A Guide to STARTING to Think About a Paper.

April 13, 2009 at 7:22 pm Leave a comment

Decide which Writing Option you Want to Take.

As we discuss our readings, you may want to start thinking about the paper(s). First, you may wish to decide which writing option you want to choose. 1) Two five page papers. 2) One ten page paper. 3) A five page paper and an in-class presentation on your paper.  The option you choose may have an impact on what you wish to write about.

Start to Jot Down (brainstorming) Issues /Ideas we Discuss that Interest You, that You May Want to Write about.

As you do the readings and we discuss them in class and online, start to note to yourself things that interest you, confuse you, fascinate you, intrigue you–think of issues and / or literary ideas that draw you toward writing. My number one rule of thumb is that you should write an English paper on a piece of literature and an issue / topic that you are interested in. You should look forward to the paper you are writing as opposed to dreading it.

Brainstorm Things with which you Identify in the Pieces of Literature we Look at.

One way in which to choose something that interests you that could compel you to write is to think about something with which you identify in in a piece of literature. Is there something in a poem or a story that relates to you as a person and / or your life in some way?  Is there something that you can bring to bear upon a piece of literature?

Consider Which Approach Toward Writing that Interests You (The Type of Paper you Might Write)

Another way to start thinking about writing is to think about what type of paper you want to write. There are many approaches to writing a paper on literature.

1. A Formal Approach. If you want to write a paper that takes a formal approach, this means you are interested in the piece of literature as a structure unto-itself. You would be interested in objective issues, like theme, or the figurative devices an author uses (metaphor, imagery, symbolism, etc.), or narrative structure, or point of view, etc. This would be a paper in which you are interested in what makes a piece of literature tick, as opposed to its relationship to anything else.

2. A Cultural Approach. If you are interested in a cultural approach, you would be interested in how a piece of literature relates to some aspect of the contemporary world: an issue in our world the piece points to; a problem in the world with which we can identify. In this approach, you might find some universal problem or issue that the writer explores, something that transcends time.

3. An Historical Approach. If you wrote a paper with an historical approach, you would be interested in how certain aspects in history of the time the piece was written influences it. For instance, how war influences a particular poem; or how the economic conditions during a period affects a particular piece; or how the living conditions of a culture influences a work. An historical approach writes about how a piece of literature is situated and influeced by a the particular time or period it was written in, OR, how a piece of literature reflects / mirrors its historical period.

4. A Personal Approach (or Reader Response). You could write a paper in which you explore an individual or personal experience with a piece of literature. You could write about how you identify in some way with a piece. Or you could write about your experience interpreting a piece of literature. However you do it, this approach involved situating you as the reader in some way with what you are analyzing.

5. Inter-disciplinary Approach. With this approach, you can use the methods of another disicpline to interpret a piece of literature. For instance, using terms or methods of psychology to read a poem, or a particular philosophical movement to understand a piece of literature.

This week, start to brainstorm the type of paper(s) you would like to write. Brainstorm the various things that interest you in life, perhaps, that you might bring to an analysis of a piece of literature. Consider which approach above might be the most interesting for you.

As the course progresses, and I continue to pose questions for thinking and reading here, gather some of the questions as possibilities to respond to in a paper(s). 

Right now, don’t try to start writing a finished paper. Instead, do some messy, creative, “brain-storming” type writing. Jot down ideas, notes, interests, quotes on pieces of paper that you can refer to. Re-read some pieces, writing down thoughts, ideas and questions in the margins. Don’t worry about getting polished writing done yet.


Entry filed under: British Literature, Writing Strategies.

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