EL150 (2007; Intro to Literary Study)

How Should I Submit Papers?

Except for homework that you write in class or post online, you should assume that every homework assignment should follow MLA style for papers.

General: MLA Style

  • All exercises and papers should have a title block that includes a meaningful title (that is, "Ex 2-2: Madness and Manhood in Shakespeare's Macbeth" rather than "Macbeth paper" or "Exercise 2-2"). (Informal assignments that you write in class or post on your blog are exceptions. I don't require any special format for those.)
  • The text should be double-spaced 12-point Times New Roman, with 1-inch margins all around.
  • Your last name and the page number should be in the upper right corner. (See this quick introduction to MLA style.)

Exercises should be submitted in the appropriate slot on turnitin.com. (If there is no slot visible, please send me an e-mail and I will see what the problem is.)

Any assignment that involves a revision should be printed out, stapled, and submitted in a folder along with all previous drafts. (If the first draft was submitted electronically, please print out my annotations and attach them to your new draft.) More details about multi-part assignments will come when I preview the assignments.

Permalink | 24 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)

Close Reading

A close reading is a careful, thorough, sustained examination of the words that make up a text.

A close reading uses short quotations (a few words or only one word) inside sentences that make an argument about the work itself (rather than an argument about your reactions, incidents in the author's life, or whether things today are different from or similar to the society depicted in the story).

In a close reading, a literary work is not so much a window to look through, nor is it a mirror to reflect yourself. Instead, you look closely at the language the author chose, in order to analyze what the author has accomplished.

Note: Close reading is always re-reading.

  1. You will probably want to read your text once through fairly quickly, highlighting unfamiliar words or puzzling details (or marking them with sticky notes, if you're reading a library book).
  2. Go back and look more carefully at the places you marked. Did the ending explain some of the things you initially found puzzling? Do you see any recurring patterns?
  3. Once you have a sense of what you think is important, go through the text again, this time searching specifically for more of whatever caught your eye.
  4. Once you have identified the details that you find interesting, you should come up with a thesis -- a non-obvious claim, supported with direct quotations from the material you are studying. (It is not enough merely to write down a list of isolated observations, in the order they popped into your head.)

When you write a close reading, you should assume that your reader is not only familiar with the text you are examining, but has a copy of it within reach. (It is fine to type the quote you plan to use at the top of your paper, but that quote won't count in terms of page length or word count.)

A close reading does not retell the plot. Neither should a close reading profile the characters, give advice to the author, speculate on which people in the author's life inspired the literary characters, list reactions that popped into your head while you were reading, or describe how the society depicted in the story resembles or differs from your own society. A close reading does not use a literary work as a handy example to support general claims about the outside world (such as "racism is bad" or "women have come a long way").

What does a close reading do?

It might look closely at a monologue or brief scene, such as Hamlet's encounter with his father's ghost, and analyze the explicit plot points and the subtle foreshadowing contained in that scene. It might examine the representation of concentric rings of social power in the opening of "Bernice Bobs Her Hair," or it might make a specific claim about how and why the author uses references to other books.

What words did the author choose, what do they mean, and what function do they serve? In what ways are word order and grammatical structure significant? (One character might speak only a few words at a time, but grunt a lot; another may ramble.)


The imagery in this passage helps turn the tone of the poem from victimization to anger. In addition to fire images, the overall language is completely stripped down to bare ugliness. In previous lines, the sordidness has been intermixed with cheerful euphemisms: the agonizing work is an "exquisite dance" (24); the trembling hands are "white gulls" (22); the cough is "gay" (25). But in these later lines, all aesthetically pleasing terms vanish, leaving "sweet and …blood" (85), "naked… [and]…bony children" (89), and a "skeleton body" (95). (An excerpt from a close reading of Tillie Olsen's "I Want You Women Up North to Know"

See also:

Getting an A on an English Paper

That means reading every word: it's not enough to have a vague sense of the plot. Maybe that sounds obvious, but few people pay serious attention to the words that make up every work of literature. Remember, English papers aren't about the real world; they're about representations of the world in language. Words are all we have to work with, and you have to pay attention to them. -- Jack Lynch

How to Do a Close Reading

We need more evidence, so we go back to the text--the whole essay now, not just this one passage--and look for additional clues. And as we proceed in this way, paying close attention to the evidence, asking questions, formulating interpretations, we engage in a process that is central to essay writing and to the whole academic enterprise: in other words, we reason toward our own ideas. --Patricia Kain

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)

RRRR (Read, React, Respond, Reflect)

A four-step process that helps you prepare for a productive class discussion using the SHU weblog system.

We will start out slowly at first, only completing a part of the RRRR process, so that the whole class has the chance to adjust to it. Once we start the full process, for each item or group of items marked as "Text" on the course outline, Read the assignment, react by posting an "agenda item" (see glossary) at least 24 hours before the class discussion, respond to 2-4 items posted by your peers, and reflect on the experience in a half-page essay (100-200 words -- see "reflection paper" in the glossary).

The process of reading, reacting, responding, and reflecting is part of all critical thinking and writing. In our online community, we will practice, in an informal manner, the intellectual activity that goes into the production of a college-level research paper.

While your agenda items and lengthier reflections should be a little more formal, when you leave comments, don't worry too much about typos or grammatical mistakes. Feel free to use :) and LOL if you like.

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (2)

Agenda Item

A short homework assignment, comprising a brief quotation from the assigned text, a non-obvious question or observation, and a contribution to the class discussion (if called on). View the SHU Blogging Tutorial 2 for an introduction to Trackbacks (creating a two-way link).

The agenda item is part of "React," the second "R" in the RRRR sequence.

For each assigned reading that gets its own page in the course syllabus, post an agenda item about 24 hours before the reading is scheduled to be discussed. Your goal is to demonstrate that you are thinking about the assigned readings in advance, so that you have time to complete the readings, and you can arrive in the classroom ready to respond to what your peers are thinking about it.

(For readings that are due Monday morning, I recognize that most of you will be doing your homework Sunday night. For readings that are due Monday morning, post your agenda item by 6pm Sunday, so it will be there when your peers start really hitting the books later in the evening. You are of course welcome to post it much earlier, if you like.)

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)


Rhetoric -- the use of language to persuade. One of the three most important of the "liberal arts" (those skills that free citizens were expected to have). Classical rhetoric recognizes three main ways to persuade. When persuading, we can rouse the readers' emotions (pathos), appeal to their sense of justice (ethos), or rely upon logic (logos).

All arguments fall somewhere withing the three points of the rhetorical triangle, with most academic arguments lying very close to "logos" and closer to "ethos" than "pathos".

  • pathos (emotion): playing to the fears of our audience, inciting hatred of our opponents; also, invoking positive associations, such as a love of democracy or freedom
  • ethos (ethics/character): pointing out injustices, appealing to the opinions of trusted authorities, emphasizing what is right; gaining the reader's trust
  • logos (logic): assembling all the relevant evidence (quotations, details, page numbers, statistics), ordering it so that the most convincing points come first, and probing to expose weaknesses in all arguments -- even the ones you think are "right".
In a literature class, informal response papers and productive in-class discussions can revolve around pathos, and ethos is useful for discussing the moral and cultural context in which the works are situated, but when you write major papers, you will primarily be evaluated on your mastery of logos.

Permalink | 26 Jan 2007 | Comments (0)