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I wrote a contrafactum to rhythm changes today. Or I should say that one just occurred to the fingers of my right hand as I was playing, aft...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Nuts & Bolts

The writing philosophy below dates from 2002, and I still agree with most of it. All of it really, but today I would add other things and de-emphasize some points.

I also have a document on "Nuts & Bolts of Analytical Papers." It is oriented toward the mechanics of writing about poetry, how to organize a paper on this subject, but it also has lessons for other types of papers. I am too lazy right now to type it all out for you, but maybe I will later.

How would you write a paper / article on a novel, for example?

The introduction would have to include the following: a contextual framing of the novel. Who wrote it, when and where, why it is significant. What the novel is about. Where it takes place, who narrates it, what the central conflict is.

What the critical problems are that need to be resolved. What some other critics have done with the novel and how relevant that is to the approach being taken here.

A thesis statement, defining the approach taken here. If you have an excellent thesis, chances are you have an excellent paper.

Body of the paper.
Don't summarize the plot. Every high-school student knows this, but not every dissertation writer does. But... you can use the plot as an organizing principle for the body of the paper. In other words, you can talk about events in the novel in chronological order, and organize your substantive points like beads on thread. By the end of the paper, the reader will know what happens in the novel, even though you have never done a deadly "plot summary."

You will also typically be using quotes from the novel in a similar way. In my document about analyzing poetry, I point out that you should never have a long quotation from a literary work without commenting on it. There should be a certain proportionality between the quotes and the amount of analysis. If you have nothing to say about a quote, why are you quoting it?

Quotes from other critics follow a similar logic. If most of your paper is a response to other critics, your own perspective will be lost. You won't have a "critical voice." You can't let the other critics do your work for you. On the other hand, you have to maintain a dialogue with what these critics have said. That means comparing your ideas to theirs.

Typically, you will want to make three or four main points about the novel. The body of the paper will be about sixteen pages, so you can think o the paper as 3-4 pages of intro, 3-4 pages for each main section of analysis, and 1-2 pages of conclusion.

The conclusion is typically shorter than the introduction, because the tasks it requires are fewer. You don't have to explain what the novel is about, who wrote it. It should not repeat verbatim the contents of the introduction, but rephrase the thesis in relation to the evidence presented in the 3-4 / 3-4 page sections. Don't summarize, but rather explain, extend. The classical conclusion also suggests something already not in the thesis. It reveals the significant implications of what has been accomplished. Something like: if this is true about Galdos's Desheredada, then we will also have to re-evaluate our entire understanding of....

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