|For additional advice on writing evaluative essays, see the digital handout in the Principles of Composition section of The Guide to Grammar and Writing. That handout contains a complete student essay on a poem and there are hyperlinks to other sample essays. For questions about subjectivity, telling right from wrong in a paper on literary topics, see "Discerning Right from Wrong in the Garden of Literature."|
The titles of plays, novels, magazines, newspapers, journals (things that can stand by themselves) are underlined or italicized. Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye don't seem to have much in common at first. If you're using a word processor or you have a fancy typewriter, use italics, but do not use both underlines and italics. (Some instructors have adopted rules about using italics that go back to a time when italics on a word processor could be hard to read, so you should ask your instructor if you can use italics. Underlines are always correct.) The titles of poems, short stories, and articles (things that do not generally stand by themselves) require quotation marks. Robert Frost's "Design" and Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" are compared in an important article, "Comparing Frost to Carver," which appeared in The Literary Hegemony.
Double-space all typing! When quoting, quote exactly!
In the United States, the usual practice is to place periods and commas inside quotation marks, regardless of logic. (This practice actually goes back to a time when a little period or comma coming after a quotation mark might actually break off from the rest of the lead type.) Other end-marksquestions marks, exclamation marks, semicolons, and colonsgo where logic would dictate. Thus, we might see the following sentence in a paper about Robert Frost: The first two lines of this stanza, "My little horse must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near," remind us of a nursery rhyme. (Note, also, the slash mark / with a space on either side used to denote the poem's line-break.) But observe the placement of the semicolon in the following sentence: There is a hint of the nursery rhyme in the line "My little horse must think it queer"; however, the poem then quickly turns darkly serious.
If you can write an entire essay on literature without using the first-person singular I, that's fine; it is to be commended. However, it is not the end of the world if the first-person singular enters your prose, and it might, in fact, be a breath of fresh air, a sign that this writer is taking responsibility for what he or she is claiming to be true. In papers written for the humanities, some instructors will more readily approve of the "journalistic we" (sometimes called the royal plural): We hear in these lines an echo of Frost's "Design." Be consistent. Generally, the more objective your paper sounds, the better, and it would be a good idea to confer with your instructor before using first-person, especially the first-person singular, in your paper.
Quotations that constitute fewer than five lines in your paper should be set off with quotation marks [ ] and be incorporated within the normal flow of your text. For material exceeding that length, omit the quotation marks and indent the quoted language one inch from your left-hand margin. If an indented quotation is taken entirely from one paragraph, the first line should be even with all the other lines in that quotation; however, if an indented quotation comes from two or more paragraphs, indent the first line of each paragraph an additional quarter-inch from the left-hand margin).
If quotation marks appear within the text of a quotation that already has the usual double-quote marks [ ] around it (a quote-within-a-quote), set off that inner quotation with single-quote marks [ ]. A quote-within-a-quote within an indented quotation is marked with double-quote marks.
When quoting from a poem and using fewer than five lines, use slash marks ( / ) to indicate line breaks and incorporate the lines within the flow of your text. In the lines "My little horse must think it queer / To stop without a farmhouse near," Frost creates a tone that reminds us of nursery rhymes. However, when using more than four lines, indent the lines, use the poet's own line breaks, and do not use quotation marks. (This rule is flexible and its application depends on the length of the lines involved and how important the exact shape of the poem is to your discussion.) When indenting the poem's lines, use the poet's own arrangement of lines as accurately as possible, including indents and the relative size of those indents. If, because of the length of the poet's lines and the width of your paper, you are forced to impose line breaks where the poet had none, be judicious about the point where you impose these breaks. Try to avoid orphan lines (single-word lines), and be consistent about the indent given (about half an inch will do) to the lines you have added.
If you quote dialogue between two or more characters in a play, set the quotation off from the text. Begin each part of the dialogue with the appropriate character's name indented one inch from the left margin and written in all CAPS. Indent all subsequent lines in that character's speech an additional quarter-inch.
Write about literature in the present tense unless logic demands that you do otherwise. (Even though a story is written in the past tense, we say that the main character writes to her brother because she thinks she knows something important. Even though Robert Frost is long gone, we say that Frost suggests or uses or says. And in his poems, we say that a phrase or word suggests or means or implies something (all present tense verbs). However, Frost moved his family to England and he died in 1963, etc.)
Do not depend on judgmental language (words such as "beautiful," "interesting," "great," "wonderful"). In showing us how something works, you imply your enthusiasm; in showing us how something doesn't work or it might have worked better, you've gone far enough. Biographical information (about the artist whose work is being discussed) can be interesting; however, for most brief papers designed to demonstrate a critical understanding of literature, the author's life remains a relatively minor consideration and remarks about his or her biography can often be omitted altogether. Consult your instructor on this matter if you have questions about it.
When discussing what the speaker or narrator of a poem or story says or does, refer to that person as "the speaker" or "the narrator" or "the voice of the poem (or story)" and don't assume that the narrator or voice of the poem or story represents the author himself or herself.
Do not forget that all essays require an introduction, and do not forget to tell your reader the title of the piece under discussion and who wrote it, even if that information is in the title of your essay.
In the section called "Evaluative Essays," there is a full-length essay on the poem "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, along with some advice on how to write such a paper and links to other essays on literature. There is also an Archive of Students' Sample Papers maintained by the Capital Library where you can read model papers written by Capital students. We recommend that archive for students who would like to see what has been successful in the past, but we caution students that the best source of advice for what is supposed to go into a paper is the instructor.
Refer to Capital Community College's Guide to Writing Research Papers for help with documentation making sure your readers know what material has helped you in your understanding and writing, and where they can find material that you found useful. Remember, also, that using the language or ideas of someone else and representing that language or those ideas as your own plagiarism is a serious academic offense. For further help in research, consult your instructor and the library staff.
Students are also referred to the following online resources: