Writing Links
Overview of Critical Writing
Guidelines for Critical Writing
To Previous Syllabus Unit
To Next Syllabus Unit
Back to AP Home



"Don't Let the Whiches Get You!"

The Research Paper

& A Survey of British Poetry

(second trimester, weeks three through nine)

Instructor: Jaimie Crawford

This unit is comprised of a survey of British poetry and nonfiction ranging from Renaissance through Victorian, but skipping a lot of the satire of the 18th century (an entire satire unit will be taught during the third trimester). Students will be introduced to critical theory and methods of reading poetry; they will be working towards completion of a comparison/contrast critical paper.
  • Time Allotment: Eight Weeks
  • Texts: Norton's English Literature, H&B's Reading for Writers, Orgel's Vocab List
  • Necessary Reading: RFW: “How to Write a Comp./Contrast” p. 455; “The Literary Paper” p. 730. Handbook of Grammar: You are responsible for reading ALL of the MLA section (and Chapter 33) of the Handbook of Grammar; be sure to note the section on plagiarism.
  • Unit Structure :
    Week Two: Overview of Literary Criticism;
    The Shakespearean Sonnet;
    thesis due
    Week Three: Renaissance; one page poem analysis due
    Week Four: 17th/18th Century; bibliography due
    Week Five: Romantics; outlines due (MLA style)
    Week Six: Romantics; library reports due
    Week Seven: Research Paper rough drafts due
    Week Eight: Victorians; peer grading;
    class interviews;
    paper presentations
    Week Nine: Second Drafts Due;
    final paper and Frontpage version due
    wrap up poetry unit; final test on poetry
  • Writing Assignments: every assignment (one per week) will work towards the final research paper.

*Due Fridays: Assignments are due on the Friday of the week they are posted. All must follow MLA style and be typed. Final paper should be a minimum of eight pages excluding title page and work cited.

*Vocabulary Requirement: Orgel Words 326-526: 25 words per week on vocab quiz each Friday.

*Writing Prerequisites:

*Writing Prerequisites:

a. clear thesis (read “The Thesis” by Sheridan Baker RFW p. 142)
b. logical organization (read “How to Write Clearly” RFW p. 142;

“WritingSuccessful Paragraphs“RFW p.234)
c. correct grammar (see Strunk and White Online)
d. sound sentence structure (see Strunk and White Online)
e. interest (read “How to Write Narration” RFW p. 270

“How to Write a Description” RFW p. 300)

*Essay Grading: AP rubric will be used whenever applicable.

  • Relating AP Essays: Students will take one three hour practice (60 mins of Multiple Choice and 3 40minute essays) exam during second trimester in preparation for the exam in May. They will have an additional three in class AP essays during this ten week unit.

Evaluation: 30%: AP Essays in Class; 30%: Research Paper Assignments; 20% Unit Test 10% Quizzes and Reading Comprehension; 10% Attitude and Participation

Overview of Critical Writing:

Critical Writing (Critical Review) is the ability to analyze and describe for the purpose of evaluation.
It requires an object on which to comment.

One method of critical review is by your own impression--describing first the work to be analyzed,
then writing about how the work affected you: your emotions, ideas, associations it aroused. This
method can be dangerous if a writer lacks sensitivity and control of purpose --then, a writer slips
away from the text altogether; the writing is a kind of gush, more about the author than the object.

The second method of critical review is objective analysis. This method will:

a) define elements of analysis,

b) describe elements,

c) identify relationship between elements

d) derive from this relationship the meaning of the work-it's “complex reaction to man or society or the

THE POEM unless he/she knows readers will be unfamiliar--this is known as “plot summary.”

Other dangers in critical review stem from emoting, providing a lack of textual support from the work,
or providing little grounding in the work's theme or central symbols. Of course, your own form, clarity,
and brevity will also count in the effectiveness of your critical review.

The Research Paper:
How to Get Started

1. Choose any two poems from your Norton Anthology or Readings for Writers (No two people may choose the same two poems--the poems must have similar themes or symbols--some solid ground on which to compare them.

2. Begin to ask yourself about the historical reference, type of poem, setting, structure, speaker, situation, language , imagery, and theme of each poem.

3. Find (and read) at least three critiques of each poem in preparation for the library report due. (At least one but no more than two source must be from the internet)

4. Read the Online Guide: General Guidelines



-Notes taken from Internet Guidelines for Critical Papers

Before considering specific elements of essay writing, consider this statement: most bad essays are the result of haste rather than shoddy thinking or poor writing skills. To write well, most people need time, time to plan, write, and edit. Therefore, you might ask if you will be writing an essay on a piece of literature before you begin reading it. Then, begin reading with pen or pencil in hand. As you read, make notes in your text about things which interest you and start thinking about good topics. Begin making more extensive notes the minute you finish reading. Find out as soon as you can when an essay is due. Then, try to complete a rough draft of your essay several days before that date if you wish to ask your instructor's opinion of the draft. In general, waiting until the last minute to write an essay is an open invitation to disaster.

Now, consider carefully these bits of advice before you begin writing.

1. Learn to distinguish between a report and a critical essay. In the former, one merely shows familiarity with a text by "telling what happened." In the latter, however, one analyzes something in an author's work. From this analysis, one draws conclusions about the work and tries to prove those conclusions are valid.

2. Learn to give evidence to support your conclusions. In literary criticism, the primary evidence comes from the text. By analyzing portions of the text, not merely quoting them, a writer avoids plot summary.

3. Learn to take pride in your work. Submit neat, clean copy and do your best to convince the reader your ideas are important.

Formulating a Thesis for the Paper:

1. When you finish reading a piece of literature, ask yourself these two simple questions:

"Did I like this story/novel/play/poem or not?"


When you begin answering the second question, you are thinking critically.

2. The minute you begin answering the question, begin organizing your thoughts.

Consider first how many ways one can organize ideas. Group your ideas and sift through them. Don't just begin typing or writing in ink without forethought. Even the most-advanced writer benefits from a bit of planning. The more inexperienced the writer, the greater the need for planning an essay.You will save time in the re-write stage in direct proportion to the time you put in up front.

Write down the major building blocks of the type of literature you're analyzing. Let's assume you're writing about poetry:




3. Try to devise a statement which could answer a question.

For example, suppose someone asked you, "Why is the poem a successful one? Your answer might be..." It successfully paints a picture of A, B, and C to derive a theme"

You've moved from a big topic (imagery) to a narrower topic (three major images), AND you've set up a cause-and-effect relationship the poem is successful because the images connect to a central theme. You can then analyze how the writer creates these images--where they come from, how they are related, how they communicate a theme.

Perhaps no single element of the above description is more important than the words cause-and-effect. Such a relationship between ideas allows you to take the relationship apart, analyze the pieces of it, analyze the way they intersect, and, in so doing, show a reader that you are knowledgeable about literature.

Remember: Put the words "cause-and-effect" into your head and don't forget them when you begin setting up a topic.

4. Be certain you've formulated a thesis based on a substantive critical issue.

For example, don't set out to prove a work of literature is good because it's "interesting" or "entertaining." Since entertaining the reader isn't a primary goal of the serious author, evaluating a work of literature on that criterion would be foolish.

5. If you'd like another approach to formulating a thesis, try the "A, B, C, D, E Game".

Take a sheet of paper and write those capital letters at even spaces down the left side of the page. Then, begin with E and imagine the simplest possible statement you could make about the work of literature you're setting out to analyze. For example, suppose you wrote:

E: I like Macbeth.

Now, move up one notch to D. You might write:

D: I like Macbeth because it's a good play.

Continue your way up the chain of the alphabet, dropping your reliance on first person and adding a degree of sophistication to the cause-and effect relationship at each level. You might write:

C: Macbeth is a successful play because of Shakespeare's careful structuring of the action.

With this step, you have a well-defined, cause-and-effect relationship and a truly literary topic, structure, to analyze. Where would you go from here? Well, you need to decide exactly what Shakespeare did with the structure of the play and why. Remember, if you're writing about theater, at some point you need to consider the audience. Shakespeare

certainly did as he was crafting the play, so you should, too. Therefore, you might write as your next step:

B: Shakespeare's careful structuring of Macbeth allows key moments in the action to have the most profound impact on the audience.

Finally, you need to select your examples from the text to illustrate your thesis.

A: Shakespeare's careful structuring of Macbeth allows key moments in the action to have the most profound impact on the audience, a technique most apparent in his use of the Porter scene, Lennox's speech in Act III, scene vi, and the absence of Macbeth from most of Act IV to heighten the effects of other, more important moments.

In this essay, you would then analyze the manner in which

1. the Porter scene allows the audience to catch its breath between Macbeth's murder of Duncan and the discovery of the murder, thus heightening the impact of both those scenes.

2. Lennox's speech comes between the banquet scene, wherein Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost, and Macbeth's second encounter with the Witches, thus allowing the audience to relax after the banquet scene and anticipate the meeting with the Witches.

3. the absence of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth from almost all of Act IV makes their returns in Act V more dramatic.

Devising a Bibliography:

You must gather at least eight critical sources. Type them in MLA style and turn them in in the form of an annotated bibliography. Under each source tell me what kind of criticism it is (use the sample descriptions below), and summarize the author's argument.



Wentzl (CCWP 1987)

-Put together by Robert Simola: rsimola@calinet.com

Sociological Criticism

This type of criticism, considered quite traditional, can include discussions of society, of social relationships, and of historical events which might affect society.

In Sociological criticism, you should examine all types of politics--for example Marxism, feminism, totalitarianism, primitivism--not just conservatism and liberalism.Concentrate on how society in the various political "isms" distinguish between members of various races, social classes, sexes, or cultures.The sociological critic looks for themes of oppression and liberation; such themes may concern an individual, a family, a small group, or an entire society.

Below is a list of a few questions--but certainly not all that you might want to consider as sociological critics:

What does it say about North American society? what do individuals say? How does the opinion of the individuals differ from that of the author?

What does it say about primitive societies?

Who is actually "civilized" in the book?Who are the most primitive?

What different society groups are in the book?What is their relationship between each of them?How is it reflected?Why do they behave towards each other the way they do?How do the different groups affect the political "ism" in society?

How does this work comment on war, hunger, sex, religion, education?

What view of the family is given?Do the relationships of the family members change in the work?

How different is the society of the novel from our society? How similar is it?

How should the movie version of the work be filmed? Who should take the leading roles?Where should it be set?Should the costumes be in period?Give full details about "your" movie version.

Mythological/Archetypal Criticism

Mythological criticism deals with instinctual, deep chords in human nature that are touched by certain types of events, character situations, conflicts, etc. Based on communal beliefs, mythology is affiliated with religion, anthropology, and cultural history.

An archetype is a motif (theme) or image which is found in myths of peoples widely separated by time or place. Because of this, it has universal significance. Situations, conflicts, and characters can be archetypal.

For Mythological/Archetypal Criticism you might want to ask yourselves--among other questions--the following:

Are there any strong Communal Beliefs

1. Belief in Supreme Being(s) creator, judge, prime mover, religion, fate

2. Belief in power of nature

Mother Nature, natural disasters, magical places (holy wells, sacred rocks, etc.)

What images are used

1. Water: birth, death, resurrection; life cycle; eternity

2. Colours

red: blood; sacrifice; violence

green: hope, fertility; death, decay

black: the unknown; death; evil

blue: virginal, Mary

3. Numbers

three: spiritual unity; male

four: life cycle; four seasons; four elements; female

seven: powerful because it unites three and four; perfect

4. Garden: paradise; innocence; unspoiled beauty

5. Tree: immorality; inexhaustible life

What Motifs are used>

1. Creation

2. Immortality

3. Wise Old Man (Woman) [savior, guru]: appears when hero is desperate

4. Woman: birth, protection; witch, whore, danger

5. Hero archetypes

the quest: hero undertakes journey and performs impossible task to save his/her people

Initiation: hero undergoes ordeals to achieve maturity. phases: separation, transformation, and return

Sacrificial scapegoat: the hero must die to save his/her people


What archetypal situations, conflicts, and characters do you see?

Formalist Criticism

This type of criticism concerns itself with the parts of a text and how the parts fit together to make a whole. Because of this, it does not bring in any information outside of the text: biography of the author, historical or literary allusions, mythological patterns, or the psychoanalytical traits of the characters (except those traits specifically described in the text.)

The formalist critic examines each part of the text: the 46 chapters, the 15 parts, the characters, the settings, the tone, the point of view, the diction, the fictional world in which the characters live. After analyzing each part of the text, the critic then describes how they work together.

When exploring a work using Formalist Criticism, you will look at the parts, and then you will discuss the craft of putting these parts together. In preparing your paper, you might want to ask yourself--among many other questionsthe following:

  • Do you see each part (or chapter) as "a novel in miniature)?Does each chapter (part) describe only one major event?
  • How much time is devoted to each setting? Is the book evenly divided between the different settings, or is one setting given more space? Why would the author do this?
  • What point of view is used? Does this help or hinder the reader's understanding of the novel? Who do you think the author chose this point of view? Is the narrator reliable?
  • Imagine if the author chose another character to narrate the story; choose one character who might be a good narrator of the story. What would not get told? What would be told in greater detail? Would anything be changed? Would that character be a reliable narrator? Spend a few minutes rewriting a section of the text from another point of view. Discuss the implications and results.
  • How are the characters developed? How do you learn about them--through direct description, the narration of events, or another character's comments? Or is it a combination of methods? Is this effective? Why?
  • Does the fictional world mirror the actual world, or is it total fantasy? Could it happen? Why?
  • Are there too many coincidences? Are there recognizable links between causes and effects, or is there just a series of unrelated incidents?
  • Does the ending give you a sense of closure? What is the significance of the ending?
  • Is the title appropriate? Why or why not?
  • How do all these parts fit together? What devices does the author use to unite the parts into a whole?

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Since this type of criticism is based on Freudian principles, it is best explained by briefly discussing--and simplifying--some terminology used.

  • Oedipus complex: an attachment (usually in early childhood) of a boy to his mother. This is usually accompanied by hostility and aggression toward the father, for the father is seen as a rival. The Oedipus complex is to a boy's relationship toward his mother and father as the Electra complex is to a girl and her relationship toward her father and mother.
  • Aggressive phase: urges rebellion against those in authority. For the young, this authority may be the father; for the mature, it may be a boss, the police, a government official, etc. Because such aggressiveness must be controlled, it often causes a conflict between a person's desires and duty and can result in severe guilt. Therein often lies the main conflict in a novel.
  • Reaction formation: an undesirable attitude is suppressed and replaced by an extreme form of its opposite. Hate is replaced by love; cruelty, by gentleness; stubbornness, by compliance.
  • Denial: the refusal to admit an unpleasant reality.
  • Projection: attributing a desire or feeling to another person.
  • Psychic zones:

id: insistent, lustful, selfish, amoral, pleasure-seeking ego: rational; helps regulate the id, particularly in the individual's relation to his/her society and with its members

superego: the conscience

This approach, therefore, concentrates on basic human drives and the confusion they can produce. Psychoanalytic critics often see all imagery as having sexual implications, but this can narrow our interpretation of a text.

What truth(s) do each of the main characters have to endure? Do they indeed endure the truth? Or do they ignore it? Are their reactions true to their characters? If you were the characters would you react in the same way? Why?

If you had to be one character, which would you choose? Why?

Russian Formalism

Assumes "ordinary" language split

Ordinary language: practical acts of communication

Literary language: no practical use at all

What literature (especially poetry) does:

Makes us pay attention to language itself

Victor Shklovsky: "Defamiliarization"

Normal existence makes humans "automatons"

Art re-creates our awareness, renews perception

Overcomes dullness caused by habitual experience, response

Literature is where we go to be renewed

In literary works, elements are arranged in the foreground and background

Concept of "the dominant (Jakobson): the focusing component of a work

E.G., In Pope, the dominant is prose clarity

Whether a thing is "literary" or not depends on judgments of different societies and periods.

The dominant social class always says what "art" is


  • Central issue: relationship between.literature and society
  • All works ideologically determined: ideology determines the systems of representation which shape mental picture of experience
  • Literature is a production of a given ideology
  • The 'Frankfurt School' and Walter Benjamin:(Horkheimer, Adorno)...Literature the only place where totalitarian society can be resisted...Detachment gives significance and power...Popular art an expression of the economic system which shapes it..."Serious" art can negate the reality it relates to...Serious art is rejected by most because it is disturbing, makes people aware of their own exploitation...(Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction")...Modern technology has profoundly altered the status of art...No longer the preserve of a special elite...New media destroy the "religious" feeling toward art...Art becomes designed for "reproducibility"...Art more open to politics

Structuralist Poetics (Culler)

  • Emphasis: How works can be understood, the conventions that enable readers to make sense of them
  • There are "rules" that govern interpretation of texts
  • They are not the same rules that govern the writing of texts
  • What are the norms, procedures that lead to interpretation?
  • To be a skilled reader means that one knows the conventions of meaning which allow a person to make sense of it
  • Readers always follow recognizable procedures
  • Texts are produced by "systems"...Author is unimportant..."Language itself" writes texts...The structures are universal/timeless...History is unimportant...Approach is static, ahistorical...Instead of saying that an artist's language reflects reality, structuralists argue that the structure of language produces reality...The source of meaning is no longer in any individual's experience, but in the operations which govern language...Meaning no longer determined by an individual, but by the system which governs the individual...The aim is to discover the codes, the rules, the systems which govern all social and cultural practices.

Reader-Oriented Theories

  • Texts can't formulate their own meaning, READERS MUST DO IT
  • Texts contain "blanks," which only readers can fill
  • Do readers impose solutions, or are they already there in the text?
  • Are some texts more "open" than others? (Invite, permit, require greater reader participation than others?) Some texts predetermine the reader's response (popular fiction)
  • Iser: All texts allow a variety of possible readings... But each text has an "implied reader" and an actual reader... Texts create readers for themselves...Readers read on the basis of expectations...Their expectations continually modified...
  • Fish: Reading a constant adjustment of expectation...Says literary language has no special status...We use the same reading strategies for literary and all other kinds of reading...Concept of "the Informed Reader"...Informed Reader possesses linguistic competence (syntactic and semantic knowledge)...This leads to the formation of "Interpretive communities"...Groups of people who share assumptions about what they do when they read...The strategies of a particular interpretive community determine the entire process of reading...

Feminist Criticism

  • Women readers bring different perceptions/expectations to literary experience
  • Challenge to the "canon"--the whole body of texts that make up the tradition
  • Concerned with literary representations of the female...exclusion of the female voice from literature, criticism, theory
  • Early Feminism: the misogyny of literary practice...stereotyped
  • images of women in literature...exclusion of women from literary history...connection between social and literary mistreatment of women...
  • Second Phase: Discovery that women had a literature of their own...Obscured by "patriarchal” values...Search for the "female imagination," the "female plot" concept of a "Female Aesthetic"...Precise nature of it a matter of controversy...
  • Renewed interest in theory: psychoanalysis and aesthetics...
  • Re-thinking of the conceptual grounds of literary study...
  • Challenging of the most basic assumptions

Literacy Theory(Walter Ong, S.J.)

Consider the purposes of literacy...In 19th century, aim was elocution, oratorical performance

The Problems:

1) Moving from oral to written performance

2) Secondary orality: environment of electronic media

Writing is "completely and irremediably artificial"...Being artificial doesn't mean it is not "essential for the realization of fuller human potential and for the evolution of consciousness itself"...It is absolutely necessary for "analytically sequential linear organization" (a kind of thinking unknown in oral cultures)

Orality is the natural state.

Some characteristics of oral discourse:

1) Omission of reasoning natural in oral discourse

2) Omission of connections natural in oral discourse

3) Concrete situation (context) provides lots of information

Primary Orality

Intellectual processes formulaic, rhapsodic, not analytic

Commonplaces, formulary expressions, clichés

Knowledge in oral culture maintained by repetition

Little subtlety: issues broken down into simple polarities...

"Good" vs. "Bad"


No communicational context, writer must project the context

All background, fill-in must be provided

No rules about how much detail to provide

Writer must anticipate ways in which text will be interpreted

Writer must imagine particular groups of readers

"There is no way to write unless you read, and read a lot"

Writers must anticipate all connections

Movement from oral to written "terrifying"

The writing world is "A desperate world, a terrifying world, a lonely, unpeopled world, not at all the world of natural oral--aural exchange"

Secondary Orality

Based on radio and television

Totally dependent of writing and print

Oral culture modified by electronic media

Can't do extensive analysis, but recognize its performance as important

Will react to complexities with commonplaces

Literates always have trouble understanding oral cultures

Primary orality always associated with children

We say of adults from oral cultures that they are "childlike"

Oral world of radio--TV doesn't introduce viewers either to literacy or to primary oral culture.


1. Russian Formalism: Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska.eds. Readings in Russian Poetics. MIT, 1971.

2. Marxism: Terry Eagleton, Walter Benjamin, or Towards a Revolutionary Criticism, New Left, 1981. Marxism and Literary Criticism, Metheun, 1976

3. Structuralist Poetics: Jonathan Culler. Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature. R and KP, 1975.

4. Reader-Oriented Theories: Jonathan Culler. The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction R and KP, 1981.

5. Feminist Criticism: Elaine Showalter, ed. The New Feminist Criticism. Pantheon, 1985.

6. Literacy Theory: Walter J. Ong, S.J., "Orality and Literacy in Our Times, “ADE Bulletin (Sept., 1978), 1-7. Associated with children We say of adults from oral cultures that they are "childlike" Oral world of radio--TV doesn't introduce viewers either to literacy or to primary oral culture.