English 4405 seminar paper

Write an analytical or argumentative essay on a topic of your own choosing, focusing narrowly on one or more of the specific works we've read so far this semester. For the poets, you may focus on a single poem in depth, or on a small handful of poems (no more than four or five at most).

  • 6-8 pages in length, 1800 words minimum, 2250 words maximum (in the body of the essay, excluding headers, name, date, title, works cited entries, etc.)

  • MLA formatting as outlined on my "simple stuff" web page

  • minimum ten quotations from the work(s) you examine—you may certainly offer more

  • Incorporate some research into the paper, offering quotations from at least four secondary sources of legitimate scholarly criticism or commentary on the work(s) you examine ("legitimate" meaning scholarly sources, so items from the popular press, encyclopedias, and study aids such as Cliff's Notes, SparkNotes, Master Plots, etc., are not acceptable). You should most emphatically not consult any open-access world wide web pages outside of our course materials while preparing your paper. For access to many scholarly articles and other materials in full-text electronic form, see the MGA Library website.

  • MLA-style documentation of quotations and other source material as outlined on my "quotations" page.

  • As a graded assignment, construct a paper proposal in the form of a topic sentence outline just as with the first paper, beginning with the question your essay will strive to answer, followed by each body paragraph's complete topic sentence as it will appear in the essay itself, and ending with a thesis statement that a) answers the question you are addressing, and b) ties together the primary points in your topic sentences. The question you raise for this outline should be a literal question—an interrogative sentence ending in a question mark, not merely a statement of what your topic is. You may send your topic sentence outline in the body of an email message—that is, it’s not necessary to send the outline as an attachment. For full explanation of a topic sentence outline, including examples, see the paper proposal assignment page.

  • The real challenge here will be to arrive at a viable topic, one worthy of exploration in a senior-level college English course. See especially the first item below (excerpted from "2000-4000 grades and grading criteria" at chipspage.com). 

    Feel free to take any matters from our discussions and critical responses as a starting point for greater development in this paper. You may also consider points of connection or comparison between different works we've read this semester.

    Feel free, of course, also, to email me or telephone if you want guidance in arriving at a topic for exploration. The starting point would be to set up a literal question such as you will need to begin the paper proposal. Let me know if you struggle in thinking of a viable topic!

  • A few sample topics:

    • Show how any three or four of the poems we read by Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Shelley, or John Keats fit into "the Romantic tradition." Naturally, you will need to define the Romantic tradition (or Romanticism).

    • Compare and contrast the views of nature between any two of these four: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Percy Shelley, and Mary Shelley. Focus only on works included in our syllabus.

    • Discuss Mary Shelley's portrayal of isolation and/or alienation in Frankenstein: consider both the causes and consequences of isolation and/or alienation in the novel.

    • Analyze Mary Shelley's portrayal of sexual matters, or sexuality, or matters related to sex (including asexuality or antisexuality), in Frankenstein.

    • Discuss autobiographical elements in Frankenstein (this topic, obviously, requires preparatory research).

    • Discuss Keats's views on poetry, or art more generally, in four or five poems.

    • Compare Keats's and Shelley's views of poetry, or art more generally, in two or three poems by each.

  • From " Matters of course: the bedrock basics" (from chipspage.com, "2000-4000 grades"):

    In order to receive a passing grade:

    • An essay must first and foremost address a viable topic, meaning that if you are given a specific assignment for the essay, your paper must address the assigned topic squarely, directly, and fully. In the absence of a specific assigned topic, the essay must set up and address a topic genuinely worthy of exploration at the college level. . . . Here's one quick illustration: a beautifully written paper proving that Hester Prynne is treated harshly in The Scarlet Letter for her sin of adultery would receive a quick F because the point is too obvious to need elaboration: any reader of the novel would know that Hester is treated harshly simply from reading the book. Your essay should develop a thesis that will enlighten your readers: you should present and develop significant argument or analysis that goes beyond simply stating the obvious.

    • Secondly, every essay must meet all specified assignment requirements. For instance, if an assignment stipulates that you must incorporate a personal anecdote from your own life and you do not include one, your essay has no chance of passing however brilliant it may be in other respects. Or if you are asked to incorporate quotations from four sources and you cite only two? No chance to pass.

blue bulletAs always, feel free to contact me by email or telephone for help. I particularly encourage you to seek my help with your paper outside of class. If my office hours don't mesh with your schedule, let me know, and we'll make other arrangements.


  • Offer concrete evidence (i.e. quotations) to support every one of your major assertions.
  • Make every body ¶'s topic sentence answer the paper proposal question directly.
  • Avoid plot summary: see nugget 1; introduce all quotes: see nugget 3.
  • Sweat the details: see the "Golden Rules," "Nuggets," "Simple Stuff," and "Quotations" pages and proofread carefully.
  • Email me if you have questions.