EXPECTATIONS


The papers you write for this class should be computer-printed, double-spaced, titled, paginated, stapled, and proofread carefully. Fonts should be set at 12-point in Times New Roman. Papers are due on the designated date; printer problems and other technical difficulties are not acceptable excuses for failure to hand in a paper on time. To avoid such common problems, you should print out and proofread the final draft of your paper well before (i.e., at least an hour prior to) the time the paper is due. Absence and/or excuses on the day a paper is due are not acceptable; I am flexible, however, so if you have a legitimate reason for being unable to turn a paper in by the due date, please raise your concerns in advance of that date.

It is especially important that you proofread your work after you have printed out a final draft. If errors appear on this draft, correct them and reprint the paper. I will hand back any unproofread papers without a grade or comments, and they will be marked late.

Plagiarism will not be tolerated (see here for more information). Plagiarism consists of representing the words and/or ideas of another as your own. If you use someone else’s ideas, be sure to cite your sources carefully and distinguish his or her thoughts from your own. If you use someone else’s words, be sure to place them in quotation marks and cite your sources. See the most recent edition (the 7th) of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers for guidance on citing sources and other technical matters, and see my advice on citation, below.

GUIDELINES I — THE ELEMENTS OF AN ENGLISH PAPER


Introduction: Topic and Thesis
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Your introductory paragraph should do two things: introduce your reader to your topic and present your thesis. It is important to distinguish in your mind between your topic -- what you will write about -- and your thesis -- what you will argue or attempt to prove. A thesis may be defined as an interpretation that you set forth in specific terms and propose to defend or demonstrate by reasoned argumentation and literary analysis. Your thesis, then, is the position that you are attempting to persuade your reader to accept.

Your thesis may be more than one sentence long. If you have a good thesis, however, in most cases you will be able to articulate it in one sentence. If you require two, that's fine, so long as you make sure that the argument is coherent and that the transition from the first to the second sentence is clear and effective.

Please carefully consider this important hint: You do not need a refined thesis in order to start writing. If you begin with a provisional thesis and then do good and careful close readings, you will often find a version of your final thesis in the last paragraph of a first draft. Integrate that version into your first paragraph and revise from there. Do not worry too much about your thesis, therefore, until after you've written out your close readings! A good final thesis should emerge from, not precede, your analyses.

Below, I will provide six steps that will help you work through the process of developing a strong thesis. First, though, please think about these four guidelines:

  1. A thesis cannot be a statement of fact. Ask yourself, "Could anyone even potentially disagree with my argument?" "Would a mere summary or description of the text(s) I'm discussing suffice to support my claim?" If no one could possibly disagree, or if a simple summary would show that what you've said is true, then you have most likely set forth a statement of fact. And there's no need to spend 5-7 pp. (let alone more) proving a fact!

  2. A good thesis is specific, not general. Avoid all sweeping generalities, about human beings, about poetry, about civilization, about anything "through the ages," etc. If you follow the six steps below, this should not be a problem.

  3. Your thesis should matter to you, and you should be able to imagine that your thesis would matter to any other member of our class. Does your thesis address important issues that the course has raised? Does it pass the "Who cares?" test?

  4. Finally, your thesis statement should give the reader some sense of what the structure of your paper will be. If your thesis contains two or three parts, then your reader will expect you to discuss those two or three parts in the order in which you've given them in your thesis statement.

Now that you've attentively read and considered these guidelines, here are six concrete steps that you can take. Note that I do not say "six easy steps." All of these steps require work, especially the fifth.

  1. Think about the assignment. Your professor has written it carefully in order to help you produce a good paper, so please take the assignment seriously.

  2. Reread the text(s) you intend to discuss and take good, clear notes on passages that seem particularly relevant to the assignment.

  3. Still keeping the assignment in mind, look over these notes and then select the one specific thing that grabs you the most, the one particular image or metaphor, or limited set of images or metaphors, about which you feel in your gut that you have the most to say.

  4. Next, using your notes make a list of every instance of that image or metaphor, and then from that list choose the two or three passages that call out most loudly for interpretation.

  5. Following my suggestions on close reading below, write out your interpretations of the instances that you've chosen, dedicating one rough paragraph to each. Remember, your goal here is to say not just what you think your passages mean, but rather to show how they mean what you think they mean. What work do they perform, and how do they perform it?

  6. Finally, look at what you've written and let your thesis emerge out of your interpretations, out of your ideas concerning the work that your image or metaphor, or set of images or metaphors, performs in your text(s).

When you're done with these steps, you should also have the foundations for several of your body paragraphs. With these foundations, you'll be more than ready to turn to the next phase of composition, argumentation, the process by which you'll persuade your reader that your thesis is valid and worth accepting.

For examples of good theses and bad theses, for help with turning bad ones into good ones, and for other links on the subject, please see Jack Lynch's "Getting an A on an English Paper."

Body I: Argumentation (Topic Sentences and Transitions)
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Your argument must proceed in a logical progression from one thought to the next. This logic should be clear at the level of the sentence, the paragraph, and the paper:

Each paragraph should develop one coherent point that relates clearly back to the thesis within the logical progression of your argument, and everything in the paragraph should be relevant to that one coherent point. In order to clarify this logical progression, every paragraph must have an effective topic sentence that does two things: the first sentence of each paragraph should clarify the one coherent point of that paragraph and provide a clear and explicit transition to that point from the point of the preceding paragraph.

During revision, then, concentrate first on rewriting the topic sentence of each paragraph.

I find the term "topic sentence" somewhat misleading because this sentence must give more than merely the topic of the paragraph; rather, it should communicate the point that you need to make within the logical progression of your paper. Just as the introduction must give both the topic and the thesis of the paper, the topic sentence must give both the topic and the point of the paragraph. In other words, the topic sentence should be a "mini-thesis." Everything your thesis does with respect to your paper (see above), your topic sentence should do with respect to your paragraph.

The most important guideline, therefore, that I can offer concerning topic sentences is the same as the first guideline I have proposed regarding your thesis: like a thesis, a topic sentence cannot be a statement of fact. Rather, it must present the point or idea that your paragraph needs to make within the logical progression of your argument. Make sure you understand the difference between a fact and a point: a point needs to be demonstrated; a fact does not. (Often, if your first attempt at a topic sentence merely conveys a fact, you can figure out what your point is by asking yourself, "What is important for my argument about that fact?")

Hint #1. After you've written a first draft, go back, look at each paragraph you've written, and ask yourself the following two questions: "What is my point in this paragraph?" "How exactly does that point support my thesis?" On a separate piece of paper or in a separate document, write out your answers. Next, take two equally essential steps: integrate your answers to those two questions into a new topic sentence, and then revise the whole paragraph in keeping with your newly articulated point.

In addition to presenting the point or idea of the paragraph, your topic sentence should provide a clear and specific transition from the preceding to the present paragraph. As in an outline, paragraph A must lead clearly and logically into paragraph B, paragraph B into paragraph C, and so on. In order to clarify your logical progression from one paragraph to the next, therefore, every topic sentence should contain a transition that explicitly connects the point of the preceding paragraph to the point of the present paragraph.

Hint #2. In order to craft effective transitions, try the following, using the results from Hint #1: write out the point of the preceding paragraph and then write out the point of the present paragraph; now write out the connection between the two. That connection is your transition! Integrate it into the topic sentence that you've already begun to revise by following Hint #1.

As you revise, then, check every topic sentence against the following three guidelines:

  1. The topic sentence cannot be a statement of fact; rather, it must present a point or idea within the logical progression of your argument.

  2. The topic sentence must clearly and explicitly relate to your thesis, the larger argument of your paper. If it is unclear how a topic sentence relates to your thesis, either the topic sentence, the paragraph, or the thesis itself needs to be revised!

  3. The topic sentence must provide a clear and explicit transition from the point of the preceding paragraph to the point of the present paragraph.

Body II: Analysis (Interpretation through Close Reading)
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Your main goal in every English paper is to analyze your text(s). In other words, your aim is to discover, refine, and support your own interpretations -- not summaries or translations! -- through a technique that we will call "close reading." Please remember, then, that the heart of every paper you write for this course should consist of careful, detailed, and nuanced close reading.

In order to become a good writer of literary criticism, you will have to make the important distinction between summary and translation, on the one hand, and analysis or interpretation, on the other. When you summarize, you repeat what the text actually says; when you translate, you explain to your audience in some detail many of the points an astute reader would reach on his or her own -- think of translating something from French into English for a person who speaks both languages too. Neither summary nor translation is really a worthwhile endeavor in that neither tells the reader anything he or she did not already know. By contrast, when you analyze or interpret literature, you produce your own ideas about how the text creates meaning. In order to produce these ideas, you will need to perform close reading, to look closely at the language of the text in order to demonstrate not just what you think the text means, but more importantly how it means what you think it does. See the difference? It's an important one.

How, then, do you go about interpreting and analyzing rather than merely summarizing or translating a text?

Summary and translation reproduce what the text says. Persuasive interpretation says what the text means by showing, through close reading, how the text means what you say it means.

For more advice on close reading, please see Jack Lynch's "Getting an A on an English Paper."

Conclusion: Larger Implications of Literary Analysis
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Literary critics often conclude their studies by considering how their reading of a text enriches or complicates our understanding of a larger literary, social, historical, or cultural movement (the Enlightenment, neoclassicism, sensibility, Romanticism) or our appreciation of the status of a significant issue (reason, emotion, class, death, sexuality) in a particular cultural context. As you conclude an English paper, you may find it helpful to reflect on how your reading of a given text or texts pertains to some of the larger issues you have addressed in either our class or related ones. You may want to gesture to some of these connections briefly in your conclusion. This will make your paper feel less like an exercise and more like an important contribution to literary studies.

GUIDELINES II — MECHANICS


Citation

Most literary critics follow the citation guidelines of either the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style. In our class we will use the MLA Handbook, 7th edition (2009), available at the library. There are different methods outlined in this book, but you will want to use parenthetical notation, which allows you to cite your sources in parentheses in the body of your paper and to link these notations to a "Works Cited" list at the end of your paper.

Please see this helpful page for examples of parenthetical notation linked to a properly formatted Works Cited list (and see below for advice on punctuation and for further examples).

Every paper must have a Works Cited list at the end. See the MLA Handbook for an explanation of how to assemble your Works Cited list.

Quotations
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Because the heart of your papers will consist of close reading, it is very important that you properly integrate into your prose the passages that you will discuss. Please adhere to the following suggestions and conventions.

Introduce and Integrate Quotations

The first rule you need to remember is that you must introduce your quotations and integrate them into your sentences. Free-standing quotations -- quotations that stand on their own as complete sentences -- are unacceptable.

Placement of Punctuation with Parenthetical Notation

[Please note: In the advice below and the examples throughout this site, I follow US conventions for punctuation. Many students in Canada will have been taught UK conventions. Whichever set of conventions you choose to follow, please follow them correctly and consistently.]

Parenthetical notation goes outside the quotation marks and inside the punctuation. The order, then, is as follows: quotation mark, parenthetical notation, punctuation. (See examples one and two.)

Immediately preceding the parenthetical notation, there should be no punctuation inside the quotation marks, unless the quotation itself ends with a question mark or exclamation point. (See example three).

When quoting poetry, separate each line by a slash with a space on either side ( / ) and give the line number(s) in parentheses; when quoting prose, give the page number(s). (See examples two and three.)

If your preceding discussion makes it obvious what the source of the passage is, you do not need to give the source in your parenthetical notation; in that case, just give the line or page number(s). (See examples one and two.)

Follow these examples:

  1. Discussing Gulliver’s Travels in a letter of September 1725 to Alexander Pope, Swift explains the theory of his satire: "I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities and all my love is towards individuals" (2447).

    [Here I will refer to your Works Cited list and see that this "letter of September 1725" is in the Longman Anthology, and I will know to look for it there on page 2447. There is no need to give the source in the parenthetical notation because you make it clear.]

  2. Swift’s humor is often paradoxical, as in his request, "To all my foes, dear fortune, send / Thy gifts, but never to my friend" (67-68), in "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift."

    [Here I will refer to your Works Cited list and see that this poem, "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," is in the Longman Anthology, and I will then be able to find lines 67-68. Again, there is no need to give the source in the parenthetical notation.]

  3. Human nature for Swift is innately envious, and thus he asks, "What poet would not grieve to see, / His brethren write as well as he?" ("Verses" 31-32).

    [Here you do need to give the source in your parenthetical notation because you do not make it clear in your discussion preceding the quotation. With this notation I will be able to refer to your Works Cited list and see that the poem, "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," is in the Longman Anthology, and I will then be able to find lines 31-32.]

Placement of Punctuation without Parenthetical Notation

There are many instances in which you will use quotation marks without parenthetical notation, as in when you give the title of a poem. As well, if you have already quoted a passage and then want to quote a word or phrase from that passage again, you do not need to repeat the parenthetical notation. In such cases, observe the following conventions:

Follow these examples, assuming that you’ve already quoted the first passage above:

  1. "Nations, professions, and communities," for Swift, represent groups in which pride flourishes.

  2. Individuals begin to see themselves as superior to others once they identify themselves as members of "nations, professions, and communities."

  3. Swift is referring to Gulliver’s Travels when he claims that all his love is "towards individuals"; this claim, however, can also illuminate a reading of "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift."

  4. It is not difficult to identify some of Swift’s least favorite "professions": doctors, lawyers, and ministers of state.

  5. It is a remarkable claim to hate "all nations, professions and communities"!

  6. What does it mean, then, to hate "all nations, professions, and communities"?

Double and Single Quotation Marks

For regular quotations, use double quotation marks, " "s. Single quotations marks, ‘ ’s, are for quotations within quotations.

  1. In response to the news of Swift’s death, his friends "hug themselves, and reason thus: / ‘It is not yet so bad with us’" ("Verses" 115-16).

Block Quotations

For any quotation that would fill more than four full lines in your paper, use a block quotation, which should be indented and single-spaced, although double-spaced is acceptable.

Follow these examples:

  1. In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift," Swift inveighs against the contradictory nature of human beings, who value themselves in relation to others rather than according to their own merits:
    Vain humankind! Fantastic race!
    Thy various follies, who can trace?
    Self-love, ambition, envy, pride,
    Their empire in our hearts divide:
    Give others riches, power, and station,
    ’Tis all on me a usurpation.
    I have no title to aspire;
    Yet, when you sink, I seem the higher. (39-46)

    [Note: If you quote these eight lines, all of them must be necessary for your close reading.]

  2. Discussing Gulliver’s Travels in a letter to Alexander Pope, Swift explains the theory of his satire:
    I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities and all my love is towards individuals. For instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Councilor Such-a-one, Judge Such-a-one, for so with ... English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth. This is the system upon which I have governed myself many years ... and so I shall go on till I have done with them. (2447-48)

    [Note: Again, all of what you quote must be necessary for your ensuing close reading.]

Titles

The titles of shorter works are generally given in quotation marks, whereas those of longer works are italicized. Short poems should be in quotation marks: "Windsor Forest," "A Summer Evening’s Meditation," "Ode to a Nightingale." Long poems and longer works of prose must be italicized: The Task, Rasselas, Gulliver's Travels.

ADVICE


Revising and Proofreading

Effective revision and proofreading is often what separates strong papers from weak ones. When you are ready to revise, please use the "Writing and Revising Checklist" that I have provided. The following tips may also help you improve your skills in these areas:

  1. Read your completed drafts (whether rough or final) out loud slowly, either to yourself or to a friend, pausing to mark difficult, awkward, or unclear passages. Then go back and revise them.

  2. Take time away from your paper. After completing a draft, set it aside — ideally for a day, but for a few hours at least. Do something else! It is far more productive to return to a draft with a fresh eye than to try to revise something you’ve just written: time off will help you see more clearly the gaps between your intended meanings and their written expressions.

  3. Get feedback from others: some students benefit from the Academic Skills Center (905-828-3858), others from friends. All professional writers collaborate with other writers or editors, and you should make a habit of getting feedback from a variety of readers too. Readers can help you identify the areas of your paper that are unclear or need to be developed further. They can also make you aware of grammatical and stylistic problems, which are often highly idiosyncratic and therefore hard to identify on your own.

  4. Leave yourself enough time to transform your insights and ideas into a well-written, persuasive paper.

Scheduling

You should begin to write your paper well in advance of the due date. You need to leave yourself enough time to do the following:

  1. Organize your thoughts (through notes, an outline, freewriting, collaboration with a reader, etc.) and try to articulate your provisional thesis. It is often effective to begin by writing out close readings of passages that you think will be important to your argument.

  2. Write a rough draft.

  3. Seek and get feedback from friends or the Academic Skills Center (905-828-3858).

  4. Incorporate the criticism you receive from others, along with your own self-criticism, into a new draft. Refine your thesis.

  5. Revise again on the basis of your refined thesis and make sure that your structure (topic sentences, transitions, logical progression, etc.) is coherent and effective.

  6. Print out a final draft.

  7. Spell-check and proofread.

  8. Print out a final final draft, if necessary.

Clearly, this process will require at least several days and often a week or more, depending on the length and scope of the paper and on external contingencies such as your own schedule and the schedules of your readers.

Some Miscellaneous Reminders and Suggestions

GRADING


Your papers will be graded on content (including the strength and persuasiveness of your argument and close readings as well as your familiarity with and knowledge of the text[s] in question), organization (logical progression, topic sentences, transitions, etc.), and style (forceful writing, effective integration of quotations, grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.).

When you receive your graded paper back, please read it over carefully. Take time to review my marginal comments, which primarily focus on technical aspects of your writing. Do you understand why I’ve crossed out a particular cluster of words or drawn arrows from one word to another? Are you clear as to why I’ve written "vague," "wordy," or "awkward" in the margins? Do you have a sense of how to rectify these problems? If you don’t understand such marginal comments, can’t read my handwriting, or aren’t sure what a particular symbol (e.g., a check mark) stands for, please ask me for clarification immediately. In addition to these marginal notes, you will usually receive a more lengthy comment at the end of your paper. This comment will point out the strengths and weaknesses of your current paper and offer advice for your future writing. In order to avoid repeating the same mistakes, you should always refer back to both kinds of comments on previous papers as you work on subsequent assignments for the class. When calculating your final grade for the course, I will refer to your papers and my comments on them to ascertain the progress you’ve made over the course of the semester.

Grading, as we are all aware, is an inexact science. If you feel you have been assigned an unfair grade, I will be happy to reread your paper and reconsider your grade. Be aware, however, that the second grade will be final. I recommend that you consider your paper and my comments carefully before requesting a review of your grade.

In an effort to demystify the grading process, I have listed below the characteristics associated with each paper grade. If you fail to proofread, I will return your paper to you and ask you to resubmit. Your paper will be considered late and will be marked down by 3% for each day until you resubmit.

[Please note: The numerical ranges corresponding to the letter grades below are in keeping with the standard Ontario marking scheme.]

A (80-100)

B (70-79)

C (60-69)

D (50-59)

F (0-49)

 


 

WRITING AND REVISING CHECKLIST

INTRODUCTION:

BODY:

CONCLUSION:

OVERALL:


Daniel E. White
daniel.white@utoronto.ca