Critical Research Essay
Your task is to write a piece of literary criticism about a poem, play, novel, or short story from
the course text or from an approved, appropriate alternative text. (All alternative texts must be
appropriate to the time span and countries covered by the course). Your essay should be
approximately 1200-1500 words in length and incorporate at least 5 scholarly critical sources to support
and develop your points.
Scholarly criticism is the study, unfolding, and explanation of a literary work. It is founded on
the assumption that the critic, through particular insight and careful consideration, has an
understanding of the text that might escape more casual readers. This understanding might relate to
the theme, the significance, or the construction of the work.
For the critical research paper, you need to focus on a particular work (or a very limited number
of unified works) by one of the authors in the text. I suggest that you select a work that intrigues you
rather than one that you immediately think you understand. Oftentimes, the works that surrender
themselves too easily to understanding leave little ground for the critic to work.
For a more specific guide on working through the writing process for critical essays, the
University of North Carolina offers a very useful website:
As you begin the research component of this essay, the Gale literary index will provide
selections of professional critics writing about your selected work. Read several essays to get a sense of
the topics that are considered central in the consideration of your work. You might use these
professional essays to inspire your own ideas, or to support your own views of the work, or even to
disagree with (because sometimes professional critics come up with some pretty crazy ideas). Certainly,
you should try to emulate the tone and language of these essays as you work on your own. If you want
to write like a critic, it’s a good idea to spend some time seeing how critics write. You will need to find
at least three critical essays to use as sources for your own paper.
When you gather your material, be sure to keep track of the information you will need to do
MLA citation. Since much of your material will probably be from electronic sources, you will need to
keep track of the database used in searching and the date of your research as well as the typical
information about the author, article title, journal title, date of publication, and page numbers. You will
need this information to cite the article whenever you use ideas or words from the outside sources.
Remember: If you don’t cite the source, it’s plagiarism. If you don’t cite the source, you’re not
making the research show. If you don’t show the research, it’s not a research paper.
Many of the disciplines in the humanities follow the standards set by the Modern Language
Association in order to document the research done in their scholarship. The MLA citation format is
fairly straightforward and consists of two principle components: the parenthetical citation and the
works cited page.
When you take data, ideas, or words from another text and use them in your own writing, you
give credit to the original source by noting the source in parentheses. Normally all you need to note is
the name of the author and the exact page number from which you borrowed.
Ex. The problem with tribbles is that they eat up to five times their body mass every day
Ex. The duck-billed platypus is sometimes considered to be “evolution’s little off-color
joke” (Kelley 406).
Note that the citation goes before the period.
The parenthetical citation points the reader to the works cited page at the end of your
document. It is the last page of your text. The works cited page lists the bibliographic information for
each source that you use in your text.
The proper format for the most common sources can be found in the help-sheet available at
http://lib-serv.tccd.edu/selib/Sites/workscited2003.html. Another useful guide can be found at
http://www.lib.unc.edu/instruct/citations/mla/index.html. Of course, once you’re there, you’ll discover
the citation builder, which will make your life much easier than it should be. If you have your source in
hand, http://www.lib.unc.edu/house/citationbuilder/ will format the works cited entry for you.