Writing a Research Paper in Literary Studies1
The most important aspect to bear in mind is that you are writing a research paper and not an essay!
This means that you are arguing a thesis with reference to secondary literature – it is essential that you
conduct relevant research and that you integrate your findings into your paper.
Things to keep in mind:
• Your paper should have a well-defined topic and a precisely formulated argument.
• Your approach should be recognizably systematic.
• Your argument should remain relevant and clear-cut, consistent and coherent throughout.
• Your secondary material should be discussed critically and documented accurately.
• Writing is a process; ...view middle of the document...
good place to start is your own questions – don’t be afraid of the questions you have about
the text, more likely than not they are the ideal starting point for your study.
Write a thesis statement.
Once you have settled on a topic and perhaps even come up with a title, you need to
develop a thesis statement. A thesis statement is a succinct formulation of your topic in
terms of argument, i.e. your thesis statement must be arguable, you are stating an opinion
that will be proven in the course of your paper with the help of sources. A good way to
come up with a thesis is to generate questions surrounding your chosen topic. (e.g. “In
Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet love is less an emotional state than a framework
for the construction of social struggle.”)
Draft an introduction.
Although writing an introduction may seem intimidating this early on, it will force you to
focus your research process and prevent unnecessary diversions. Try to explain your topic,
Overall, the following is based on:
Joseph Gibaldi, MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 6th ed. (New York: MLA, 2003).
Michael Myer, English and American Literatures, 2nd ed. (Tübingen: Francke, 2005).
All examples are from these sources.
legitimate its importance and introduce the approach you intend to take. Regard this as the
rough draft of an introduction, a working product.
2. Writing an Outline
What you are trying to do when writing an outline is to come up with a systematic classification of
the elements of your argument. You need to develop categories and relationships between and
within these categories that will give your paper structure. Ideally, your outline will derive from
your topic and will help guide your research. It is also a preliminary table of contents.
Outlines can be structured in a temporal order (beginning, climax, end), a logical order (a fact and
its causes and consequences), or a rhetorical order (from the general to the specific, from the
specific to the general, from the simple to the complex, etc.). Which structure is best will depend
on your specific paper.
Important: Regard your outline as a work in progress, return to it repeatedly to a) make sure you
are still on the right track and b) to change it when your research or your own thought process
Title: “Love in Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet”
2. Love and gender in Shakespeare’s age
3. Love in Romeo and Juliet
3.1 Contradictory constructions of love due to gender, generation and class
3.2 Love and dramatic conflicts
3.2.1 The comedy of love
3.2.2 The tragedy of love
188.8.131.52 Fate or chance
184.108.40.206 Love and death
5. Works Cited / Bibliography
3. Conducting Research
Again, the key is to be systematic. A good place to start research is the aforementioned annotated
editions of works. But sometimes these will not be available. Here are some other options:
• Encyclopedias, Literary...