Eng 500: Introduction to the Profession

The Research Paper on A. S. Byatt's Possession

The following directions will lead you through the process of conceiving, proposing, composing, and presenting a mock "conference" paper on Byatt's novel and then submitting your work to me in the form of a finished journal article.


One of the most important ways in which new scholarship is disseminated is the conference paper.  Your term paper for ENG 500 will give you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the process of writing and delivering such an essay.  The first step in doing this is usually to respond to a "Call for Papers," an invitation, in the form of a more or less organized set of topics, sent out by conference organizers in the hope of generating a bunch of related papers that will benefit from being shared--the word for what is being sought, I suppose, is "synergy."  Our conference is dedicated to the study of A. S. Byatt's novel Possession, and your paper should relate the novel to some topic we have covered in class, which you will further research for the paper.

Some general topics as suggestions:

The Proposal

Once you have identified a focused topic of interest to you, write a proposal for the conference paper of approximately 500 words.  The proposal should be double-spaced, with your name, affiliation (Department of English, West Chester University), date, and title of paper in the upper-left hand corner.  Include a "Works Cited" list, if necessary.  The proposal will be due on Friday, November 12 and may be submitted in electronic form (preferrably through email).

The purpose of a scholarly proposal is twofold.  First, it should help the writer focus on a specific subject or topic to be investigated.  Second, it should serve as a basic guide to facilitate the writer's progress.

Your proposal should include the following components, though ideally it will be an integrated text, not a series of responses to the following prompts:

  1. Problem statement.  Clear brief description of the problem to be explored.
  2. Background.  Brief description of the sources and contexts relevant to the inquiry or interpretation.
  3. Significance.  How and why this inquiry might expand our understanding of the text under consideration and/or the context(s) in which it will be read.
  4. Tentative thesis.  State your hypothesis, your provisional answer to the interpretive problem you have identified.  Basically, set forth what you think you will argue.
  5. Development.  Explain how you intend to develop your argument: what sources (or kinds of sources) you intend to consult; what shape your argument might take.  Give your audience the impression (however shaky this may be in reality) that you know where you are going.

The Annotated Bibliography

You will next do the necessary research to construct an annotated bibliography of sources useful in writing your paper.  These sources may be literary criticism appropriate to the subject, works of theory that will guide you, historical scholarship relevant to your investigation, or anything else that will help you make your argument.  Study the excerpt from James Harner's
On Compiling an Annotated Bibliography (password required for access) that I have made available to you, but do note that Harner is specifically addressing the task of creating a comprehensive author bibliography, which is a more daunting task than yours of constructing a selected bibliography for a conference paper.

The entries should be made in MLA style, and there must be a minimum of ten sources (excluding the novel).  This bibliography is due on Wednesday, December 1, whether or not you are delivering your paper that evening.

Mock Conference Presentation

Your next use of your research on and analysis of Possession will be a "conference" paper delivered to the class.  After receiving all class members' topics, I will organize them into related "panels" of papers, which will be presented during our final two class meetings.  Everyone should strive to be ready to present on the first of the two nights, because circumstances may demand a last-minute shuffle of papers.

Plan for a twenty-minute presentation, which works out to be a ten-page paper (because no one can read out loud intelligibly at a rate greater than two minutes per page).  We will have a ten-minute Q&A session after each panel of two or three papers.  This is the time when audience and presenters get a chance to synthesize what they've heard and try to relate papers one to another, thus extending the conversation commenced with the papers themselves.  Hopefully, this discussion will reveal new insights and inspire the paper writers to develop their arguments yet further before turning in the term paper.

For some common-sense advice about presenting papers in academic settings, visit Jeff Radel's "Preparing an Oral Presentation."  This tutorial was written specifically with science presentations in mind, but most of its advice is applicable to presentations in the humanities as well.

The Term Paper

After delivering your paper to the class and possibly receiving some feedback in the form of questions and comments, you will develop and revise your paper further (to a length of 12-15 pages), turning it into a polished academic essay, which you might submit to a journal.  In fact, I will ask that you determine an appropriate journal for the prospective article and prepare your manuscript as if you were submitting it for publication.  Review and follow the directions in the MLA Style Manual section on placing a manuscript for a journal article (1.4),  being sure that the manuscript conforms to the style and format requested by the journal and that you include a cover letter.  You will, however, turn the prepared manuscript in to me rather than mailing it off to the journal.  This carefully-written, well-researched, cogently-argued piece of criticism is due on December 15, the date of our final exam.

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