How to Write a Paper for College Literature Classes

How to Write a Paper for College Literature Classes

The dreaded course paper. The prospect of writing one can pack even the most certain student with fear. How do you get began? What do you write about? Will you finish in time? Never fear. By understanding the structure of a literature paper, doing careful prewriting, using numerous drafts, and learning strategies to overcome writer’s block, you can make writing a paper for a college literature class a breeze.

Steps Edit

Part One of Six:
Analyzing the Text and Developing a Thesis Edit

Read and analyze the text. The text in question is the kicking off point for any literary analysis. You will want to read the text at least once and take careful notes to prepare for writing your essay. As you read: [1]

  • Think about what most interests you: imagery, characters, plot, pacing, tone, etc. Note examples.
  • Consider the context. Is this text influenced by other texts, such as the Bible or Shakespeare or even contemporary pop music? Does it use a style or form popular in a particular era, like the epistolary novel of the 18th century?
  • Reflect on what you know about the author. How might his or her biography influence the text?
  • Concentrate on why certain elements are in the story and how they work. How do characters contribute to the story or theme? Why does the author choose particular a particular setting, picture, or tone? [Two]
  • Determine what argument you think the text is making or what theme it is exploring. What do you think the main idea is that the author desired you to understand once you finished reading?

Choose a topic. A topic is the subject you will concentrate on. The earlier you choose a topic, the earlier you can begin collecting evidence to support it. Ideally, you’ll have an idea of what you want to write about before you finish reading the text. There are two types of essay, each with their own type of topic: [Three]

  • Expository essays give information to the reader.
  • Your topic may be a single literary element of the work, such as character, plot, structure, theme, symbols, style, imagery, tone, etc. [Four]
  • Another common topic is how a work illustrates or violates the forms of a particular genre or school of thought. [Five]
  • You may also draw parallels inbetween the work and real-life subject matter such as historical events or the author’s life. [6]
  • Argumentative essays take a position on a debatable topic in order to switch the reader’s mind. Your topic will typically be your thesis.
  • Your topic can’t be factual: i.e. The nobles in Shakespeare’s Hamlet talk in iambic pentameter.
  • And the argument can’t be too effortless to win: i.e. Nobles speak in formal iambic pentameter in Hamlet to emphasize their class.
  • It needs to be something people might reasonably disagree about: i.e. In Hamlet. Shakespeare writes noble speech in iambic pentameter not to emphasize their elite status, but rather to underscore how constrained noble characters actually are vis-a-vis the freer commoners.
  • Concentrate your topic. A good topic needs to be narrow enough that you can fully address it within the page limit. The key is to begin broad and then narrow your concentrate. [7] Eventually, you’ll want to develop an argument regarding the topic. That argument will be your thesis. For example:

  • Broad topic – The use of humor in Hamlet .
  • Add words that make it more specific – Hamlet’s use of humor in Hamlet .
  • Turn it into an even more specific sentence – Hamlet’s use of humor belies his madness.
  • Develop a thesis. The next step is to convert your topic into an argument – i.e. Hamlet’s sense of humor is key to persuading the reader he is in fact sane. While your thesis will likely be revised as you write, it is still significant to produce a preliminary thesis regarding the text, what it is attempting to achieve, and the technics the author uses to do so. A thesis will help you organize your ideas.

  • Be specific. For example: “The technology of permitting the reader the freedom to skin out sparsely described photos reinforces the theme of freedom versus fate explored in the The Night Circus .” This works better than something vague like: “The author uses rich visual imagery to excellent effect in The Night Circus .”
  • Gather more evidence to support your thesis. Now that you have chosen a topic and preliminary thesis, you can concentrate your research. Reread the work or selected sections, looking for quotes that you can use to develop your argument. You will very likely want to search for evidence in conjunction with the next step: outlining your essay.

    Part Two of Six:
    Outlining Your Essay Edit

    Organize your ideas in an outline. It is always a good idea to write an outline. At a minimum, you’ll want to include your thesis statement and a description of what each succeeding paragraph is about. For example:

  • Thesis: The mechanism of permitting the reader the freedom to skin out sparsely described photos reinforces the theme of freedom versus fate explored in the The Night Circus .
  • Paragraph 1: Summary – The Night Circus is a novel about a youthful man and woman rivaling in a magical contest they do not fully understand, with a fantastical circus as the setting for their wonders.
  • Paragraph Two: While the novel is visually compelling, the descriptions are in fact remarkably sparse, as in this description of the fantastic clock that sits at the entrance to the circus.
  • Paragraph Three: Her description of the magical snow garden is also remarkably plain.
  • Paragraph Four: The simpleness gives the reader the freedom to pack out the descriptions using the guidelines suggested by the text, just as the main characters skin out the circus within the boundaries of the game’s rules.
  • Paragraph Five: The plain yet beautiful descriptions thus reinforce the underlying theme of freedom versus fate in the book.
  • Use your outline to help organize and guide your research. If you write an outline early in the research process, you can use it to help concentrate on the specific areas you need to explore in more detail. This will save you time, by sparing you research into areas that won’t figure in your paper.

    Skin out your outline as you go. An outline can also provide “container” in which to put information. Once you have an outline, you can begin placing evidence and analysis into it as you come up with them to produce a more detailed outline that incorporates quotes and evidence for each paragraph, as in this sample outline.

    Embark with an introductory paragraph. Include the title and author of the main works you deal with, as well as your thesis. The objective is to clearly define the issues your essay will deal with.

  • Don’t write something vague like “This story deals with the problems of human civilization.”
  • Be specific: “By the end of the story, Rainsford becomes another Zargoff, another civilized murderer. He has adopted his adversary’s brutal attitudes so lightly that we are led to question civilization’s claim to control human aggression.” [8]
  • Summarize the text if necessary. If the text is one that the entire class has read, you will not need to summarize it. However, if it is one that your reader might not be familiar with, you will need to give a brief (one paragraph) summary. [9]

  • Be careful that you do not spend too much time on summary, however. If you have more summary than analysis, your paper won’t showcase your ideas about the text.
  • Give an example of the topic you will be analyzing. If you are discussing a particular aspect of the work – characters, plot, style, etc. – you will want to begin with a representative example of the literary device you will analyze. [Ten]

    Explore and support your thesis in the following paragraphs. Each paragraph will provide evidence to support the claim made in your thesis, as well as analysis of that evidence. You will also want to anticipate counter-arguments. A good essay will include: [11]

  • Evidence – Examples from the text under discussion that support your thesis.
  • Warrant – An explanation of how the evidence supports your thesis.
  • Backing – Extra reasoning that may be necessary to support the warrant.
  • Counterclaims – Anticipate arguments that disagree with your thesis.
  • Rebuttal – Evidence and argumentation put forward by you that negates the counterclaim you introduced.
  • Conclude by moving beyond your thesis. Begin by considering what you want your readers to take away from your paper. However, a good conclusion will not simply restate the thesis. It will go on to discuss why it is significant, to speculate on its broader implications (i.e. is it true for a genre or period as a entire?) or to provide suggestions on how it might be pursued further. [12]

    Concentrate on the argument during your very first draft. Don’t worry about style, spelling, or length. Your very first draft should concentrate on the argument you are making and on marshalling evidence to support that argument. It is very difficult to ideal your prose, grammar, essay structure, and argument all at the same time. You can actually save time by writing numerous drafts that concentrate on these elements one at a time. [13]

    Do a 2nd draft, focusing on the organization of your essay. Once you have your main ideas and supporting evidence down on paper, it’s time to budge them around to create an essay that flows logically from one point to the next.

  • Attempt using a switch sides outline to understand the structure of your essay. In the left palm margin, write out the topic of each paragraph in as few words as possible. In the right margin, write how each paragraph advances the overall argument. This will help you see how each paragraph fits into your paper, and which ones might be shifted for better effect. [14]
  • Once your paragraph is in the right order, concentrate on smoothing out transitions inbetween paragraphs. If your paragraph flows well, you shouldn’t need transition words (see for a list of such words). The end of one paragraph should logically lead to the embark of the next.
  • Let someone else read your paper. Once you have a paper that you feel makes a clear argument, develops that argument with ample supporting evidence, and which is well organized, it’s time to get someone else’s opinion. Many universities have writing centers that will provide feedback on drafts. At the very least, let a fellow student take a look. They will be able to point out areas that are confusing or statements that are poorly supported. Use their feedback to write a third draft.

    Give yourself slew of time. Writing does not progress at a linear rhythm. Sometimes you can write a dozen pages in an hour. Other times, you might fight to grind out a page. In both cases you are doing productive work. However, if you embark your paper too late, a period of slow writing can induce funk that leads to writer’s block. To avoid this, begin early and schedule slew of time to write.

  • Work in Two to 6 hour sessions spread over numerous days. It is hard to stay productive past 6 hours.
  • Begin at least a week before your paper is due.
  • Overlook page numbers. A page purpose – particularly a large one like 15 or 20 pages – can be intimidating. Don’t worry about pages. It is time that matters. Concentrate on putting in time, not the number of pages you write in a given session.

    Switch inbetween computer and pen and paper. Sometimes when your stuck, it helps to switch the format in which you are writing. Writing on a computer, in particular, can slow you down due to the effortless capability to repeatedly edit each sentence. Pen and paper can help you stir through a draft more quickly.

    Free write. If you’re having a hard time getting commenced with a part of your paper – thesis, outline, or draft – commence a fresh document and write whatever comes to mind. It might be an analysis of a particular passage, a summary of the story, or just a list of ideas. It doesn’t matter. The significant thing is to get writing again.

    Write in detailed outline form. The challenge of writing well-constructed sentences while also formulating a clear argument and organizing evidence can sometimes be too much. If you’re stuck drafting your essay, attempt writing in detailed outline form: butt-plug in evidence and you analysis of it, and don’t worry about the language or even writing finish sentences. This can be a superb way to speed through a very first draft. You can then concentrate on fleshing out your sentences in draft Two.

    Take a break. If none of these strategies work, it often helps just to step away. Take a walk and give your mind time to sort things out. Sit down and concentrate on your breathing. Take a nap and let your subconscious have a crack at it. [Legal]

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    How to Write a Paper for College Literature Classes

    The dreaded course paper. The prospect of writing one can pack even the most certain student with fear. How do you get embarked? What do you write about? Will you finish in time? Never fear. By understanding the structure of a literature paper, doing careful prewriting, using numerous drafts, and learning strategies to overcome writer’s block, you can make writing a paper for a college literature class a breeze.

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