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It is important for liberal arts instruction to integrate the activities of reading, discussion, and writing, since all of them are inseparable dimensions of one's experience engaging textual and visual materials critically. In order to make sense of a text, one extrapolates meanings from the words and interprets the text from a certain perspective. Therefore, reading is in itself a form of re-writing, while writing, as a form of cultural (re)production, is also a form of re-reading one's own voice and voices of others. Therefore, you are encouraged to take notes as you read.
To be a good writer and presenter of your ideas and research results, you should always use an accessible language and take yourself and every piece of writing seriously. In the context of a literature course, citing appropriate passages from the primary texts is an effective way to support and develop your arguments. If you respond to or use others' views on the literary work, be sure to cite the sources and give credit where it is due--including online sources. Read Penn State's statement about plagiarism.
Searching the Web: Students are tempted to do research using a search engine such as Google. According to many professional research and writing guides, the internet is not the best resource for research papers. Here is why:
1. Fans of various authors have created Web sites, some of them quite large. We [can] find outlines for college courses, bibliographies of criticism posted by librarians, and information about movie versions of [a literary work]. Diggin through all these sites for criticism on [a certain author] would nto be an effective use of time, given the large body of criticism easily found by searching some of the standard databases for academic use.
2. Web search engines are generally not the most effective method for finding quality sites related to literature. There are a few highly regarded Web sites, not search engines, such as Prof. Alan Liu's Voice of the Shuttle and Jack Lynch's Literary Resources on the Net (both created and maintained by literature facultly members).
3. Your evaluation of sources uncovered during a search of the Web is critical. Ask yourself questions: Who is the author? What is the context? Has the site been updated recently? Can the information be verified elsewhere? What is the value of the information found on the site compared with the range of information on the topic? How does the site compare with other sources? Actually, these same questions can help you evaluate all the information sources, electronic and printed.
You will want to make sure that what you use and cite in support of your research is valid and appropriate for your level of work and not merely a paper posted to the Web by a third grader who may have obtained much of the information from an encyclopedia (this has happened!).
-- MLA A Research Guide for Undergraduate Students--English and American Literature 6th Edition
The Superior Paper (A/A-)
The A paper has not only fulfilled the assignment, but has done so in a fresh and mature manner. It has effectively answered the question. The paper is literately composed (i.e. minimal errors of spelling and grammar) in a scholarly tone and appropriate level of diction (i.e. precise language), has a meaningful title that is connected to its strong and easily identifiable, insightful, sophisticated thesis, which is supported by a sound argument and well-chosen primary and secondary sources and examples. The paper explores a topic that is manageable within the prescribed length and demonstrates its author’s thorough understanding of the primary materials and ability to analyze them from a fresh and exciting perspective. The author anticipates and defuses counter-arguments in a persuasive manner. Further, a superior paper defines key terms in its argument and avoids jargon; its paragraphs have excellent transitions and well-connected mini-thesis.
The Good Paper (B+/B)
The assignment has not just been followed but fulfilled. The paper contains occasional lapses in spelling, grammar, and diction, has a slightly unclear thesis. Secondary sources and evidence cited do not support all points made. The author acknowledges but does not address counter-arguments. The paper explores a topic that is not well defined and unmanageable, but it does demonstrate its author’s understanding of the primary materials and ability to analyze them. The author’s interpretation of the material in question is hindered by a regurgitation of other critics’ interpretations. A paper in the B+/B category defines key terms, but its argument is clouded by jargon. The paper has a few unclear transitions, or a structure that does not always move the argument forward.
The B- / C+ Paper
The paper has problematic sentence structures and frequent problems in diction and spelling. It does not have a well-defined topic and a strong thesis. The argument is not supported by appropriate evidence, and quotes appear without critical analysis or evident connections to the argument. The paper has unclear transitions, and does not anticipate or address counter-arguments.
The C / C- Paper
The thesis is unidentifiable. The paper suffers from major problems in sentence structure, grammar, spelling, and diction. It uses very few and weak examples, and does not demonstrate a clear understanding of the primary and secondary materials. Transitions are confusing, and the structure does not move the argument forward. The paper contains unnecessary plot summaries or character sketches, and restates obvious points or other critics’ interpretations.
The D+ / D Paper
The paper suffers from more serious problems in thesis, structure, argument and use of evidence, and diction. It makes no attempt to follow the assignment; the choice of topic or thesis is poor (too broad, too narrow, or inappropriate).
The F PaperThe paper is difficult to understand owing to major problems with diction, structure, format, argument and use of evidence. It does not have an identifiable thesis and does not follow guidelines for the assignment. Above all, the paper is off the assignment, even if it is correctly and coherently written. It may be plagiarized; either it is someone else’s paper or it has used sources improperly or without documentation.
Dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated. Dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of exams, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of others. Students who are found to be dishonest will receive academic sanctions and will be reported to the University's Judicial Affairs office for possible further disciplinary sanctions. See the College of Liberal Arts policy at: http://www.la.psu.edu/assocdea/academicinteg.htm .
Sample Student Papers
Two sample film studies papers, Bryn Mawr College
Writing Tips -- Common Mistakes
Writing Tips: Common Grammatical Mistakes, Mary Klages, University of Colorado
Common Errors in English, Paul Brians, Washington State University
Resources for Writers of Film Papers & Literary Analysis
Center for Excellence in Writing for Penn State Undergraduates
What Makes for a Good Literature Paper, Purdue University
Guide to Writing About Film, George Mason University
Guide to Writing a Film Studies Paper, Carleton University
How to Do a Close Reading, Sophia McClennen, Penn State University
Writing Guide for Chinese Film Studies, Prof. Eileen Chow, Harvard University
Documentation Style Guide
A Guide for Writing a Research Paper Based on MLA-Documentation Style
Research & Documentation Online, Bedford / St. Martin's
Copyright © 2008-2009 by Alexander C.Y. Huang. All rights reserved.