In general, papers should exhibit the 3 i’s and be informed, intelligent and imaginative. By informed I mean that they ought to be the end result of some real research, research that moves well beyond a simple google search. The sources used, that is to say, ought to be scholarly: peer-reviewed journals, serious documentary film, actual books, etc. Let me emphasize that WIKIPEDIA, as wonderful as that website can be, IS NOT a scholarly source while the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA is. Your best bet for solid academic articles: JSTOR and Project Muse.
“Intelligent” indicates an overall critical savvy regarding your chosen topic. The concepts introduced in class will be indispensable here. Rigorous student writing always goes beyond mere appreciation and approaches the object of study (a text, a practice, a value) slyly, establishing context, analyzing form and “reading” for ideological content. For example, in terms of HUM470 the goal of a final paper is not simply to marvel at the authenticity of the writer’s self-expression. We already know that the self itself is, in William Berry’s phrasing, a kind of secular soul– in other words an ideological investment, a construct, an effect of representation (signification) rather than something which precedes or lies outside of language. Distance yourself from your chosen text: flip it upside down, judge it from other angles, compare it with still other texts– above all read other criticism of it.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re bored writing your paper odds are I’ll be bored reading it. An excellent paper is one which departs from the staid and predictable “term paper” mode and evinces a meaningful, thoughtful critical-imaginative enagement with the text. Sit down and throw whatever comes into your head onto a piece of paper. Write down key terms and assigned texts, pull ideas from your class conversations, my lectures, and the blog. Jumble it up and see what sticks out.
Now consider Paul of Tarsus’ first letter to the Christians of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became [a college student], I put away childish things.” Let there be no doubt: papers ought to be not only intellectually thrilling but grammatically flawless. SFSU students have as a resource the LAC while SJSU students have access to the Writing Center. Be advised: due to the abandonment of CSU to market forces, hours have been cut. MAKE AN APPOINTMENT NOW, particularly if I have ever written the world “syntax” on any of your reading responses.
Finally, we need to talk about plagiarism, which has already reared its repulsive head this semester. We will be using turnitin.com in an effort to preclude cheating. Fair warning: a plagiarized final paper will mean an F for the semester.
Any questions? Please address them to this post in the comments section.