PAL: Perspectives in American Literature - A Research and Reference Guide - An Ongoing Project

© Paul P. Reuben

Appendix D: Writing Assignments
Page Links: | General Guidelines | Avoiding Plagiarism | 1. Critical Book Report | 2. Research Paper - Proposal Format | 3. Performance Review | 4. Literary Biography Project | 5. Academic Journal: Summary Reader-Response Close Reading |

| MLA Style Citation of this Web Page |

Site Links: | Appendices: Index | Alphabetical List | Table Of Contents | Home Page | November 10, 2011


General Guidelines

Also read Guidelines for Writing a Paper (in the MLA style
Your papers should be typed double-spaced, on one side of a sheet, with margins of 1" on all sides. Justify the right margin only when you can use hyphenation. Number all pages consecutively; paginate the Appendices (if any), Works Cited, and Selected Bibliography (if any) pages as a continuation of your text. Indent the first word of each paragraph a half-inch (five or six spaces; be consistent).

For Seminar and other long Research Papers, make a title or cover sheet with the following information: title of your paper (it should suggest the content of the paper; also use a subtitle), your name, course number and name, semester and year, and the name of the instructor.

For shorter papers type, double-spaced on the left margin, the title page information on the first page. Use italics or underline titles of books, magazines, newspapers, and shorter works published independently. Use quotation marks ("...") for titles of short stories, poems, magazine and newspaper articles. Proofread for errors. Write in an essay form.

If you do any research, carefully cite and document your sources. Remember that your purpose is to make your ideas and judgments as persuasive as possible, so be sure to stick to your line of argument, to cite examples, and to explain terms.

Works Cited and Selected Bibliography (if required)

Double-space between successive lines of an entry and between entries; begin the first line of an entry flush left, and indent successive lines half an inch or six spaces (be consistent). List entries in alphabetical order according to the last name of the author and, in the absence of an author, alphabetize the title.

Avoiding Plagiarism (English Department Policy on Plagiarism)

Plagiarism is academic cheating or using someone's words or ideas without giving proper credit - or without giving any credit at all - to the writer of the original. Whether plagiarism is intentional or unintentional, it is a serious offense that you can avoid by citing or documenting your sources. A plagiarized paper will receive a failing grade; flagrant cheating, in more than one paper, will result in failing the course.
| Top | 1. A Critical Book Report - A Guide:

(Please follow the structure suggested below; for additional requirements for graduate students, check with the instructor.)

Part I - Author - Biographical Information (2-3 pages)

Write a narrative biography (in paragraph style) and include dates and places of birth and death; family background, education, professions other than writing, if any, discernible literary influences of others on your author's style and content, influence of your author on others, and this author's contributions to American literature. Also include a list of the author's works and awards/citations (for more guidelines, review assignment #4 on the Literary Biography project below).

Part II - Book Report (2-3 pages)

Depending on the genre of your selection, provide relevant information on the various elements of poetry, fiction, and drama. For non-fiction prose (like essays, literary criticism, auto/biography, religious writing, and so on) write a summary of the main ideas or themes. Also comment on style, diction, use of literary devices, and the author's achievements in this style of writing.

(Review the elements of poetry, fiction, and drama)

Part III - Critical Evaluation (3-4 pages)

A. Your evaluation of the work. Be candid in expressing your reactions to the work. Did you like it or not? Support your arguments with specific references to the work.

B. Scholarly evaluation also called Literary Criticism: Read two scholarly magazine articles or two essays in a book of essays (avoid contemporary book reviews) discussing the work and write a summary of the main arguments of the scholars. Can you identify the prominent critical issues or arguments concerning the work? Is there a controversy about the work's greatness? Conclude with a short paragraph containing you reaction to the views of these literary critics.

Part IV - Create 1. a Work Cited list, 2. a Selected Bibliography list, and 3. an Internet Presence list

1. Work Cited - list all works cited in your report.

2. Selected Bibliography (about a dozen items of the most recent work): A selected bibliography is a list which includes all the items in your Works Cited and other sources related to your author and the work. These could be biographical studies, book-length critical works, and scholarly articles.

3. Internet Presence (about a half-dozen important ones): Make a list of web sites or pages related to your author. Provide the site/page name, the address (also called the url and begins as http://www. ...), and the page date or the date of your login.

Note - Each item should have complete information - name of author, title, place and date of publication, etc. Before you begin, discuss this project and your selection of author/work with your instructor.

Proposal for a Critical Book Report - Students interested in this project should present a proposal and receive the instructor's approval before writing the report. Format for the proposal (please type):

1. Name of Author and Title of the Book

2. Tentative bibliography of biographical works available to you (3-4 items).

3. Tentative bibliography of critical books and articles (5-6 items).

The approved proposal becomes part of the final paper. A report without the approved proposal will not be read. 

| Top | 2. A Critical or Research Paper - A Guide:
(suggested lengths - short: 5-7; medium: 10-15; long 20+ pages)

Possible Research Topics and Themes in American Literature

A critical paper assumes a "problem" and suggests a "solution". It is usually a discussion and elaboration of a single theme or a controlling idea, supported by a close reading of the texts; the paper is developed with numerous and repeated references to the primary texts in support of your arguments. . It requires library research and the inclusion of relevant scholarly commentary. A critical paper could be a study of a single work or a comparative study of two or more, or it could be a study of one author or a comparative study of two or more, or it could develop and discuss a single idea or theme through a discussion of selected works.

Proposal for a Critical Paper - Students interested in this project should present a proposal and receive the instructor's approval before writing the critical paper. Format for the proposal (please type):

 1. Title of the proposed paper - including a subtitle which narrows the focus of the title and refers to specific works that will be discussed.

2. Thesis statement or statement of purpose - defines and limits the scope of your discussion.

3. Tentative outline - identify application of your thesis to characters, or situations, or conflicts in the works under discussion.

4. Tentative bibliography of critical books and articles (6-12 items).

The approved proposal becomes part of the final paper. A paper without the approved proposal will not be read. 

| Top | 3. A Performance Review of a Play, Movie, or Video

(suggested length: check with the instructor)

Please Note: On the cover page of your paper (1) Attach the ticket stub of the performance; (2) indicate whether you wish to receive a Letter or CR/NC grade; (3) critical reviews should be typed and double-spaced. Proofread to eliminate errors. Instead of responding to questions given below, write in an essay form and in the MLA Style. If you do any research, acknowledge your sources.

A Guide to the Composition and Writing of "A Critical Review":

1. Indicate the name of the author, the title of the play, movie or video, and the date and place of performance. Was the production staged by a professional or an amateur group?

2. Briefly provide the plot (the sequence of main events) and comment on the major conflicts and plot manipulation (if any). What is the theme?

3. The Protagonist/Antagonist: Who is the protagonist in the play and who/what is the antagonist? Was her/his performance creditable? How effective was the stage presence? Was the performance in harmony with the rest of the cast? How well did she/he listen and react? You may also comment on the stage presence of other actors. Identify actors by name.

4. The Scenic Means: comment on stage space, scenery, lighting and costume. Were these consistent and supportive or did they distract you?

5. Theater Architecture: Describe the theater architecture and the acoustics. How did the size of the theater affect the production of the play?

6. Audience: Study the audience. Was it an active and responsive audience? How did the audience affect player performance and the production?

7. The Role of the Director: Was the direction of the play consistent with your expectations? Did the director take certain liberties with original text and give the play, movie or video a freshness or uniqueness? Identify her/him by name.

8. Overall strength and weakness of the production?

(not all of the above may be relevant to a movie or a video review.) 

| Top | 4. Guidelines for the Literary Biography Project
(for posting on the World Wide Web)

(suggested length approx. 5 pages)

| Sample Biography: Narrative | Sample Biography: Timeline or Chronology |

Note: Biographies are written in two styles: 1. the chronology, also known as timeline, has a number of rows/lines and they begin with a year or years followed by brief biographical highlights in phrases or incomplete sentences. 2. the narrative style is written in a number of paragraphs or in the essay form. Your Literary Biography project should be in the narrative style and in the MLA Style (use the three methods of citing sources). Write a literary biography based on library research; use a minimum of two different sources to construct the biography; check the CSUS or area libraries for books on your author and the multi-volume Dictionary of Literary Biography (browse PAL author pages for biographical works). Avoid using online or internet sources or encyclopedias (like Encarta).

A. Literary Biography - try to include

1. The important biographical events in narrative or essay form (if you wish, you may also include a separate chronology or timeline).

2. The role and contribution of your author - major themes; reasons for current popularity.

3. The critical/theoretical treatment of your writer in the academic scholarly press, particularly during the last ten years.

4. Is your author in a state of excavation and recovery by contemporary critics and why?

5. How has your author been assessed in relation to her/his peers?

6. What is the place of your author in relation to literary tradition (that is, autobiographical underpinnings, traditionalist, alienated, feminist, protest and reaction, assimilationist, nationalist, expatriate)?

7. What critical/theoretical perspective does your author offer upon her/his era?

8. How might your writer reject easy classification?

9. Awards - if your author has received awards, citations, honorary degrees, etc. mention them

10. If you wish to include a portrait or photo of your author (scanned or downloaded from a www site), provide complete source citation for it.

B. Works Cited: list all primary and secondary sources cited in your report; clearly identify, through parenthetical citations, all the sources of your biographical narrative - your work will not be posted on the www without this item. For guidelines on citation or documentation and quoting sources go the the MLA Style page; try to use all the three types of citing or quoting sources.

C. Internet Presence: Do an internet search of your author. What is your author's internet presence? Does he/she have a home page, a chat group, and an e-zine? Make a list of a minimum of half-dozen of your author-related sites (provide site names, their urls, site dates or dates of your login).

E. Selected Bibliography: Do a MLA Bibliography database search and list a dozen of the most recent works on your author published between 2000-2005.

| Top | 5. Guidelines for the Academic Journal

(suggested lengths: 2-3 pages undergraduate; 3-5 graduate)

Journal entries are short and semiformal course-related assignments, usually averaging one a week; they should be typed. Each entry will be graded on a 100-point scale; the total weight, of this assignment towards the course grade, is announced in the course syllabus.

1. Number and date each entry; include your name and course number.

2. Provide a descriptive title for each journal.

3. Use the MLA Style; sources and citations should have complete bibliographical information included in Works Cited.

4. If your assignment is to write a Summary (a presentation of the substance of a body of material in a condensed form or by reducing it to its main points; an abstract), include your reaction at the end in a subsection called "My Comments."

5. You may be asked to write a Reader-Response of an assigned text; this critical approach is described below:

Reader-Response Criticism: It is an approach that puts emphasis on the reader rather than the work itself, by attempting to describe what goes on in the reader's mind during the reading of a text (or the reader's active construction of a text). In this approach, a literary work is seen as evolving creation of the reader's as he or she processes characters, plots, images, and other elements while reading. In this approach, there is no single "correct" reading of a work because of the assumption that the readers create rather than discover meanings in texts. However, this approach is not a justification for mistaken or bizarre readings, but an explanation of the possibilities for a plurality of reading. Reader-response criticism calls attention to how we read and what influences our readings, and what that reveals about ourselves.
(from Meyer, Michael. The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Fifth Edition. NY: St. Martin's, 2000.)

6. You may be asked to do a Close Reading of an assigned literary text. In a close reading, you comment on the specifics of the literary work taking into account the various elements of poetry, fiction, or drama.

7. In the graded journal, if there are questions or comments, briefly respond in ink (no need to type a separate sheet).

8. If I ask you to rewrite a journal, attach the original when you turn in the revision. Your revised grade will not be more than 10 points of the original.

9. 10 points will be deducted for late assignments; they will not be accepted after one week of the deadline.

10. Collect your graded journals in a portfolio (a file-folder, a three-ring binder, etc.). Make a Table of Contents with three columns titled: Journal #, Title, Grade. Your portfolio will be collected on the last day of classes.

MLA Style Citation of this Web Page

Reuben, Paul P. "PAL: Appendix D : Writing Assignments." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: (provide page date or date of your login). 

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