussion should be on the text itself rather than the social, political, and/or cultural issues addressed in the text.  In other words, if the text deals with such issues as PTSD, rape culture, economic inequality, psychopathic disorders, family values, etc., the focus of your analysis should be on the actual text and its expression of such social concerns (positive or negative) rather than an investigation into the actual issue.  Thus, reliance on media reports and social behavior studies should be include at most to provide background information.  For example, a literary analysis on the TV series Breaking Bad should not stray into social issues related to the social ramifications of drug use in the USA.  Instead, it should focus on the actual content of the TV series as the “text” being analyzed.  Contemporary issues of illegal drug use should be limited to historical context only.

A paper which merely reports information gathered from a combination of different sources will receive a grade no higher than a “C.”  To receive a grade higher than a “C,” you must provide evidence of original thought and critical thinking.  This means you must explain some application, source, motivation, relative strengths or weaknesses, etc. of the material you are presenting.  Help your audience understand why the content is valuable to them.

We can use the field of literature as a model for any topic you choose.  In the field of literature, potential topics are in our textbook in the introduction and at the beginning of each genre selection.  Within the realm of literature, you may choose a literary style, particular schools of thought, a specific writer, writers of a common era, particular aspects which are treated similarly or differently, common themes, etc.  If you wish to focus on a single writer, you may use any writer whose work you feel has been recognized as making a significant contribution in the humanities field.  If you wish to focus on a single writer, make sure your paper is an analysis of the writer’s work and not just of his or her life.  A biographical research report would be done in a history class.

In your paper you must cite at least four credible sources other than our course texts (you are not required to use any course materials).  One of these outside sources must be related to one or more of the schools of literary theory (even if it is only a portion of a particular text).  Please be wise and responsible in your choice of sources.  You must include a primary source as the central focus of your paper.  For example, if you wish to provide a critical analysis of the symbols used in Grant Woods’ painting American Gothic, you would need use a copy of the painting itself as one of the sources (and insert a copy into the paper) rather than just researching what other people have said about it (secondary sources). If you thought this was an image of a farmer and his wife, but your research revealed it to be a farmer and his daughter, you would need to cite the source of the information about the woman being the daughter;  then you could provide your own understanding and analysis to expand upon that.   Likewise, if you wish to do a feminist critique of the TV show Brats, you would need to do your own analysis of specific episodes rather than providing a general commentary based only on what other critics have noted.  Again, you could use content from other sources, but the analysis should come from what you personally observe from the episodes.  Dictionaries and encyclopedias provide general understanding of details or meaning, but they should not serve as your major sources.  Also, the Internet is a convenient source of information, but many Internet sources lack credibility.  Sites like the Wikipedia, IMDb (Internet Movie Database), or such information sites may serve for general information or to seek more credible sources (follow up on their sources!).  Typically, such information or content would not need to be cited.  In other words, don’t go to some site listing a series of quotes by famous people.  You should go to the original source to use the “quote” in its context.  Newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Time, and People also tend to publish “news” which has not been thoroughly researched.  Academic research on contemporary writers or productions of their works should not depend solely on such “news” sources.  However, they can be valuable for gaining an awareness of social comment or general background.   Some such article content is based on in-depth research and analysis, which would be acceptable.  You need to evaluate the validity of your sources.

You can assume your audience is intelligent and familiar with academic standards; thus, your paper should conform to accepted conventions of writing.  The paper should be approximately five to nine pages in length and it should be typed double-spaced.  Please follow the guidelines for academic writing as discussed in class.  Make sure that you use the MLA method to document your research.  Consult The Little Seagull or Gator handbook or a similar textbook for the proper documentation techniques and format.  Be cautious in using online tools to formulate your works cited page, as the format does not always correctly “paste” into the finished paper.

As mentioned previously, quotes or summaries of source material should be limited to essential points you use to support your views.  In your paper, you should focus your discussion on your analysis and understanding.  Your sources should provide evidence to support or stimulate your ideas, but the analysis and evaluation should come from you.  Do not let the sources or quotes do all the talking.  You need to contribute to the discussion.


English 126, Research Paper.


  1. Introduction: The paper should begin with an introduction that does the following:
  • Provide background about the topic to be discussed.
  • Set the stage for a discussion of some text or group of texts using a particular literary approach (such as feminist criticism, formalist criticism, mythological criticism, etc.)
  • Indicate that a particular theme or message emerges from the text or group of texts when the approach is used.
  • Present a thesis to indicate that you have some “my point” to make about that theme or message expressed in this way.


  1. Body Paragraphs. In order to confirm that the text or group of texts does express a particular theme, do the following in the body paragraphs:
  • Explain about the literary approach and specify what criteria you plan to use to analyze, evaluate, and interpret the text. This can include aspects such as
    • Explain the kinds of questions such a critic might ask and what kinds of answers would be praised or condemned by such a critic;
    • Explain the kinds of assumptions such a critic will have in approaching the text;
    • Explain how aspects of truth, beauty, and fairness are presented, balanced; etc.
  • Use examples from the text or texts and view them from the perspective of the criteria identified previously. Explanation should include answers to both questions:
    • What does the example mean?
    • What is significant about that meaning?
  • Cite each example to identify the source it came from, using both in-text citations and a works cited page.
    • Use at least four credible sources not among course materials
    • At least one “primary” source should be included (the actual “text” itself)
    • Reference to course materials is optional in addition to the four outside sources
    • At least one outside source must be used to explain the type of criticism itself.


III. Conclusion.  Provide closure to the document.

  • Sum up the content by reviewing the content, repeating the key ideas, and/or restating the thesis point (optional). (R’s “Я” Us)
  • Identify the value of the content as it applies to the lives of contemporary readers; in other words, explain why they should be aware of the information you have discussed.
  1. Analyze, Evaluate, and/or Interpret to offer a conclusion, and/or
  2. Discuss consequences by forecasting, predicting, and/or warning, and/or,
  3. Issue a call to action through advice, suggestion, and/or solution.


  1. Source List
  • Provide an MLA style “Works Cited” list of all the sources referenced.
  1. The list should be alphabetized.
  2. The indentation should follow the “reverse” format for the MLA.
  3. The entire page should be double-spaced (no extra space between entries).
  • At least one “primary” source should be included. (In other words, if the topic is a particular film, book, CD, etc, then direct references to the text details should be included.)