The Stages of the Paper Assignment

English 305 invites you to spend the semester working on one topic in multiple stages.  A series of related assignments should create a synergistic effect:  you might not do a single assignment well, but writing and talking about the same project over the whole term should help generate a strong response to the assignment.  My further hope is that you will become deeply engaged in your topic so that it becomes a meaningful reference point as we work through the plays on the syllabus. 


The first step is a proposal (2 full pages; the works cited page is extra) in which you indicate what topic you have selected and propose a focus and an angle of approach.  The section called "Suggested Paper Topics" has a number of workable term paper topics, but please feel free to construct your own in collaboration with me.  You do not have much time to work on the proposal, so do not worry about making flawless statements at this stage (besides, your grade for the proposal is for process only:  as long as it is long enough,  reflects a genuine attempt to fulfill the assignment, and is written correctly, it will receive full credit).  Although the proposal is very preliminary, you should try to come up with a title and a tentative thesis and as much supporting detail as you can.  The goal of the assignment is to begin a dialogue with me on how your project might develop.  It will be tempting to select a topic on one of the first plays; however, I strongly urge you to look ahead and consider the possibility that your preferred topic may be related, for example, to one of the tragedies. Two final points are necessary:  you must actually read your play before you write your proposal, and you should not do research at this stageFinally, I want you to include a list of works cited (it will most likely include only your play at this point, but you should do the entry MLA-style; see the model for a selection in an anthology if you are using Bevington's text or some other anthology).  For further information, see the slideshow on paper proposals.


Stage two is a development of your proposal—5-page (minimum) nonresearched analysis paper.  Of course, some topics cannot be done without a little bit of research, but try to limit yourself  to reference works and primary sources (e.g., the OED, a dictionary of mythology, historical material, and other primary sources such as Freud or Jung).  Leave the secondary research until later:  do not let critics take over your project.  You may want to think of this stage as a New Critical paper (i.e., a paper written straight from the primary text and your head).  The main goal of the assignment is to continue to engage with the text and to refine your thesis.  Nonetheless, it may be appropriate at this stage to read a copy of “The Correct Use of Borrowed Information” and review the MLA format.  As with the paper proposal, you must have a list of works cited at the end of your analysis paper.  Note:  This is an ANALYSIS paper; therefore, you will need something to analyze (not summarize or narrate).  In this respect, a single passage can often serve as your focused topic.  If you do not have such a passage, be sure that you have some kind of aggregate of quotations so that you can analyze as a focused topic.  Also keep in mind the difference between explication and analysis.  Explication offers a detailed explanation of what something says.  It is the foundation for analysis, which involves using what something says to support a controversial thesis statement.


On the day that you turn in your short analysis paper, we will have a session with a librarian to help you become familiar with ways of finding material on Shakespeare.  The next stage in your writing process is to create an annotated bibliography of at least 10 sources (minimum:  one primary and nine secondary).  An “annotation” is a brief statement summing up the a source's thesis (i.e., tell me what it argues).  Thus the goal of the assignment is to help you become familiar with your sources:  you should actually read them at this stage and take notes in preparation for writing your researched outline.  On my website you will find a detailed handout on the bibliography assignment to help you understand the required format and content.


After reading your sources in greater detail, you will be ready to assemble a sentence outline, which should be at least 4-5 pages in length.  Form and content are its twin emphases.  Put your paper's title and thesis at the top and use the outline format that features Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numerals, and lower case letters (in this order).  The goal of the assignment is to prepare you to write your draft and to enable me to point out any major problems before you invest time in writing the full researched draft.  The outline should be an abbreviated form of your paper—your argument writ small—and should contain primary material from your play as well as critical quotations and appropriate parenthetical references.  On my website you will find specific directions for setting up your outline.

Note:  Your outline, full researched draft, and final draft must cite at least one Shakespeare play and at least five critical sources (that is, articles, books, and chapters in edited books on your play).  Of course, you are very welcome to incorporate other primary and secondary sources, but you must have at least FIVE sources of Shakespeare criticism.  All of your cited sources must appear on a Works Cited list, and you must have all the kinks out of the MLA format in order to receive full credit.


With the outline in good shape, you are ready to cast your material in a full draft of your research paper, which should be 8-10 pages of text (longer is okay as long as the paper is focused; if it is shorter than 8 full pages, you will need to work on development).  The paper should be in MLA format and should incorporate at least five critics’ statements; however, as you use critics to support your argument, be careful not to draw too heavily on one or two sources or to create a patchwork of multiple critics' opinions.  I am far more interested in your take on your subject.  Criticism should buttress the insights in your analysis paper, not block them out altogether.  Remember to submit this stage of the assignment to  See the syllabus or the calendar for the I.D. number and password.


Hand in the final draft in a portfolio, which should contain the following items in this order:  a (minimum) two-page self-analytical cover letter, a conference abstract, the revision of the researched draft, and the earlier graded version of the paper with my comment sheet. The letter’s purpose is to help you reflect on your writing process.  Matters to address might include (but are not limited to) the ways in which your project developed, solutions to problems you encountered along the way, things you learned about doing literary research, and questions or comments about your final draft.  The purpose of the abstract is to position you to submit your work to a conference such as NCUR or BigSURS, something that many of my previous students have successfully done.  An abstract includes the word ABSTRACT at the top, followed (on separate lines) by your paper's title, your name, your affiliation (Winthrop University), and your e-mail address.  See the Abstract Assignment link for further information


At any point in your writing process you are welcome to have an optional conference with me on your project.  Bring your previous work with my comments and be prepared to do most of the talking—ask questions, propose suggestions, etc.  The conference is our opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue face to face.  A conference's main goal is to make sure that your project is on track for the next stage of the assignment.

As an alternative to a term paper, those of you who are seeking licensure as secondary school English teachers may elect a lesson plan of not less than 30 pages (see "Lesson Plan Assignment").  Similarly, if you are a theater major, you have the option to do a term project that directly ties in with your discipline.  Since I do not have sufficient expertise to guide you in this area, doing a project with a theater emphasis requires that you find a mentor in your department who will participate in each stage of the writing process.  It is possible in this way to do a lesson plan for teaching a play to a high school theater class.