- Planning a research paper
The fact is, there’s no such thing as a “research paper.” There are many kinds of writing that use literature and rhetoric, in different ways (“methods”), to address all kinds of questions. What follows is a sampling of essays I admire.
- Joe Richman (documentarian),“Seeing the Forrest through the Little Trees,” This American Life #527 (June 2014). Streaming audio and transcript. Almost a detective story, using interviews, biographical fragments and readers’ responses to ask some fundamental questions: How much do an author’s beliefs determine the meaning of a work of fiction? And how can we know for sure what those beliefs are? It’s about a fake memoir of a Cherokee childhood written by a former white supremacist politician.
- Barbara Johnson, My Monster/My Self,” Diacritics 12.2 (1982): 2-10. (Also reprinted in her book The Critical Difference). This is a great example of a review essay, which is both a book review that makes claims that go beyond the content and quality of the books themselves. It’s about Frankenstein and women’s autobiography.
- Barbara Johnson [again!], “Apostrophe, Animation, and Abortion,” Diacritics 16.1 (1986): 29-47. (Reprinted in A World of Difference). A more challenging essay than “Monster,” this piece weaves together two apparently disparate worlds, lyric poetry and politics. And it actually manages to say something new about the abortion debate.
- Jennifer L. Fleissner, “Obsessional Modernity: The ‘Institutionalization of Doubt,’” Critical Inquiry 34.1 (2007): 106–134. Fleissner takes a pairing that’s often handled very crudely–literature and mental disorder–and treats both topics with respect and subtlety.
- Ian Bogost, “Video Games are Better without Characters,” The Atlantic (March 2015). Yes, you can do rich narrative analysis without talking about words and characterization.
- Aaron Bady, “Chinua Achebe: No Longer at Ease,” The New Inquiry 25 Mar. 2015. Biographies of famous authors are rarely satisfying from the point of view of argument and analysis. This essay-blog is satisfying for what it weaves together: Achebe’s remarkable career, American perceptions of Africa, the wonkiness of Twitter trends, American perceptions of Africa, and the ways history gets (re)written.
- Revision A strategy for analyzing and revising a first draft, by Joseph Williams and Lawrence McEnerney (U. Chicago)
The Craft of Revision, by Donald Murray (selections on e-reserves; many used copies online)
Guiding Questions for Revision
What do you like the most about this piece? How can you enhance those aspects?
Is it self-contained? Would someone who hadn’t read the prompt understand why you wrote it?
What would you have to change to make the article more appropriate for a general-interest publication (e.g., The Atlantic, Slate, The New York Times, Public Library of Science Blogs)?
What do you like the least about this piece? What are some concrete steps you can take to improve it?
I expect the grammar, punctuation, and spelling to be polished to the best of your abilities. However, if you only correct those things, you will not receive more than half credit.
Writing to Present
- Alessandro Angelini, “The Art of the Conference Paper”
- Writing a conference paper (University of Maryland)
- Texas A&M Writing Center: “Organizing a Presentation”
- Presenting conference papers (Claremont Graduate University)
- How to Give a Talk: Academic Speaking in a Nutshell (Paul Edwards and Mark Clark)