Writing College Research Papers (How It Differs From Writing in High School)
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Much of what you learned in high school will be useful to you as you approach writing in college: you will want to write clearly, to have an interesting and arguable thesis, to construct paragraphs that are coherent and focused, and so on.
Still, many students enter college relying on writing strategies that served them well in high school but that won't work well for research papers. The five-paragraph theme, for example, is not sophisticated or flexible enough to provide a sound structure for a college paper. Also, many old tricks -- such as using elevated language or repeating yourself so that you might meet a ten-page requirement -- will fail you now. It is obvious when a student pads a paper by using these old tricks.
So how does a student make a successful transition from high school to college?
The first thing that you'll need to understand is that writing in college is a particular kind of writing, called "academic writing." Academic writing might be defined in many ways, there are three concepts that you need to understand before you write your first academic paper.
1. Academic writing is writing done by scholars for other scholars. This means you. As a college student, you are part of a community of scholars engaged in activities that scholars have been engaged in for centuries: you will read about, think about, argue about, and write about great ideas.
2. Academic writing is devoted to topics and questions that are of interest to the academic community. When you write an academic paper, you must first try to find a topic or a question that is relevant and appropriate. But how do you know when a topic is relevant and appropriate? First of all, pay attention to what your professor is saying. She will certainly be giving you a context into which you can place your questions and observations. Second, understand that your paper should be of interest to other students and scholars. Remember that academic writing must be more than personal response or opinion. In other words, you will want to write something that helps your reader to better understand your topic or to see it in a new way.
3. Academic writing should present the reader with an informed argument. To construct an informed argument, you must first try to sort out what you know (knowledge) about a subject from what you think (personal opinion) about a subject. If your paper fails to inform, or if it fails to argue, then it will fail to meet the expectations of the academic reader.
Constructing An Informed Argument
What You Know—
Different writing assignments require different degrees of knowing. A short paper written in response to a readings of Sherman Alexie's short story, "The Trial of Thomas Builds-the-Firefor example, may not require you to be familiar with Alexie's other works. It may not even require you to have mastered the terms important to literary criticism -- though clearly any knowledge you bring might help you to make a thoughtful response to it.
However, if you are asked to write an academic paper on the short story, then you will want to know more. You will want to have certain terms in hand so that you can explain what Alexie is doing in key moments. You will want to be familiar with Alexie's other works so that you can understand what themes are important to him and his work. Moreover, if you are this short story in an upper-level literature class, you will want to be aware of different critical perspectives on Alexie's work and on American Indian literature in general, so that you can "place" your argument within the larger ongoing conversation.
When you sit down to write an academic paper, ask yourself these questions:
What do I know about my topic?
Can I answer the questions who, what, when, where, why, how?
What do I know about the context of my topic?
What historical or cultural influences do I know about that might be important to my topic?
Does my topic belong to any particular genre or category of topics?
What do I know about this genre?
What seems important to me about this topic?
If I were to summarize what I know about this topic, what points would I focus on?
What points seem less important?
Why do I think so?
How does this topic relate to other things that I know?
What do I know about the topic that might help my reader to understand it in new ways?
What DON'T I know about my topic?
What do I need to know?
How can I find out more?
What You Think—
In the process of really thinking about your topic, your aim is to come up with a fresh observation. After all, it's not enough to summarize in a paper what is already known and talked about. You must also add something of your own to the conversation.
Understand, however, that "adding something of your own" is not an invitation simply to bring your own personal associations, reactions, or experiences to the reading of a text. To create an informed argument, you must first recognize that your writing should be analytical rather than personal. In other words, your writing must show that your associations, reactions, and experiences of a text have been framed in a critical, rather than a personal, way.
How does one move from personal response to analytical writing?
Summarize. First, summarize what the primary text is saying. You'll notice that you can construct several different summaries, depending on your agenda.
Evaluate. The process of evaluation is an ongoing one. You evaluate a text the moment you encounter it, and -- if you aren't lazy -- you continue to evaluate and to re-evaluate as you go along. Evaluating a text is different from simply reacting to a text. When you evaluate for an academic purpose, it is important to be able to clearly articulate and to support your own personal response. What in the text is leading you to respond a certain way? What's not in the text that might be contributing to your response? In asking these questions, you are straddling two intellectual processes: experiencing your own personal response, and analyzing the text.
Analyze. This step in constructing an informed argument asks you first to consider the parts of your topic and then to examine how these parts relate to each other or to the whole. To analyze a text(s), you may want to break the stories down by examining particular scenes, point of view, and so on. In short, you'll want to ask: What are the components of this story, and how do these components contribute to the story's theme? How do they contribute to the author's work as a whole? When you analyze, you break the whole into parts so that you might see the whole differently. In the process of analysis, you find things that you might say.
Synthesize. When you analyze, you break down a text into its parts. When you synthesize, you look for connections between ideas. In analyzing, you might come up with elements that seem initially disparate. You may have some observations that at first don't seem to gel. Or you may have read various critical perspectives, all of them in disagreement with one another. Now would be the time to consider whether these disparate elements or observations might be reconciled, or synthesized. This intellectual exercise requires that you create an umbrella argument -- some larger argument under which several observations and perspectives might stand. This is where you begin to think about formulating a thesis.
Choosing An Appropriate Topic
Many students writing in college have trouble figuring out what constitutes an appropriate topic. Sometimes the professor will provide you with a prompt. She will give you a question to explore, or a problem to resolve.
It will be up to you to narrow your topic and to make sure that it's appropriately academic. As you think about a topic, ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you formed an intellectual question? In other words, have you constructed a question that will require a complex, thoughtful answer?
- Is the question provocative? Startling? Controversial? Fresh?
- Will you be able to answer this question adequately in a few pages? Or is the question impossibly broad?
- If the question seems broad, how might you narrow it?
- Does your question address both text and context? In other words, have you considered the historical and cultural circumstances that influenced this text? Have you considered what other scholars have said about it?
- Will your reader care about this question? Or will she say, "So what?"
Finding a Rhetorical Stance
When writing an academic paper, you must not only consider what you want to say, you must also consider to whom you are saying it. In other words, it's important to determine not only what you think about a topic, but also what your audience is likely to think. What are your audience's biases? Values? Expectations? Knowledge? To whom are you writing, and for what purpose?
When you begin to answer all of these questions, you have started to reckon with what has been called "the rhetorical stance." "Rhetorical stance" refers to the position you take as a writer in terms of the subject and the reader of your paper.
Consider Your Position—
When you write a paper, you take a stand on a topic. You determine whether you are for or against, passionate or cool-headed. You determine whether you are going to view this topic through a particular perspective (feminist, for example), or whether you are going to make a more general response. You also determine whether you are going to analyze your topic through the lens of a particular discipline -- history, for example. Your stance on the topic depends on the many decisions you have made in the reading and thinking processes.
In order to make sure that your stance on a topic is appropriately analytical, you might want to ask yourself some questions. Begin by asking why you've taken this particular stance. Why did you find some elements of the text more important than others? Does this prioritizing reflect some bias or preconception on your part? If you dismissed part of a text as boring or unimportant, why did you do so? Do you have personal issues or experiences that lead you to be impatient with certain claims? Is there any part of your response to the text that might cause your reader to discount your paper as biased or un-critical? If so, you might want to reconsider your position on your topic.
Consider Your Audience—
Your position on a topic does not by itself determine your rhetorical stance. You must also consider your reader. In the college classroom, the audience is usually the professor or your classmates -- although occasionally your professor will instruct you to write for a more particular or more general audience. No matter who your reader is, you will want to consider him carefully before you start to write.
What do you know about your reader and his stance towards your topic? What is he likely to know about the topic? What biases is he likely to have? Moreover, what effect do you hope to have on the reader? Is your aim to be controversial? Informative? Entertaining? Will the reader appreciate or resent your intention?
Once you have determined who your reader is, you will want to consider how you might best reach him or her. If, for example, you are an authority on a subject and you are writing to readers who know little or nothing about it, then you'll want to take an informative stance. If you aren't yet confident about a topic, and you have more questions than answers, you might want to take an inquisitive stance.
In any case, when you are deciding on a rhetorical stance, choose one that allows you to be sincere. You don't want to take an authoritative stance on a subject if you aren't confident about what you are saying. On the other hand, you can't avoid taking a position on a subject: nothing is worse than reading a paper in which the writer has refused to take a stance. What if you are of two minds on a subject? Declare that to the reader. Make ambivalence your clear rhetorical stance.
In high school you might have been taught various strategies for structuring your papers. Some of you might have been raised on the five paragraph theme, in which you introduce your topic, come up with three supporting points, and then conclude by repeating what you've already said. Others of you might have been told that the best structure for a paper is the hour-glass model, in which you begin with a general statement, make observations that are increasingly specific, and then conclude with a statement that is once again general.
When you are writing papers in college, you will require structures that will support ideas that are more complex than the ones you considered in high school.
When creating an informed argument, you will want to rely on several organizational strategies, but you will want to keep some general advice in mind.
Introductions: Your introduction should accomplish two things: it should declare your argument, and it should place your argument within the larger, ongoing conversation about your topic. Often writers will do the latter before they do the former. That is, they will begin by summarizing what other scholars have said about their topic, and then they will declare what they are adding to the conversation. Even when your paper is not a research paper you will be expected to introduce your argument as if into a larger conversation. "Place" your argument for your reader by naming the text, the author, the issues it raises, and your take on these issues.
Thesis Sentence: If you want to be safe, your paper will have a declared thesis and it will appear where the reader expects it to appear: at the end of the introduction. Your thesis should also be an arguable point -- that is, it should declare something that is interesting and controversial. Your thesis is probably the single most important sentence in your paper.
The Other Side(s): Because every thesis presents an arguable point, you as a writer are obligated to acknowledge in your paper the other side(s) of an argument. Consider what your opponents might say against your argument. Then determine where and how you want to deal with the opposition. Do you want to dismiss the opposition in the first paragraph? Do you want to list each opposing argument and rebut them one by one? Your decisions will determine how you structure your paper.
Supporting Paragraphs: Every convincing argument must have support. Your argument's support will be organized in your paper's paragraphs. These paragraphs must each declare a point, usually formed as that paragraph's topic sentence.
A topic sentence is like a thesis sentence -- except that instead of announcing the argument of the entire paper, it announces the argument of that particular paragraph. In this way, the topic sentence controls the paper's evidence. The topic sentence is more flexible than the thesis in that it can more readily appear in different places within the paragraph. Most often, however, it appears at or near the beginning.
Conclusions: Writing a good conclusion is difficult. You will want to sum up, but you will want to do more than say what you have already said. You will want to leave the reader with something to think about, but you will want to avoid preaching. You might want to point to a new idea or question, but you risk confusing the reader by introducing something that he finds irrelevant.
Using Appropriate Tone and Style—
Professors are delighted when you make your point clearly, concisely, and persuasively. Understand, too, that they are less delighted when you have inflated your prose, pumped up your page count, or tried to impress them by using terms that you didn't take the time to understand.
Consider some of the following tips, designed to make the process of writing an academic paper go more smoothly:
- Keep the personal in check. Some assignments will invite you to make a personal response to a text. For example, a professor might want you to describe your experience of a text, or to talk about personal experiences that are relevant to the topic at hand. But if you haven't been invited to make a personal response, then it's better not to digress. As interesting as Aunt Sally's story is about having a baby out of wedlock, it probably doesn't have a place in your academic paper about The Scarlet Letter.
- Rely on evidence over feeling. You may be very passionate about a subject, but that's no excuse to allow rhetoric alone to carry the ball. Even if you have constructed some very pretty phrases to argue against genetic engineering, they won't mean much to your professor unless you back those pretty phrases with facts.
- Watch your personal pronouns. Students often wonder if it's OK to use the pronouns "I" and "you" in a paper. In fact, it is OK -- provided you use them with care. Overusing the "I" might make the reader feel that the paper was overly subjective. In fact, when a writer too often invokes himself in the first person, he may be doing so to avoid offering proof: "It's my own personal opinion, and I have a right to it. I don't have to defend it." But of course, he does. As to using the pronoun "you": Do you really want to aim a remark directly at the reader? Doing so draws the reader closer to the text and invites a more subjective (and sometimes more intensely critical) response. Remember: certain academic disciplines (in the sciences, for example) would frown on the use of these pronouns. When in doubt, ask.
- Watch your gendered pronouns. When you write, you'll want to make sure that you don't do anything to make your readers feel excluded. If you use "he" and "him" all the time, you are excluding half of your potential readership. We'll acknowledge that the he/she solution is a bit cumbersome in writing. However, you might solve the problem as we have done in this document: by alternating "he" and "she" throughout. Other writers advocate always using "she" instead of "he" as a way of acknowledging a long-standing exclusion of women from texts. Whatever decision you make in the end, be sensitive to its effect on your readers.
- Be aware of discipline-specific differences. Each of the academic disciplines has its own conventions when it comes to matters of tone and style. If you need more information about discipline-specific matters, check out a style manual, such as the MLA or APA style sheets.
- Avoid mechanical errors. No matter what audience you're writing for, you'll want to produce text that is error-free. Errors in grammar and style slow your reader down. Sometimes they even obscure your meaning. Always proofread your text before passing it on to your reader.
Tips For Newcomers
For those of you who are just beginning your academic careers, here are some tips that might help you to survive:
- First of all, keep up with your reading and go to class. You can't hope to be part of a conversation if you are absent from it.
- Pay attention not only to what others are saying, but also to how they are saying it. Notice that sound arguments are never made without evidence.
- Don't confuse evidence, assumption, and opinion. Evidence is something that you can prove. Assumption is something that one can safely infer from the evidence at hand. Opinion is your own particular interpretation of the evidence.
- Pay attention to the requirements of an assignment. When asked for evidence, don't offer opinion. When asked for your opinion, don't simply present the facts. Too often students write summary when they are asked to write analysis. The assignment will cue you as to how to respond.
- Familiarize yourself with new language. Every discipline has its own jargon. While you will want to avoid unnecessary use of jargon in your own writing, you will want to be sure before you write that you have a clear understanding of important concepts and terms.
- Don't make the mistake of thinking that because something is in print it has cornered the market on truth. Your own interpretation of a text might be just as valid (or even more valid) than something you've found in the library or on the internet. Be critical of what you read, and have confidence that you might say as much.
- Pay attention to standards and rules. Your professors will expect you to write carefully and clearly. They will expect your work to be free of errors in grammar and style. They will expect you to follow the rules for citing sources and to turn in work that is indeed your own. If you have a question about a professor's standards, ask. You will find that your professors are eager to help you.
This is an abbreviated and adapted version of Appendix 3 from Ann Charters,The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction (3rd ed. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, 1991), a very useful anthology with a broad selection of short fiction and related commentaries.
In writing an essay about literature, you clarify your relationship to what you have read. This relationship goes beyond a basic emotional response to the story, whether you enjoyed it or not. You write to reveal what Ernest Hemingway referred to as "the measure of what you brought to the reading." As soon as you ask the smallest question about the meaning or structure of a story and try to answer it, you are beginning a critical inquiry that involves your intellect as well as your emotions. This activity is called the interpretation of the text. What makes it valuable is that it reveals to you and to others how you respond to the stories after they have entertained, instructed, and perhaps enchanted you. Now it is your turn to explain their effect on you, and to analyze how they did it. Once you have asked yourself what there is about a story that gives you pleasure the style, the form, the meaning - you have begun discovering "the measure of what you brought to the reading." The next stage is to communicate your ideas to someone else. Turning yourself from a reader into a writer takes time, but if you understand the various steps involved, the process becomes much easier.
Writing the Paper
An essay about literature can take various forms and be various lengths, depending on the nature of the assignment. But whether you are writing an essay of only a few paragraphs or a research paper of several thousand words, the basic requirement is always the same. You must keep in mind that an essay on short stories (or on any subject, for that matter) is a type of expository writing, and expository means "serving to clarify, set forth, or explain in detail" an idea about the subject. Writing about literature helps you clarify your ideas. If you want your essay to communicate these ideas clearly to a reader, you must understand that it always requires two things to be effective: a strong thesis sentence or central idea about your topic, and an adequate development of your thesis sentence. How you organize your paper will depend on the way you choose to develop your central idea. The three principal ways of organizing essays about short stories - explication, analysis, and comparison and contrast - will be taken up after a discussion of ways to find a thesis sentence.
Getting Ideas for Your Topic and Thesis Sentence
Most effective short papers (about 500 words) usually treat one aspect of the story: its theme, characterization, setting, point of view, or literary style. These are some of the possible topics for your paper, the general subject you are going to write about. Usually your first response to a story is a jumble of impressions that do not separate themselves into neat categories of topics and thesis sentences. You must sort through these impressions to select a topic on which to concentrate in order to get ideas for your thesis sentence.
Before you can start your essay, you should feel that you understand the story thoroughly as a whole. Read it again to remind yourself of the passages that strike you with particular force. Underline the words and sentences you consider significant -- or, even better, make a list of what seems important while you are reading the story. These can be outstanding descriptions of the characters or settings, passages of meaningful dialogue, details showing the way the author builds toward the story's climax, or hints that foreshadow the conclusion. To stimulate ideas about topics, you may want to jot down answers to the following questions about the elements of the story as you reread it.
Does the plot depend on chance or coincidence, or does it grow out of the personalities of the characters? Are any later incidents foreshadowed early in the story? Are the episodes presented in chronological order? If not, why not? Does the climax indicate a change in a situation or a change in a character? How dramatic is this change? Or is there no change at all?
Are the characters believable? Are they stereotypes? Do they suggest real people, or abstract qualities? Is there one protagonist or are there several? Does the story have an antagonist? How does the author tell you about the main character through description of physical appearance, actions, thoughts, and emotions, or through contrast with a minor character? Does the main character change in the course of the story? If so, how? Why?
How does the setting influence the plot and the characters? Does it help to suggest or develop the meaning of the story?
Point of View.
How does the point of view shape the theme? Would the story change if told from a different viewpoint? In first-person narration, can you trust the narrator?
Is the author's prose style primarily literal or figurative? Can you find examples of irony in dialogue or narrative passages? If dialect or colloquial speech is used, what is its effect? Does the author call attention to the way he or she uses words, or is the literary style inconspicuous?
Does the story's title help explain its meaning? Can you find a suggestion of the theme in specific passages or dialogue or description? Are certain symbols or repetitions of images important in revealing the author's intent in the story, what Poe would call "the single effect"?
Now put the text aside and look over your notes. Can you see any pattern in them? You may find that you have been most impressed by the way the author developed characterizations, for example. Then you will have a possible topic for your paper. Certainly if you have a choice, you should pick whatever appeals to you the most in the story and concentrate on it.
If you still cannot come up with a topic, ask for help in your next class. Perhaps your instructor will suggest something: "Why don't you discuss the way Hawthorne used irony in 'Young Goodman Brown'?" Often the class will be assigned one topic to write about. Some students think assigned topics make writing more difficult; others find they make it easier to begin to write.
A topic, however, is not the same as a thesis sentence. A topic is a general subject (for example, the character of Goodman Brown). A thesis sentence, by contrast, makes a statement about a topic; it is usually the result of thinking about the topic and narrowing it down to focus on some relationship of the topic to the story as a whole. A good thesis sentence has two important functions. First, it suggests a way for you to write about the story. Second, it makes clear to your reader the approach you have taken toward the topic. To write critically about short fiction, you must think critically about it. You start with an interpretation of the entire story and then show how some particular aspect of it contributes to what you think is its overall pattern and meaning.
Narrowing Ideas to a Thesis
A thesis sentence states the central idea you will develop in your paper. It should be easy for the reader of your essay to recognize - even if it's sometimes hard for you to formulate. A thesis sentence is a complete sentence that points the way you will take to clarify your interpretation of the story. In Hawthorne's story, for example, you might decide to write about the character of Goodman Brown (topic). You interpret the story to be a warning about the danger of losing religious faith (theme). If you think about the way your topic relates to the theme, your analysis might lead you to the idea that Goodman Brown lost his religious faith through the sin of pride. This thought process narrows the topic into a thesis, which you can state as the sentence "The story 'Young Goodman Brown' shows how a man can lose his religious faith through the sin of pride."
The test of a good thesis sentence is whether your subject ("The story 'Young Goodman Brown'") is followed by a clearly focused predicate ("shows how a man can lose his religious faith through the sin of pride"). What you want is a statement of an idea that you can then develop in your essay.
Finding a thesis sentence is often the biggest stumbling block for writers of expository prose. How do you know if your idea is worth developing in a paper? Generally speaking, a thesis will work if it expresses a specific idea about the story that you want to develop. If you are not interested to begin with, or do not like the story you are writing about, you probably will not write effectively. You almost always write better about a story you have enjoyed reading. Certainly you will feel more sympathetic to the intent of the author if you are not hostile to the assignment in the first place. Remember also that as a literary critic you must always keep an open mind when interpreting a story. Your ideas about it are as valid as anyone else's, so long as you can support them with examples from the text. There are many possible ways to read a story, although the author may have felt the original impulse to write it because of a particular idea or feeling about the subject.
Sometimes the thesis sentence occurs to you while you are thinking about the story; then you can jot it down as a fully formed idea right away. Other times you may find that you are unable to formulate any definite idea about the story until you start to write. No single procedure works for all writers at all times. You might begin writing with a trial thesis in mind, putting down rough ideas or a string of sentences as you think about the general topic you have chosen. Or you might decide to go back to the notes you took while reading the story and try to organize them into a simple outline about your topic, looking for connections between things that might suggest a direction to take in a trial essay and then hoping a thesis sentence will emerge while you free-associate with paper and pencil in hand. You might also get an idea for a thesis sentence by talking about the story with a friend. Whatever way you start, do not settle for anything quick and easy. "Hawthorne's use of irony in 'Young Goodman Brown' is interesting" is much too general to be helpful to you in writing a good essay. Keep thinking or scribbling away at your first rough draft until you find an idea that gives you a specific direction to take in your paper. "Hawthorne's use of irony in 'Young Goodman Brown' suggests his judgment of the Puritan moral code" is a thesis sentence that has a clearly focused predicate. It states a definite relationship of the topic to the meaning of the thesis you want to explore. Then you know you are on your way to writing a good essay.
Writing and Revising
If you begin the first paragraph of your essay with a strong thesis sentence, your ideas will usually flow in writing and revising the paper. You will often discover further possibilities for refining your thesis while using it to interpret the text. That is one reason you should allow plenty of time to complete a writing assignment. It's an unusual first draft in which the central idea is developed coherently and fully enough to be turned in as a finished paper. Revision often stimulates further thought, sharpening and strengthening the development of your thesis. In the process of writing, you will come to understand the story more fully as your thesis takes you closer to its meaning.
Try not to become discouraged about writing by visualizing some distant final product - a well-organized essay, neatly typed on clean, white paper, shimmering on the page in what looks like pristine perfection. Remember that it took time to get that way. Your essay originated in halfformed, often confused thoughts that had to be coaxed to arrange themselves into coherent paragraphs linked by what only much later appear to be inevitable transitions. More often than not, the 500 words you might think are a perfect essay when you turn in your final paper will be the end result -- if you took enough time in writing -- of winnowing down 1,000 or more words from your rough drafts. You must amplify and clarify your thesis, editing your sentences and paragraphs so that each one relates coherently to your central idea. Then your essay will express your insights about the story so clearly that they can be understood as you intended.
At the beginning, it is best to forget about the end result and give all your thought and effort to the process of writing. If you find it useful, make an outline and try to follow it, but this practice varies with different writers. Some find it valuable to organize their notes about the story into a formal outline, whereas others prefer to make a rough sketch of the steps they plan to follow in developing their central idea. You may find that you do not want to use an outline at all, although in general it can help to keep you from straying too far from the point you are trying to make. Remember, too, that there is no fixed rule about the number of drafts or the amount of revision necessary before you have a finished essay. Every essay changes from the first rough draft through various revisions; an essay is often gone, over several times in the days or weeks between getting the assignment: and bringing the finished paper to class. In the various stages of writing different aspects of the central idea often reveal themselves and are integrated into the paper, depending on your degree of concentration and J involvement in the assignment. Even if you scrap sentences or whole paragraphs that do not relate to your final discussion, you have not waste& your time, because your early efforts to put your thoughts down on paper bring you to the point where you have better insights.
You will probably have to rewrite your opening paragraph many times to tailor your thesis sentence to the final shape your ideas have taken. So writers just sketch in the first paragraph and go back to polish it when I rest of the essay is finished. Often you will want to amplify and refine your thesis sentence, dividing it into several sentences in your introductory remarks. Then it becomes a thesis statement, rather than a single sentence.
Developing the Thesis
While it is possible to write many different kinds of papers about short fiction, most college instructors assign students the task of interpreting the text. The literary items used in the headnotes on each writer in this anthology and defined in the Glossary [of this book] can help you find a vocabulary to express your ideas. You cannot write intelligently about any subject without using the special terminology of that subject, whether it is English, economics, psychology, or engineering. At the same time, dropping the terms in your paper the way a person might drop names at a party will not impress your readers. Understand what the terms mean so you can use them to think and write critically about the elements of a story when you begin to interpret the text in the light of your central idea.
You will usually develop your thesis statement in the body of your essay by following one or more of the three common methods of writing about literature: explication, analysis, and comparison and contrast.