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Paper III

Thus far, the papers for this course have focused on close analysis of primary textual sources. Close reading and analysis is the foundation of all good writing, but there are plenty of questions that can’t be answered solely with evidence drawn from a single text. For Paper III, you will identify an essay from The Fire This Time that requires some contextual information drawn from outside the text in order to be fully understood. You will combine analysis of the essay itself with research into the scene’s context and analysis of the secondary sources your research turns up. Your goal is to show your reader how the addition of specific contextual information (historical, biographical or cultural) enhances, complicates, changes or disrupts our understanding of the essay.

Writing your paper in 9 easy steps

Choose an essay and identify a question

Pick an essay that needs some added context to thoroughly understand. Are there references to people, places or historical or cultural contexts that you think would influence your understanding of the essay? Which essay left you wishing you knew something that you didn't? Did an essay give you the impression that you were missing something?

Once you've chosen the essay, write down the question or questions that you are currently unable to answer because you lack some important information. These are your research questions.

Analyze the essay

Before you get too deep into the context, take a moment and do a thorough analysis of the essay. Make sure you’ve noticed as many details as you can, and that you have a good sense of how the essay works on the level of language, structure and rhetoric. If you were going to write an analysis of this essay, as you did in Paper I, what would your thesis be? Write that thesis down.

Research the question

It's time to find the answer to your question. Complete the following steps to identify one or two sources that effectively answer your research question:

Return to your analysis

Once you have a compelling answer to your research question, it's time to think about how that answer changes, enhances or complicates your analysis of the essay. Your goal in this paper is to make an argument about how the context you have identified is useful in analyzing the essay. Now is the time to identify what your argument will be. Consider the following questions:

By the end of this process, you should have a general idea of what your paper will argue and why it is important or interesting to your reader.

Plan your paper

At this point, you’ll want to think carefully about how best to structure your paper. Questions you should consider include:

Aim to let the needs of your particular argument guide the organization of your paper.

Write your paper

Use your notes and your conclusions about the best structure for your argument to guide you as you get your ideas all out onto the page.

Look back at the beginning and the end

You probably had a thesis in mind when you started writing, but once you’ve drafted your paper, take some time and re-visit that thesis. Is your initial thesis actually what you ended up writing about? Often, your argument changes—sometimes substantially—as you work through your analysis. If that’s the case, re-write your thesis to reflect your new argument. Use your conclusion to remind your reader why your argument is important: that is, how does your thesis help your reader better understand the scene.

Check your documentation

Are you using in-text citations to make it clear where each quotation or piece of information comes from? Do you clearly attribute everything from your sources in the body of the paper? Does your works cited list identify all of the important information about each source in the order indicated by the MLA?

Reflect on your source or sources

Write a 500-word reflection on the source or sources you used in your paper. The reflection should be a separate section (that is, it does not need to be integrated into the rest of your paper). As such, it should be organized with a brief introduction, a body paragraph (or two), and a brief conclusion. Your reflection should answer the following questions:

Evaluation and submission instructions

Who your paper should address

Your audience for this paper should be a hypothetical classmate who has attended class and done the reading, but has not been overly studious or attentive. This classmate will definitely notice if you make an obvious claim, but there is also room to teach her something new about the readings and concepts from class. Your classmate does not need full, detailed summaries of the readings, because she has already read them, but she does need concise reminders to help locate herself in the text and to remind her of what the important points were.

What your paper should do

Peer review and submission instructions

Your paper should be submitted for peer review by class time on Monday, 11/5. You should upload your paper to the "Paper III Peer Review" folder in the class Box folder. After class on Monday, you will follow the peer review instructions to review your classmates' papers. We will discuss peer revew feedback in class on Wednesday, 11/7.

After our peer-review session, you should revise your paper according to your classmates' feedback and upload it to the "Paper III" folder on Sakai by class time on Friday, 11/9.


Paper III is worth 15 points. Two of those points are allocated to peer review, one for submitting a completed draft by the appointed time, and another for providing feedback on your classmates' papers. The final paper will be graded on the 13-point scale; for more details on that scale, consult the grading scale.


While you may continue to revise your paper throughout the term, your initial revision must be submitted to me by Monday, 11/26 in order to be eligible for further revision. This policy is both to help you keep up with the many writing dates, and to help me comment on and return papers to you in a timely fashion.