Requirements for Student Term Papers

My Objective
Basic Requirements
Possible Topics and Methods
Preparing and Organizing the Paper

Essential Mechanics

My Objective: My reason for  requiring term papers is to encourage students to develop their understanding and appreciation of:


Basic Requirements: Because I believe that literature can be interpreted in a number of different ways, I allow students the choice of topic and method.  I shall say more about these options in a little bit but first I must emphasize that, regardless of the topic and method, students must comply with the following requirements:

To facilitate compliance with these requirements, students must inform and obtain approval from the instructor, no later than the week preceding the paper’s due date, of their proposed topic and methodology.

Possible Topics and Methods: Many students choose to write analyses of character, plot, historical background, or literary convention.  Others, however, prefer to create their own myths or to change or expand the myths we have read.  Still others have composed songs which they record or sing--with instrumental accompaniment--for the class.  While these students focus on verbal interpretations, others have employed media that emphasize visual interpretations.  In all cases, however, students must write a paper that complies with the criteria specified in the preceding paragraph.  The number of typed pages of text may differ according to the method of interpretation.  Thus the standard requirement, as specified on the syllabus, is for five to seven typed pages; fewer, at least three typed pages, are required to accompany and explain a visual interpretation.

 Literary Analyses: The following titles indicate the different types of analyses students have undertaken in recent papers: "Parallels in Classical Cosmogonies," "Medusa: Myths and Legends," "An Analysis of the Mother/Daughter Relationship in the Hymn to Demeter," "Hermes and Apollo: Bickering Brothers," "Ancient Greek Athletics," "Utility and Imperative," "Was Justice Served?"
 New or Revised Myths: Some recent papers include the following titles: "Pyramus and Thisbe: A Tale of Internet Romance," "Hestia Loves: A Myth for modern Love," "Demeter's Struggle for her Daughter" (a play set in twentieth century Greece), "Hymn to Pisces" (related to themes in the Homeric Hymns, "Ioan and the Land of the Midnight Sun" (related to themes in the Theogony, Homeric Hymns and Pindaric epinician)
 Visuals: These include paintings, sculpture, videos and class-room performances; web pages.  Click here for some information about previous students' projects

Preparing and Organizing the Paper: Specifying your approach; Writing the first paragraph; Accumulating Supporting evidence; Structuring your argument; Determining closure.

Specifying your approach: Once you have decided on your topic, you must specify how you want to interpret this topic.  For example, you may decide to write about the Greek god Zeus, ruler of heaven and earth, father of gods and mortals.  Zeus is your topic.  What will you write about him?  Will you describe how he provides an example of political leadership and deserves--or does not so act and does not deserve--to be the king of gods
and mortals?  Will you discuss how he acts as a father, a husband, a son or sibling--who sets an example to be followed or avoided?  Or, how does the representation of him in literature parallel or differ from artistic in sculpture or painting?  Notice that you are not just going to be writing about Zeus.  You will be writing about a particular way by which you will analyze and evaluate the literary representation.  It might be useful for you to think of this selection as your thesis. Whatever you name this step, make sure that you hone your focus so the paper will be clear and unambiguous.

Writing the first paragraph: When you write your first paragraph, you will need to indicate to the reader what you intend to write about in this paper and why this deserves to be read.  There are different ways to write a first paragraph.  I like to find specified at the beginning of a paper the following information:

Although some writers may know from the beginning exactly what they plan to say and how they will say it, others (and this will be the majority) may find it beneficial to consider their first writing of the first paragraph as a preliminary draft.  Set down here your starting ideas.  Return to and rewrite your beginning after you have ascertained all the material you will refer to and how you think this material can be presented most effectively for your purposes.

Accumulating supporting evidence: Once you have decided on what you want to write about  and the approach you intend to take, you must locate specific examples--from the course or other literature--that serve as evidence to support your interpretation and help you develop your ideas.  Don’t rely on your memory but read the literature over again. Jot down words or sections that strike your attention.  Note the page or line numbers
where they occur--this will save you time later when you have to put in footnotes or citations.  Read other sources as well if they seem relevant.  Note how different authorities support your interpretation.  If something seems to contradict your original thoughts, mark that down as well.  You may want to refer later to this information or opinion.  You may decide to modify your evaluation or to argue against this source, and thereby strengthen, your line of argument.  Remember that while ideas are important in order to make sense of the details that make up the literature,  the details are necessary as evidence to validate the applicability of the ideas.

Structuring your argument: As you accumulate information and develop different ideas, you must decide how you want to organize your material.  Start to coordinate and subordinate references to the literature, observations by other authorities, your thoughts. Decide how you will direct the reader as you present your interpretation.  Determine the order in which you will articulate your ideas.  Consider appropriate transitional words or sentences for bridging the sections as you move from one point of discussion to the next.  Make a list of the different points you want to bring up and the literature that supports or must be considered in evaluating that approach.
Can you make a paragraph out of each?  Is there overlap?  If so, can you coordinate (i.e., include in one paragraph one or more points of discussion)?  Or should you subordinate (i.e., show how one logically follows or leads to the next)?  Make sure that each paragraph focuses on a particular point of articulation or specifies the connections or contrasts between different evidence or points of view.  Specify the reason(s) why you see connection or contrast.
Regardless of how you structure your presentation, help your reader appreciate the strength of your interpretation.  Support each point of discussion with relevant information.  Clarify connections between one point and the next.  Each paragraph should be internally consistent and contribute to the paper’s logically articulated unity.

Determining closure:  For the conclusion of your paper you will want to suggest the completion of your narrative and to convince the reader of your thoroughness and significance of your presentation.   You have a number of options for effecting a sense of closure.  You may leave for the end the most decisive evidence or the seemingly most ineluctable point in your argument.  You may draw together the various strands in your narrative or argument in ways that have not been apparent before this.  Or, you may intimate how your work can lead to future connections and discoveries.  Whichever way you choose, take care so that the ending conveys a sense of appropriateness and (at least temporary) finality.  Even if you provide evidence or an interpretation that goes beyond what you had written earlier, you still must convey organic wholeness  and a connection with what you wrote earlier.  On the other hand, if you draw together or synthesize the materials discussed earlier, you should do this in a way that helps the reader see the material in a new way.  You want the reader to realize how what you have written makes sense and thereby to appreciate your perspicacity and ingenuity.

Mechanics:  Once you have constructed a coherent and convincing argument, you will want to ensure that your paper’s visual presentation, as well as its spelling, grammar, and punctuation, support your intellectual and creative efforts.  Make sure the text is legible. Provide ample (but not excessive) borders on each page so that the instructor can offer praise or suggestions for improvement.  Use your computer’s correcting tools.   Check yourself for what the computer might miss or not  question.  To avoid common editorial mistakes, keep in mind the following

You may have other resources that you find helpful for writing your papers.  If you would like to check some other sources, I suggest the following:  For general advice on Writing About Literature, read the handout from the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina, http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/.  Harvard University's Writing Center also has a number of useful pages, including their Tips on Grammar, Punctuation, and Style, http://www.fas.harvard.edu/wricntr/documents/GP.html