Short Papers
Overview: Answer the question provided in the assignment instructions on canvas in at least 500
words (approximately two double-spaced pages).
The purpose of these short analysis papers is threefold:
• To get you in the practice of close reading: engaging with a text, asking questions as you
read, and then looking closely at the language and details of the text in order to answer or
complicate those questions. Productive questions lead to productive, creative, original
interpretations of literary texts – and to sharper critical thinking skills.
• To expand on your group discussions of our texts and generate further interpretation
and analysis through writing.
• To articulate your creative and critical thinking about a literary text through well-crafted
analytical writing.
• Your paper should be guided by a central thesis, claim, or, in most cases, your
answer to the question in the prompt. This claim should ideally be the first sentence in
the paper. This may not be your style, so I invite you to depart from it. However, if you
have little experience with writing, or if you would like to try something different for the
sake of learning, I strongly recommend adopting this structure. It forces you to focus on
your claim and defend it throughout the piece. Moreover, it is best if you write down your
ideas first, summarize what you’ve said, and then revise the piece so that your “summary”
becomes your claim. It is not necessary to know exactly what you’ll say from the outset,
but only to refashion your thesis so that it reflects what you do, in fact, argue. Again, the
point is that you are working on coherence, organization, and focus.
• Avoid overly broad claims or questions that you cannot reasonably defend or answer
within a 2-page paper.
§ Example of an overly broad claim: “Shakespeare’s Sonnets focus on the
themes of loyalty and friendship.”
§ Example of an appropriately narrow
claim: “Shakespeare’s Sonnets experiment with conventional ideas about
friendship to represent feelings of sexual desire between two men.”
§ Example of an appropriately narrow question: “What is the nature of
the friendship between the young man and the speaker of
Shakespeare’s Sonnets? Is the representation of their friendship
conventional in some ways and not others?”
• Put this claim near the beginning of the paper. It is hard to develop a claim that you
don’t make until the end. If, as you draft, you find your main idea is best expressed in the
conclusion, then move that claim to the opening.
• Develop your response using specific textual evidence. The body of your paper should
consist of 2-3 paragraphs that develop and support your initial claim or question. Body
paragraphs must center upon your effective use of a few specific examples (quoted lines)
from the text. Always follow up with a close-reading of these lines, using careful
analysis of the language to show how it supports your claim or helps you find an answer
to your question. All of your paragraphs should contain one or
more warrants, explanations of how your close reading supports your main claim.
• The bulk of your argument must come from your close reading of specific
passages. It is fine to summarize for the reader’s understanding, and to show a pattern in
the play, but do not generalize about the plays themes. Instead, ground your answers in
the language of the play itself.
• The piece must be well written. Good writing requires more discipline than talent.
There is a lot of romanticizing of writing in our culture that confuses students about
whether they can become good writers. Good writing is clear writing. It is well-organized
ideas that are free of distracting errors and are sufficiently explained. You will produce
good writing by writing your ideas down, confirming by re-reading the text that your
analysis is accurate, and then reassembling your sentences into something that another
person could understand. It is helpful if you imagine your work being read by an
uninformed person. Make it a piece someone could read before picking up one of the
plays to help them understand the material better.
• Please use MLA style when citing sources. For these papers, you are not required to
use outside sources, but you should still use parenthetical citations when citing from texts
and include a Works Cited. Questions about citing sources? First consult this MLA
GuideLinks to an external site., then see me with additional questions.
• Further questions about how to avoid plagiarism and use sources correctly? Workshop a
draft of your paper with me!
Questions I Will Ask as I Grade Your Papers:
• Does the paper’s introduction articulate a clear thesis or question that sets up the analysis
that follows?
• Does the body of the paper support the thesis with thoughtful explanation and
interpretation of supporting details and direct evidence (i.e. quotations) from the text?
• Would an uninformed reader be able to follow the writer’s explanations and reasoning?
That is, would someone who hasn’t read the play learn something by reading this
• Is the paper free of distracting grammatical and mechanical errors? Are sources cited
• 1″ margins
• Times New Roman 12-point font
• Double-spaced
• MLA heading & header
• Academic-essay length paragraphs (at least 8 sentences)
• Proofread