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Writing a research paper about a story, novel, film or poem is much like writing about an issue. Essays must still take a position on an issue; however, the issue will be one raised by the text. As a result, research will include looking for books and articles about the literary text, the time period, and the specific issue addressed in your essay.

For example, the argument that Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl redefines the existing ideals of womanhood in order to expose the hypocrisy of slavery and establish the humanity of slaves would look at the following types of sources:

  • Critical analyses of the novel
  • Essays explaining gender roles and the ideal of True Womanhood for the time
  • Historical sources about the institution of slavery and its impact

Research Essay

For your final essay you will write an argumentative research essay about a literary topic of your choice (and included in our class textbook). You may choose any aspect of the text that interests you as long as you can sustain an extended analysis. You may not write about a text you have already written about. The topics below are only suggestions.

Examples of Research Paper Topics:

  1. Consider the way Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman (film) defines Black manhood.
  2. Investigate the impact of Audre Lorde’s “Poetry is Not a Luxury” on contemporary writers, particularly her valuing of emotion as a source for social action.
  3. Consider the connections between current social movements/events and literature in two poems (for example, Patricia Smith’s “The Undertaker” and Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”). How do these poems make the relationship between art and social activism clear?
  4. Consider the role of Africa in African American Literature by examining one literary text or comparing two texts (i.e. Marcus Garvey, Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatley, etc.).
  5. Examine the role of education in social/racial advancement, as presented in W.E.B. Dubois’ “Wings of Atalanta” and/or Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Exposition Address.”
  6. Examine the tradition of the slave narrative by analyzing one or two texts, at least one from the contemporary period (neo-slave narratives). Why is that tradition still with us today? (examples: Johnson’s “The Education of Mingo,” Morrison’s “Beloved” (film is okay), Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” etc.)

In evaluating your essays, I will be looking for the following: a clear thesis; a strong defense for that thesis grounded in textual evidence; an organizational structure that leads from one point coherently to the next; and a thorough analysis of evidence and examples.

All essays must be submitted by Monday, April 30th in LA 206 by 12noon.

I will not accept any late research essays. Arriving to my office at 12:15pm means the essay is late and will receive a zero.

Research Paper Guidelines:

  • Research essay should be 6-8 pages, typed and double-spaced.
  • All essays should include an additional works cited page documenting all outside sources. This should be in MLA format.
  • Essays should include a minimum of 5 secondary sources—books or articles/essays. All online sources must be retrieved through a library database. All sources must be peer-reviewed. The final works cited will include 6 sources: 1 primary text and 5 secondary sources.


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