Research-Based Essay and Presentation

Research-Based Essay__________________________________

  • Grade: 350 Points (35% of your grade)
  • Due: Each group will have their own individual deadlines, which can be found on the course schedule. Typically, your research paper will be due a little over two weeks after we finish reading and discussing the novel as a class: if we conclude a novel on Friday, you draft will be due the following Sunday, and your final paper a week from that Sunday.
  • Note: You will not be responsible for any blogs or quizzes the two weeks after your research presentation. Though I hope you will still read the text in question, this allows you to dedicate time to your research paper. Please take into account the novels directly following your research book choice when filling out the survey.

One of the most important projects in this class is a highly polished research-based essay of 10-12 pages on a topic and text of your own choosing. This assignment invites you to form a cohesive, clear, and historically informed argument; to place that argument in a broader critical conversation comprised of 5 carefully-selected sources that you engage accurately and responsibly; and to support that argument with evidence from your chosen text.

This assignment involves preparatory work, including an annotated bibliography, a presentation (which, together, are worth 50 of the 350 total points), and a rough draft that you will discuss with your professor outside of class (drafts are typically due the Sunday following the week after your presentation, so you have a little over a week to respond to my presentation comments and work on the draft).


The final paper must be typed and double-spaced. Use uniform 1-inch margins with a 12 pt., easily readable font, such as Times New Roman or Garamond.  Please include page numbers and employ proper MLA citation rules. For an example of how I want your name, page numbers, and other information to appear on your final paper, check out this sample that Professor Mike Duvall put together.


In its simplest form, a 10-12 page argumentative research paper unfolds roughly as follows, though you have plenty of freedom to tweak and adapt this model as you see fit (please note that I have linked certain items below to my ENGL 299 course website, where I discuss these individual parts in much greater detail):

  1. A dynamic introduction that strategically frames the broader project. Here, you might combine strategies that include signaling historical or cultural context, intentionally summarizing the book with an eye on your eventual argument, and/or offering a sense of the continuing relevance of your text (~ 1 page).
  2. Dueling” thesis statements that reflect the research conversation you’re engaging (what I call the “conversation-based thesis) and the ways in which you hope to extend that conversation into fresh ground (your argumentative thesis)  (3 – 5 sentences).
  3. The research conversation itself: try to give a decent amount of attention to your most important sources, but bring in all of the critical voices via well-chosen quotations and accurate and fair moments of summary (~4-5 pages).
  4. Your argumentative extension of this research conversation: even if you don’t feel that your argument is 100% unique, you can still shed new light on a topic by adding new layers of analysis and insight. You don’t need to completely revise the audience’s thinking about a given text, but perhaps you have some thoughts on a particular character or chapter or even paragraph that you think adds something new to an ongoing conversation  (~4 – 5 pages)
  5. A strong conclusion that takes the reader somewhere new rather than simply repeating what came before (~.5 – 1 page).

Annotated Bibliography & Presentation_________________________

On the last day that will be discussing each novel in class, those writing research papers on that novel will give a brief, 6-8 minute presentation and hand in an annotated bibliography and rough proposal for your paper.

In your presentation–and in the script for your presentation that you hand in at the end of class–you should do the following very explicitly:

  • Summarize the critical conversation that you are beginning to piece together around your text, and describe your interest in joining certain aspects of that conversation by offering a more detailed view of one key source. If the conversation is different from what you had anticipated, or you are struggling to locate certain kinds of sources, you can voice those struggles during your presentation as well–perhaps another student will have a great lead for you. I will be paying particular attention to how your sources “speak” to one another. That is, I’m looking for an intentional gathering of voices around your topic rather than what might appear a random hodge-podge or unrelated sources. Note that these sources may or may not be the sources that make it into your paper. Research if flux.
  • Begin to articulate how you see yourself not only joining, but extending, that critical conversation into some new direction. To do this, articulate the research question or interpretive problem that you will seek to answer or solve in your paper. By asking this question, you clear the space for your own unique answer. Try to make this question as pointed and specific as possible. For example: “At key points in HOM, various characters–including our protagonist–declare a glimpse of what they call the “real” Lily Bart. How does the “real” Lily Bart offset what can seem a thick surface of artifice that binds the novel?” A good argumentative thesis is often the answer to a good question.
  • Though your paper is still in the development stage, take a shot at articulating a rough thesis as well as the potential textual evidence you hope to address. You might even focus on one such moment and walk us through it. Your thesis here is the answer to that charged question or problem above, and while your thesis will change as you continue to read and write, it is important to start somewhere.
  • Describe to the class why you feel this problem or question is significant. In other words, try to answer the “so what” question. We want to hear not only why you care about this issue, but why your reader care about it as well.
  • Pose a question for that class that you think might help you sharpen your own ideas, and that you think is especially relevant and generative for the final day that we’ll be discussing your novel.
You will be presenting alongside a few of your peers; together you will form a panel of experts. The best presentations will inspire conversation both amongst the panelists and between panelists and students. I will be grading you on the degree to which you successfully address the above bullet points, and on the written version of the presentation and annotated bibliography that you hand in after the presentation. 
In addition to presenting your ideas to the class, you should turn in a hard copy of an annotated bibliography with at least 4 sources that represent a broad conversation around your text. Sources could include scholarly, peer-reviewed articles; scholarly books on your chosen text; articles or books about the material and intellectual environment relevant to your chosen text; articles or books that reflect the methodology you would like use; and primary sources from the time, from contemporary news items, to the works of influential philosophers, critics, scientists, etc. whose ideas really impacted the “novel world” surrounding your text. In addition to searching the CofC catalogue along with Pascal, search for articles using large and representative databases relevant to the area in which you’re working.  MLA International Bibliography is the best source for literary sources, but other databases specialize in other disciplines such as history, psychology, and sociology. The basic point here is this: search broadly, include a range of sources (i.e. don’t choose 4 journal articles that are directly about your chosen text) and don’t limit yourself to JSTOR! If you need help with research, see me during my office hours or ask a librarian at the information desk in the library: we’re here to help.
Make sure your sources are substantial: go for longer (15-25 page) peer-reviewed articles and book rather than briefer explications and encyclopedia entries. 
You will also submit a written version of your presentation (and annotated bibliography) on the day of your presentation that addresses, in an clear but informal manner (I’m concerned with the quality of your ideas at this stage rather than writerly flair), the bullet points listed above. 

[thanks to Professor Duvall for sharing his research prompt, parts of which I have borrowed / adapted here, along with the grade rationale below ] 

An “A” Paper articulates a clear, sophisticated thesis, allied with a strong sense of significance. The best arguments, that is, answer the “so what” question by addressing a clearly articulated problem or question related to the chosen text; shedding crucial light on the chosen text by dynamically addressing various literary, historical and contextual materials; and forming an argument in relation to the text that has implications beyond the bounds of your paper. An “A” paper also develops its argument in an organized and logical manner, making sure to connect claims with evidence, while also anticipating and addressing opposing viewpoints. An excellent paper supports clearly-marked claims with compelling evidence in the form of nuanced interpretations of carefully-selected literary textual material and deploys secondary source materials carefully, accurately, and in an rhetorically-deft manner. Such a paper features solid reasoning in tying together claims and evidence, and shows an awareness of how the paper’s argument enters into the critical conversation about the novel under discussion. The “A” paper is also characterized by rhetorically-sophisticated sentences; logical and artful transitions; precise syntax; and apt, precise, and vivid word choice. Additionally, the “A” paper is free of major errors in grammar and syntax and avoids mechanical and technical errors.

A “B” paper shares many of the qualities that an “A” paper demonstrates, but achieves these qualities in a manner at times lacking. The thesis, for example, might lack some clarity of focus; the engagement with secondary sources might seem rushed at times; the connections between claims and evidence might not always be clear. In a “B” paper, sentences are often clear and grammatically correct—and at times very sophisticated—but transitions between sentences and paragraphs will be less successful.

A “C” paper offers an overly general or somewhat unclear thesis or controlling idea, presents an overly simplistic argument that lacks a sense of significance, makes claims that are overly general, may lack evidence to support claims and/or lack clear and logical connections between claims and evidence, and may use outside sources in an inaccurate and/or unsophisticated manner. Additionally, the “C” paper offers relatively few well-developed (unified and coherent) paragraphs. The “C” paper may have awkward or confusing sentences; may weakly transition between sentences; may use terms/words imprecisely; may demonstrate numerous errors which interfere with meaning; may have spelling, capitalization, and/or usage errors; may have sentence fragments or fused sentences; and/or may have errors in punctuation.

The “D” or “F” papers are characterized by a failure to complete the paper assignment as directed, a vague controlling idea instead of an argumentative thesis, and a tendency to wander through or stack ideas rather than articulating a logical argument. They are composed of loosely defined and incoherent paragraphs, many awkward or confusing sentences, and frequent errors in grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and/or usage.

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