Guidelines for Paper Writing

Guidelines for
paper writing, peer review, class presentation

Motif Papers

This is to be a short, analytical paper, of about four pages, double-spaced. You should write an efficient condensation of your ideas.
It should be written in the spirit of a detective investigation.

The research stage:
1. Pick a recurring word (a color, an object, an action, an adverb, etc.).

2. Trace its occurrences in the text and outline their contexts briefly. This list should appear as an appendix at the end of your paper.

3. As you examine the context of each appearance of your motif, find the meanings connected by the motif. These meanings will tend to form into clusters.
Only once you have interpreted the meaning of the motif, which may sometimes unite paired oppositions, should you begin to write your paper.

Writing up results:
1. Briefly highlight the features associated with your motif. Look at the sentence the motif occurs in:
what is the motif connected to within it?
Write up your analysis, making a case for your interpretation.
You can summarize overlapping occurrences of the motif, rather than enumerating each, but give page references for each mention.
Organize your findings by the logic of your analysis, NOT by the order of appearance of the motif in the book. If you consider that the order of the motif’s occurrence is important, make that part of your report.

2. Interpret your findings. Looking at several instances and/or clusters of associations of the motif, what points of contact do you find among them?
Having unpacked fully the key instances of the motif,  find the commonality among them and check your ideas against your understanding of the text.
How does the motif add to your reading of the work? Use what you know of the book’s concerns in trying to answer this for yourself.

3. Include a separate appendix listing  all mentions of the motif with page numbers in order of appearance in the text.

General principles:
The paper should be a kind of lab report, in which the tabulation of the motif constitutes the data. What kinds of conclusions is it legitimate to draw?
How close can you get to the author’s position (rather than the characters’)?
There may not be a simple conclusion; look for carefully structured ambiguities.

Whenever you cite text, interpret the cited passage and state what you think it demonstrates for your purposes. It will not be self-evident to your reader.
Avoid structuring your statements around what page your motif appears on (“On page 12, red occurs…” etc.). That information belongs in parentheses (“Nikolai’s blood red domino” [p. 243]).

Discuss your paper with me during office hours (or make an appointment). Come with a topic as developed as possible, so that I can best help you.

Format of papers

1. Place page numbers for citations in parentheses in the body of your paper. Footnotes are unnecessary.

2. American style punctuation falls INSIDE quotation marks, except for : and ;
“To be, or not to be,” said Ham.

3. Page numbers follow the citation and precede the punctuation:
“To be or not to be” (23).

4. Use the present tense to recount events within a literary text:
“Hamlet stabs Polonius in the arras.”

5. Avoid using passive constructions.
(NOT “Polonius is stabbed in the arras.”)

6. Omit generalizations you have not built up to in your paper
“In Russia they….”

7. Omit general introductory paragraphs. Start by stating the purpose of your paper. Conclude by showing how your investigation adds a new understanding of your subject, rather than repeating your initial thesis.

8. Do not connect full sentences with a comma.

Peer Reviews

You are reading the paper in order to help your classmate write a better paper (and in the process learning to become a better paper writer), so be humble and generous. Indicate in detail how to improve the paper.

You have a fresh eye and can see the logical development of the paper. Where does the paper take unclear logical leaps? Where is it hard to understand? Where does it fail to interpret its evidence? Is the relevance of the evidence unclear?

Your fresh eye will also detect typographical errors, mistakes in spelling and punctuation, which undermine the effect of a carefully thought-out argument.

The hardest part involves how the paper interprets the work under discussion. You may disagree with it, but what you should judge is whether a coherent argument is made for the position. If not, how is it not coherent? Can your differing interpretation help you to improve your classmate’s argument? What material was omitted that is relevant to the argument? How can the paper be improved?

Make your short comments in clear handwriting in the margins and write your overall qualitative evaluation at the end, printing your name. The marked-up paper is to be handed in with the final version by its author. The relationship between the first and second versions of the paper will be a factor in our evaluation of both author and commentator.

Subtext papers

Use the same general guidelines as for the motif paper (condensation, lab report approach, citation, punctuation).

1. Basis for your claim

Establish the points of contact between the main text and the text it refers to (its subtext), i.e. what makes you suspect the presence of the subtext? (the machine’s name is Ophelia so you look at Hamlet for points of contact).

Make up a separate appendix showing the parallel points, with page numbers, to be handed in with the paper. Build your argument from these parallels.

2. Implications

If one character is paired with a subtext’s character, what might it imply for other characters? (If Kavalerov is indecisive like Hamlet, then who is Claudius? Gertrude? etc.)

Are there shared motifs, scenes, emblems etc. between the two works?

3. Interpretation

To get at the later author’s point of view toward the earlier work, first interpret the material of the subtext point by point.
Then weigh that analysis against how that material is used by the later author.
What has s/he changed, either by context or detail?
What are the implications of the changes, when taken together? (e.g. What does Hamlet tell us about Kavalerov, or about the moral standards of the Soviet period?)

Ask as many questions of the material as you can. If you see several possible answers, develop them all. Are they contradictory? Complementary?

Is there material within the texts that can test your interpretation? Have fun.

Parody papers

A parody is a game played with an original, like a variation on a theme, a riff in jazz. Play this game with one of the works we have read this semester. Apply its techniques and stylistics to the material of your choice, “translating” it into your own experience. The idea is not to imitate the surface features but to reapply the ideas that motivate them to new material. For example, if you were parodying Zoshchenko’s style, you would want to find contemporary American equivalents for the different kinds of sub-standard speech he identifies in Moscow in the 1920s. See as an example the “Onegin Rap” on the Nabokov web site (under Onegin parodies).

Class Presentations


Condense your material to highlight the parallels to the work the class has read.

Give only a very brief plot summary of a work the class may not have read.

Write yourself a simplified outline as a prompt. This is an exercise in speaking rather than reading.

Carefully prepare any passages you plan to quote, with page numbers written on your prompting pages, and book marks in the book–it will save time and keep your audience’s attention.

Our classroom is equipped to show videos, use web sites, or play tapes and CDs. If using any of these, line them up to be ready to go before you begin to speak.

Class Presentation

If you plan to write your major points on the board, do so before beginning to speak. You have no more than ten minutes which you want to use to their maximum.

Speak a little more slowly than usual, projecting as if you were acting in a theater.

Stand still, don’t put your hand in front of your mouth, face your audience, and look at us as you speak.

Remember that you are the expert on the subject you are presenting. Your audience has not studied it the way you have, and you are helping us to see something we don’t yet know is there. Enjoy the role of teacher-detective! Then we will enjoy listening all the more.

Everyone feels nervous when first speaking to a group, but we’re all in this together and we’re on your side.