Research Paper Guidelines
Your second formal writing assignment in this course is a research paper (8–10 pages) on an element of Shakespeare’s works, an element of Renaissance theater or literary culture, or a Shakespearean theme.
The goal of this paper is for you to conduct research into a focused topic and incorporate your research into an in-depth essay that presents your analysis, supported by primary texts and secondary criticism, of an element of a Shakespearean work studied in this course. This paper is similar to the literary analysis paper you completed earlier in this semester, but this will involve literary research and incorporating that research in your analysis paper.
You will tackle this assignment in four stages. Completing all of the steps is required to receive a passing grade on this assignment.
- Proposed topic and preliminary bibliography of secondary sources (20 points)
- Preliminary thesis statement (10 points)
- Annotated bibliography with a thesis paragraph (20 points)
- Final paper (100 points)
The total point value for the entire assignment is 150 points or 30 percent of your final course grade. See the Course Schedule for individual due dates on each activity.
- Preliminary Topic and Bibliography
For this step, you will submit the topic you are interested in researching (described in 3–4 sentences) and a list of 8–10 sources you have found that you might use in your paper. You do not need to have read these sources yet, but you should have looked at them closely enough to determine their relevance. For the next step, the preliminary thesis statement, you will want to begin reading those sources that appear to be most promising. By the third step, the annotated bibliography, you will need to have thoroughly read those sources that you plan to use so you can write short summaries about each source’s content and significance.
To begin your search for sources, two indexes are particularly helpful:
–The World Shakespeare Bibliography Online
–The MLA International Bibliography
Both indexes can be searched by keyword and play titles (among other categories) and are found under “Articles and More” on the University of Minnesota Libraries’ home page,www.lib.umn.edu.
Choosing a Topic: Consider topics that focus on a particular character or other aspect of one play, a specific theme or element that occurs in a number of plays (e.g., clothing imagery, confessions of guilt), an element of Renaissance theater or literary culture (e.g., boy actors, the patronage system), or performance (e.g., modern stage design). No matter what your choice, you will need to relate your topic directly to Shakespeare’s works, preferably focusing on one or two plays or poems. You must write about plays or poems that are assigned reading in this course.
Choose two or three topics you are most interested in. Once you have narrowed it down to a few possibilities, do a library search online to see what kind of sources you will be able to access. This step may help you narrow your options to the best one.
Keep your topic narrow and focused. If you find you need more material, you can broaden it later. However, a too-broad topic is more difficult to make manageable. Review the tips for developing focus in the literary analysis paper assignment instructions for a refresher.
Finding Sources: Your paper should incorporate 4–6 secondary critical sources, in addition to primary texts (the plays or sonnets). The secondary sources you may use include books, book chapters, academic reference sources, and journal articles. Many of these sources are readily available in full-text and online versions through the University of Minnesota Libraries.
Start your search with the University Libraries’ databases or “indexes.” Indexes tell you what articles and books have been published on a topic, and they provide the details (e.g., journal name, volume, number, and year of publication) to help you find a particular publication. (See sidebar for two of the most useful indexes for this course.)
Once you find a source that looks interesting or relevant to your topic, you next need to find out if the University Libraries have that source, and if so, where it is.
Begin with MNCAT, on the Libraries’ home page, to see if the University holds a particular book or stocks a journal. Many journals are available online through the libraries, and it is likely that you will be able to download or read full-text journal articles on your computer. If you have difficulty finding sources in either the Libraries’ shelved or online collections, ask for help from a librarian by e-mail, phone, or chat. Contact information may be found at www.lib.umn.edu.
Note: Other online sources, such as online encyclopedias or Web sites, should be avoided. While it is fine to consult them for basic understanding, you should be discerning about the quality and accuracy of the information included on such sites. If you are unsure about a source, ask your instructor about it.
- Preliminary Thesis Statement
For this step, you will submit a preliminary version of your thesis statement—a sentence that declares your main idea or argument about your proposed topic. This thesis statement should represent your current thinking about your topic as you have developed your idea over the course of reading your secondary sources and considering Shakespeare’s works or culture. Review Writing Thesis Statements in Research and Writing Help for examples of effective versus ineffective thesis statements.
- Annotated Bibliography with a Thesis Paragraph
An annotated bibliography lists the sources you will use and provides for each one a paragraph that: (1) briefly summarizes the source in 1–3 sentences and (2) explains how the source may fit into your paper and overall argument. So once you have chosen your secondary sources, think about how each will contribute to your paper, and compile the annotated bibliography.
Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry:
Bly, Mary. “Playing the Tourist in Early Modern London: Selling the Liberties Onstage.” PMLA 122.1 (2007): 61–71.
Bly traces the cultural meaning of the in-city liberties of Whitefriars and Blackfriars, exploring the associations of each liberty and its theater and the ways in which plays such as Jonson’s Eastward Hoeand Epicoene cater to the specific location for which they were written. She argues that such plays “sell” the reputations of the liberties to Londoners seeking illicit pleasures. This article will help me explain the controversies associated with theatergoing in Shakespeare’s time.
Thesis Paragraph: The thesis paragraph is a more thorough and fully developed explanation of your main idea and what you will argue in your research paper. Over the course of your research, your thesis may have changed slightly or drastically. That is all right. In this thesis paragraph (which may be adapted to become part of your introduction in your paper), provide an up-to-date thesis statement, an indication of the paper’s scope (what you will and will not cover), and a statement about the significance of your argument. How will it help readers understand the play or topic? The paragraph should be about 200 words long.
- Final Paper
The final essay should be 8–10 pages long and include the standard elements of a formal research paper: an introduction, a body of organized paragraphs, and a conclusion. You should incorporate references to secondary sources and primary texts by quotation and paraphrase with appropriate citations in MLA style. Include a Works Cited page that lists all cited sources in MLA style. (For help with MLA style, see the MLA Style Primer.)