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Reading and Writing Assignment 9
Review of History & Literature (Subject Overview Essay)
Assignment 9 (30% of your final Grade)
For this Assignment (one of three major papers for this course) is linked to the research you will conduct on your chosen topic for Assignment 10: you will write an overview of the existing scholarship on it. This kind of overview, usually called "a review of literature," or less formally, a "lit review," is an important part of any substantive academic project. This assignment gives you an opportunity to learn more about the library and online databases so that you will be comfortable using these resources throughout your academic career. It will also give you practice at producing academic prose; in particular, this paper requires you to improve your ability to integrate source materials––through summary, paraphrase and direct quotations––into a discussion of a topic. This skill will be invaluable as you take more advanced coursework in college.
The mode of this paper will be similar to the "Narrative Bibliography" you read for Reading and Writing Assignment 1 and wrote for Assignment 6. It should be more formal in style than your previous attempt for Assignment 6, however; though you may use the first-person pronouns "I" and "we," you should frame your discussion as an overview of existing published work rather than as an account of your own journey through the topic.
After conducting preliminary research on the topic you have chosen for your final paper for this course (a step required for Assignment 8), you will discuss what you've learned about the available research. You will start the writing process by taking good notes on what you read and then doing some basic free writing. What elements of your sources are worth discussing? For each source, consider the following:
- The argument an author makes, the trajectory of the author’s argument and/or the structure of a study (introductory matter? Specific chapters?);
- The various kinds of research a study includes: what kinds of information does it cover? where does the information come from? how does a scholar support his or her claims?
After writing about these aspects of your source material, you develop a working thesis about the primary ways scholars have approached your topic, how their approaches or understanding has changed over time, how their work contributes to or differs from the way the same topic has been broached in non-academic sources, or some combination of these possibilities. Your claims in this paper should NOT lead to a thesis about the topic itself, but rather, the way scholars in specific fields (and other writers) have approached that topic in their research.
Towards this end, contemplate possible relationships amongst your sources.
- Does one source cite or invoke others you've read?
- Do any of your sources cover exactly the same things? What distinctions do you see in coverage/attention/areas of focus?
- Does one update the information in the other? How do they work together chronologically? See if you notice a particular trajectory that scholarship has followed over time, or whether specific events or discoveries have had impact on the way scholars treat a subject.
- Are there “new faces” that have surfaced in studies of the topic's history? (i.e., previously ignored groups or people)
If you don't see many overt connections amongst your sources, you can still focus on the various aspects of your topic that get covered in academic (and other) work: “Some scholars focus strictly on [x]; some discuss [y]. Others focus on [z]. Those who focus on [z] offer diverse perspectives. Collectively, they demonstrate the range of responses engendered by [topic].”
Finally, you'll need to conclude your paper with some thoughts on how you will enter into the discussion. What questions do your sources raise or leave open for your consideration? How might you bring the questions and answers your sources offer to bear locally, for our campus, your major, or other communities in which you are a participant? The most sophisticated responses to this assignment will examine sources and questions to explore in light of Stasis Theory (which we'll be discussing in class on Monday October 26), determining which kinds of stases are at issue in the scholarship of others or which ones will be relevant for your own approach to the topic.
Requirements and Tips
Your final draft of this assignment will be 5-6 pages long and should address several of the following questions: What aspects of the topic (and its critical history) have scholars explored and addressed? What particular arguments do these scholars make about the topic? What conversations and debates seem to be taking place, or have taken place, over time? What does this scholarship teach us about your topic? Of course, you shouldn't answer each of these questions one by one in your paper--such a response will read more like a list than a discussion. Begin by freewriting about each question, and then work on organizing what you've read into a visual map or outline.
Your paper should discuss at least four academic sources and at least one public source (newspapers or blogs or anything you find online that you believe is credible and appropriate). Ideally, you will cover a variety of academic sources, including books and articles, older sources as well as more recent ones (1990 and later). Your academic sources must be refereed academic sources obtained from Hofstra’s library databases. You may not use an encyclopedia (neither on-line nor print) as a major source of information in your paper, but feel free to begin your research process with one.
You should conceive of your audience as a community of academic readers; you are writing for the Hofstra community at large, which includes me and members of our course as well as other students, professors, and staff members. This audience will expect a tone and style that are formal and your sources should be credible to critical readers.
In Assignment 10, you will be writing more specific arguments about this topic; here, in Assignment 9, you are providing yourself and your readers with a sense of the scholarly landscape and laying the foundation that will lead to a deeper understanding and the ability to make and understand more sophisticated claims about it in your next paper.
EXAMPLES: Here are some Literature Reviews/Scholarship Overviews in the wild:
Primary Objectives for this Assignment
- To learn strategies for conducting academic research;
- To gain experience using the university's library resources;
- To gain practice reading academic scholarship;
- To build a foundation upon which a final paper in the class will be based;
- To teach your classmates historical/cultural information that will enhance their understanding of the literary works we will read in the class;
- To learn material that you will share with your classmates;
- To improve your ability to discuss source materials in writing;
- To develop your skill at summarizing and paraphrasing;
- To improve your ability to introduce and comment on quotations;
- To develop your skill and efficiency at crafting smooth transitions between ideas and paragraphs;
- To review and apply the basic tenets of MLA documentation;
- To produce clean, clear, academic prose that is as free of grammatical and mechanical errors as possible.