Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Early English Literature Assignment

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



The Objective:

One of the goals of this course is that you improve your skills in information literacy and critical analysis by researching and articulating your original insights and by organizing and polishing presentations of them in academic written form. The idea of this assignment is the honorable one of having you package brilliant scholarly textual analysis in impressive, professional ways.

The Project:

This assignment asks you to identify one significant facet you perceive in one particular work we have read and to explore its implications. The project will be minimally a total of five pages, double-spaced, using MLA-style format. This document will consist of at least four pages of your own interpretive analysis focused on the one precise aspect of one of the literary works we have read together, followed by at least one page of annotated bibliography consisting of at least two entries, each one summarizing a different academic journal article.

You need a focus before you start thrashing about with secondary sources; you need to know specifically what you are searching for. Otherwise the secondary sources will take over, dictate your discussion, and you’ll be reduced to a mere summarizer of someone else’s thoughts. And the grade will suck.

Finding a Topic:

The rule here is simple: the more particular — the more excruciatingly focused — the better. First, select one literary work. Trying to jam two or more different works into one discussion because you’re thinking of this project in terms of “filling pages” will backfire because, simply put, your paper will be crap. Instead, treat this one work either as isolated and valuable in its own right or as a chosen representative example of a wider literary or cultural phenomenon.

Next, find something to say about your selected work: a unique perspective on the piece, a specific theme or motif, a striking implication, possibly a detail you think is peculiar (if it does prove to have significance when you think it through). Although these literary works have been combed over for a long time, critics and scholars tend to engage themselves in the same old hackneyed main issues and ignore the closely focused explication of specific details. So be conscientious, nay ruthless, in focusing your scope. Papers lumbering through hackneyed topics will be disappointing — all around! Also, the focus should be on your perceptions rather than your evaluations or on you (e.g., “I feel that Hrothgar is an OK joe”; “I like this poem cuz it was easier to read than those other ones”). Rather than as an “opinion,” think of this as your perspective or insight. Also, this is not a “review” — drippy “appreciation” or rhapsodic praise is tiresome and dorky, so between the rough draft and the final draft, omit all those “Chaucer does a great job, but then that’s why he’s the father of English literature” embarrassments. More stylistic advice is coming in class as more examples of what I never want to see again keep occurring to me.

You will be researching and include secondary sources, but original insight and analysis should still dominate the entire discussion portion of the assignment. Cleverness and creativity (of an scholarly sort) are most welcome when it comes to crafting the project at this stage.


You need to locate and read at least two articles somewhat related to your topic. These must be academic journal articles, best retrieved through the library and certainly with the appropriate scholarly index, even if they happen to be retrievable on the web or within a book of collected essays. Do not expect these articles to be addressing your exact topic directly — you do not even want that to be the case. And at the other extreme, you do not want them to seem arbitrarily chosen (which is what happens when you fail to use the appropriate index). They should be more appropriately focused than just happening to concern the same literary work. Ideally, they should represent a scholarly conversation taking place loosely on a topic to which you can legitimately add your voice without simply replicating what has already been said.

I will demonstrate in class the process of targeting a search with the appropriate index and take you through the steps. You may wish to photocopy your articles even though you do not have to submit them with the project.

Doing the Bloody Work:

The last page(s) of your project will consist simply of an annotated bibliography: the two or more articles each listed as an MLA-style Works Cited entry and each entry followed by a short summary of the article, with key quotations included, properly cited with parenthetical page numbers. Your essay portion should appear first, with the Annotated Bibliography following behind and taking the place of a Works Cited list. Include also, alphabetized, the Norton Anthology or other edition you are using (but this entry does not need an annotation).

Meeting these requirements, on time, assures you of at least a C grade (see grading sheet). Specific quotations from the play should demonstrate the validity of your argument. The analytical discussion should be persuading readers of the significance of adopting your unique perspective on the material; it should not be a report of pointless factoids nor a scan of tons of bilge. MLA documentation is required for humanities papers and should be carried out correctly; so stop making me cross out commas, p’s, pg’s, pgs’s, and all other manner of clutter between simply author and page in parenthetical citations of secondary sources! Also quit with the bastardized Works Cited lists (MLA cross-bred with numbered references, APA corruptions, etc.). Refer to a handbook (MLA, Hacker’s A Writer’s Reference, Keys for Writers, etc.) for correct documentation, read my online MLA advice or the hand-out, and/or ask me ahead of time. “Are you gonna be like really strict on us about Works Cited format and all that stuff?” Uh, yeah? And stop priding yourself on having a jaunty identity based largely on your supposedly unique lack of skill in spelling. The presentation and appearance of your work should be letter-perfect so that niggling surface matters do not distract your readers from your ideas.

The Deal:

Your final revised essay must consist of five typed, double-spaced pages containing an intriguing (not underlined) title, objective identification of the thesis (not just the topic) in the first paragraph, vigorous and concise analytical work, no extra spaces between paragraphs, and the annotations, all in a clean, effective, illuminating, properly documented presentation (correctly punctuated in-text parenthetical citations of author and page, and a correctly formatted MLA-style annotated bibliography).

Proofread well so that minor surface matters do not distract readers from your ideas. The grade for any manuscript lacking the research component or containing a renegade, variant, or insane documentation system will strike you as intensely disappointing.

You are obligated to hand in the assignment at the beginning of the class period on the designated due date. Truancy is, of course, no excuse (i.e., “I couldn’t get my paper in ‘cuz I cut class”). Fate, as we know, plays amusing tricks. I tell you right now that Aunt Louise could drop in a flash on “paper-due eve”: it is your obligation to anticipate anything like this in your life that could go wrong and to take preventive measures or to develop back-up plans. You also must accept responsibility for being so foolish as to stake your grade on a computer’s or printer’s reliability. And no bitter ironies about roommates and alarm-clocks. No work submitted means you did not meet the requirements of the course (big F); late work will not be read but at least you will have met requirements minimally (little F factored in).

On a more positive note, I assure you that I am happy to provide advice and help at any stage of the pre-writing, researching, and drafting processes, short of giving you a topic and writing the text for you. Ultimately, though, it must be completed and turned in when due; the timing of the semester does not allow for screwing around and cheesy excuses. Get to work on this project early, consult with me as needed, and turn in the best possible masterpiece.

Sample papers, good to excellent, are available on the web site for your perusal, especially if you need to attune your ear to academic discourse.
Instructions and examples for the required MLA-style documentation are also on the site.
Other writing recommendations about various issues can be found also,
including my snotty comments regarding rancid phrases
and about generally turning in the project.