How do I get started on a literary research paper?In my Latin America class we have a choice to do our literary research paper (It's either on In the Time of Butterflies or The Brief wondrous of...

How do I get started on a literary research paper?

In my Latin America class we have a choice to do our literary research paper (It's either on In the Time of Butterflies or The Brief wondrous of Oscar Wao)....(by the way I am in college)

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In writing a literary research paper, the critical element would be to generate as much evidence as possible in the early stages.  The web can be quite helpful in this process.  Finding sites and sources as often as possible, for example here on enotes, and then branching out to explore sources on your own will give you a broad enough field from which to begin the process of revision.  The next step would be to carve out your topic area and then your thesis statement. In these processes, you will be able to eliminate evidence which doesn't help you, highlight and note the samples that do and, perhaps, conduct further research on the topic at hand.  The collection of sources as well as the development of the topic area and thesis statement becomes critical in the process of writing a literary research paper.

James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I just wrote and lost a long answer to your question! (That'll teach me to save my work as I go.)

Here's the gist of what I had suggested:

1. You can work from the bottom up by identifying a key passage in the novel that really captures what the work is about. Give that passage a very close reading, connect it to the work as a whole, and then look for critical statements that back you up or that challenge your reading.


2. You can work from the top down by reviewing as many critical statements on the novel as you can find and then developing your own position. A good part of your paper can be a focused and meaningful review of what critics have said about a particular aspect of the work.

Whatever you do, pick something you enjoy!

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wao has a lot of backup here on Enotes and even previous answers posted by other college folks can help you decide your main theme.

I always tell my students to get 10 key words, 10 references, 10 key names, and 10 key topics, and to list them down.

After you do that, match them together, but always start with your 10 keywords. It will slowly lead you to find the ultimate topic around which you can work.

Hope this helps!

epollock | Student

To get started on a research paper, clearly define your topic so you know what you will be writing about. Either think of ideas yourself, or obtain an idea or choices from your teacher. Then develop a plan for how you will spend the available time you have in creating your paper. You have to read sources and create a bibliography for your references. You will then have to create notes. Next, you will write a draft, edit the draft, and then create a finished product. It is like doing anything else. Start with the basics for any plan. map out what you have to do in the time that you have available for the plan and note when it is due. Stay positive, focused, and your paper should turn out well.

margaretlouise | Student

Very logistical advice: go to your college's library website and see if they have electronic databases like JSTOR, Project Muse, or the MLA.  These are extremely useful search engines that often have full-text articles.  You can search the title of the book you choose and you'll get a list of scholarly articles written on it; the MLA also lets you know if there are books or chapters of books that are about whatever your search term may be.

The benefit here is that these are very reputable, academic sources.  The web can really turn up a lot of junk, and it'll actually kind of hurt your paper if you're citing unreliable sources.

Good luck!