How should I write an outline for a research paper on "The Chrysanthemums"?

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In literature courses, writing an essay based upon research has 3 main purposes:

  1. It teaches the student how to conduct literary research (i.e. how to find, evaluate, document, and cite literary sources)
  2. Its fosters an examination of literary resources such as criticisms that have been written on various works.
  3. It encourages the student to become a researcher by composing his/her own interpretation of texts by citing and countering other interpretations in order to create his/her own argument.

So, with respect to John Steinbeck's "The Chrysanthemums," the student will first want to do some research on the author himself because so often there is much of the author in his or her works. For instance, Steinbeck sets this story in his beloved Salinas Valley, and one of his biographers suggests that the character of Elisa Allen closely resembles Steinbeck's first wife, a very bright woman who gave up her career to follow her husband and, consequently, felt confined and frustrated in her marriage.

Secondly, the student will want to decide in which direction he/she wishes to analyze the short story. For instance, if the character of Elisa is of interest, then the student will want to search for literary criticisms with character analysis in mind. At any rate, the best way to find literary sources is to use the suthor's name and the story's title to sort through the holdings of the library. One great resource is Contemporary Literary Criticisms which is located in the Reference section of libraries. Each volume has an index and directs the researcher to the appropriate one in which professional essays/criticisms are written. (If the student cannot decide upon a thesis, he/she can look through several such criticisms, and usually one or two essays will generate ideas for him/her.) Of course, there are many, many resources on the World Wide Web.

After finding sources, evaluating their usefulness is important [relevant, current, and reliable]. And, since the status of sources can change as the student becomes more knowledgeable about the topic, it is a good idea to prepare a preliminary "works cited" list. MLA is the appropriate style.


In writing an outline, it is important for the students to remember that they are the authors of the papers, although they will draw from professional criticisms, etc.

After organizing sources, the student should group note cards and use these groupings to develop the main topics in the outline.

Place the title of the paper above the ouline. Then begin, using Roman numerals.

I.  Introduction  This provides any pertinent background information and the thesis statement.

II. First main idea

     A. Sutopic

         1. Supporting ideas

         2. Supporting ideas....

 III. Second main idea....

[The student follows this pattern until the conclusion]

  VI. (use whatever number is next after main ideas) Conclusion

     The student's conclusions are drawn here (i.e. What idea does the writer want to leave with readers?) with a restatement of the thesis statement is made here.


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