Research Assignment: Research Topic(s) Proposal
> 2 Research Posts

(due 16-21 Feb, 1-4 March, and 5-7 April)

2014 Models of Early American Literature Research Posts; Models 2012; Models 2010

Research Posts: proposal, 2 installments, + review in final exam Essay 1

Topic(s) proposal due 16-21 February (submission window)

1st Research Post due 1-4 March (submission window)

2nd Research Post  due 5-7 April (submission window)

Assignment: Write and submit two “adventures / experiments in research.”

Essential information: Research posts are not essays of literary criticism but reports on your research findings on criticism or history concerning early American literature and culture.

Most typical mistake: Students want to write a personal analysis of texts we're studying or might study because that's the kind of writing they're familiar with in a Literature course. That approach is an essay, not a report.

Sources: At least 4 sources. (Some students do all websites, but more impressive if you do at least some traditional research.) (More below at "Assignment Details")

Length: At least 4 substantial paragraphs of 4-7 sentences each (though you may add 1-2 more paragraphs if the alternative is "monster paragraphs")

Works Cited / Bibliography? As the models demonstrate, some research posts feature a Works Cited at the end; others provide documentation as they cite in the text; and others do some combination.

Research Posts Topic(s) proposal due 16-21 February: (sample research proposal)

Email 2-3 paragraphs describing your possible or likely topics for your two research posts (described below).

Requirement: Research proposal must have a title.

This proposal is to start thinking and researching your topic(s)—first post is due two weeks later: 1-4 March.

You have choices—Priority: write on something you want to learn about that connects to our course.

Topic Parameters:

You may write on the same topic or related topics for both posts, but not required. Some students write two posts on very different topics, while some students start a topic in their first post and continue it in the second.

Your topic must stay within our course's time-boundaries, app. 1492 to 1800. You may connect to materials beyond our course limits, but your research must focus or refocus on periods or subjects studied in Early American Literature.

  You are not limited to authors, texts, or cultures in the syllabus—you could do research on American Indian literature, the Founders, the Pilgrims and Puritans, early African Americans, Spanish or French explorers, women writers, or . . .
early poetry or drama, authors like Bradstreet, Paine, Jefferson, Abigail Adams, or any other names that catch your interest, or . . .
visual, musical, or other arts relating to the course's cultural or period interests, or . . .
aspects of broader topics like religion, gender, women's rights, etc.

Ways to choose your research topic(s):

1. Think about what you most want to learn or know about the course's periods, authors, or texts of literature or culture, or information you might be able to use in your future studies, teaching, or general interests.

2. Look through our reading schedule, esp. to later in the semester, for periods, authors, texts, peoples, genres, movements, etc.

3. Review the course's Model Assignments: Early American Literature 2014 research posts; 2012 research posts; 2010 research posts. You may use the same or similar topics. You may even use previous posts as research sources.

4. Review course objectives for terms, concepts, teaching methods, issues related to Early American Literature.

5. If you're stuck between choices of topics or confused about how to proceed on what you want to do, describe your situation. Instructor will advise.

Topic development:

Your topic may narrow, digress, or otherwise change as you research—not a problem. Describing the changes can be part of your post.

Often a student will start a subject that turns out to be too big for the assignment—consider doing it in two parts, or follow where your research leads and report on your best material.

If you decide to change your topic completely, the only requirement is that you let me know at least a day or so before submission.

Possible topics

An author or set of texts associated with Early American Literature

A defining historical event or movement relevant to early American literature, cultural development, multiculturalism, other arts besides literature, etc.

Other artistic, literary, or cultural movements associated with early America

Review of background or secondary critical research concerning a work, author, or issue related to our subject. (You would find several critical articles or books relevant to your interest, then summarize what you gained or learned from reviewing them.)

Forbidden topic: Edgar Allan Poe—he's after this course.

Posts concerning Salem witch trials must contain proviso: Every semester several students want to research the Salem Witch Trials. No problem except that, no matter how many times our course materials reinforce that there was no witchcraft involved, but only mass hysteria, some students continue to write as though witchcraft and satanism really happened, or that some great mystery remains, when the only definite fact is that 19 innocent people were murdered by the courts of Salem, and that later courts apologized and compensated victims.

Therefore, if you choose to write a research post on the witch trials of Salem, or if you write extensively about this subject in an exam, you must either preface such materials with the following qualifying statement (to appear before the text of your report or essay), or else include similar qualifying statements in your own text:

The reason the Salem Witch Trials should be interesting to later Americans is not because there were evil witches at Salem but because there weren't, yet for a number of reasons—social change, insecurity, childish pranks, adult encouragement, "moral hysteria"—normal people including responsible authorities talked each other into believing that witches were causing the community's problems, resulting in the execution of 19 innocent citizens and the imprisonment, corruption, and impoverishment of many others despite absence of any evidence that should be legally admissible in a modern court. 

If anyone was evil or wrong, they were not the people who were accused of being witches but those who accused them of being witches, or people who succumbed to social pressure and cooperated with such persecutions. In these regards, the occurrences at Salem in 1692-3 more closely resemble the Day-care Sex-Abuse Hysteria of the 1980s and other moral hysterias here and there throughout human history.

If you have a special reason for asserting that witchcraft and satanism did in fact occur at Salem, such as your own personal practice of witchcraft or satanism, you may do what you can with such material, but respect the historical facts over what you see in movies or on TV. Or you could investigate why so many people prefer to think or imagine there were witches instead of being interested in the tragedy that really happened.

Response to Research Proposal

Your email research proposal is due anytime between 16 and 21 February.

Within app. 24 hours of submission, you should receive a reply that offers advice or correction regarding development of your topic(s). (If you don't get a reply, make sure you addressed your email to

You may continue corresponding or discussing topic(s) with instructor.

Student does not receive an announced letter grade for the proposal, only a “yes” or instructions for receiving a yes. Students don't lose credit for problems reaching a topic as long as they are working on it.  

The only way to get in trouble over proposal is if you simply don’t offer much to work with, especially after prompts from instructor. A bad proposal is one sentence starting, “I’m thinking about . . . ” and ending “ . . . something to do with immigration and gender.” Then, “What do you think?” In these cases, a bad grade isn’t recorded, but notes regarding the paper proposal may appear on the Final Grade Report.

In other words, a few students obviously don't think about this topic until the last minute, and even then don't think about it much. Instructor can't act like that's okay.

If your proposal is notably slack and underdeveloped, notes to that effect will appear on your grade report and represent a hole you must climb out of.

Changing topics:

Topics often change somewhat as you do research. Just start, and see what you learn, then shape the report around your learning.

If you decide to change your topic completely, the only requirement is that you let me know at least a day or so before submission.

If you're stuck between a choice of topics or confused about how to proceed on what you want to do, describe your situation in your proposal. Instructor will advise.

Assignment details: Length: At least 4 substantial paragraphs of 4-7 sentences each (though you may add 1-2 more paragraphs if the alternative is "monster paragraphs"). Posts of 5-7 paragraphs are not unusual, but 4-5 paragraphs are standard. 3-4 skimpy paragraphs will be criticized.

Content: Relate your research to Literature if possible, but content options include history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, women's studies, multicultural studies, other arts including music and visual arts, etc.

Only absolute stipulation for content: your topic(s) must have something to do with early American literature, culture, and / or history.

In brief, Research Posts emphasize gathering and explaining information or knowledge, not reading and interpreting poems or fiction—though your research may apply to poems or fiction.

Bibliographic requirements and information + Works Cited / Bibliography?

At least 4 sources, at least some of which should be from reputable scholarship and not just amateur internet postings.

You may use 1-2 previous posts from Model Assignments as research sources, or look at their sources to find research possibilities.

You may also use one of our course's term-pages (e.g. captivity narratives, the gothic) or one of our "Historical Backgrounds" (e.g. Salem Witch Trials, 17th century, Puritans).

Some primary research may be involved, and you may mention the impact of your research on your own interests, insights, and conclusions, but your report mostly summarizes secondary and background research. (See primary, background, & secondary research.)

MLA style is expected, but instructor doesn't over-emphasize precise documentation style, as it's not the purpose of the assignment. As long as the instructor can find your source, you're doing "due diligence."

Information may be included in text or more completely in listings at end of post. As the Model Assignments demonstrate, some research posts feature a Works Cited at the end; others provide documentation as they cite in the text; and others do some combination.

Published scholarship and reference books from the library show the most prestige and professionalism, but . . .

for some subjects consider interviews with experts or practitioners. For instance, some teaching issues may offer little research, so interview someone who may have more knowledge, like a former teacher or professor.

Organization, Content, etc.:

Provide a title for your entry to serve as a link. The title should indicate your post's content. The title may take the form of a question.

1st paragraph: Introduce and frame a question you want to answer or a topic you want to know more about.

  • Explain the background or source of your interest; how you were familiar with or already knew on the subject, how or where you learned it or were alerted to it, etc.
  • These backgrounds can be personal as well as educational or professional.
  • At some point in this introductory paragraph, a statement of the question you’re trying to answer should appear.

2nd and 3rd paragraphs: Describe your search for answers to your question or topic.

  • Identify, locate, describe, and evaluate at least four sources.
  • Your sources may be print, Web, or personal (interview, lecture, conversation, or anecdote).
  • If Web, provide links.
  • If print, provide bibliographic information. (MLA style is preferred, but the main point of all documentation is to enable your reader to find the source.)
  • If “personal,” provide as much contextual information as possible; welcome to protect privacy.

4th paragraph: What is the answer to your question?

  • Your “answer” may take a variety of forms, as long as you demonstrate learning.
  • You may find a definite answer to your specific question.
  • Or you may learn that you’ve asked the wrong question, in which case you could conclude by revising your question.
  • Summarize and evaluate what you have learned.
  • Consider what your next step might be if you continued your research along this line.

These paragraph descriptions are only guidelines, not absolute rules.

You may write more than 4 paragraphs, but more than 6 or 7 paragraphs may push the assignment too far.

Grading schedule: Grades for research posts are not returned until the Final Grade Report

Instead of a grade and extended review for your first post, on receipt of your submission instructor replies with a brief email message summarizing overall impression of your submission + suggestions for improvements on second post.

Your two research posts together receive a single grade, which appears in your Final Grade Report because your final exam will reference one or both of your Research Posts.

This description may sound tricky, and some students like their grades better than others, but in several semesters of such assignments I've had no direct complaints—only questions, which you're welcome to ask. Overall students appear to find research posts less disruptive to their weekly work than full-fledged term papers.

Grading standards: Research Post grades are based on readability, interest, quality of research, and learning.

Readability: quality of reading and writing constitute excellence and competence in Literature courses—not just covering course materials but organizing extended analyses into compelling reading experiences.

Competence in spelling, punctuation, grammar, and clarity are taken for granted. Given time pressures, occasional careless errors won't break your grade, but chronic errors must be factored. Thematic unity, continuity, and transitions are essential.

Interest: Not whether the instructor would have chosen the topic, but how well the report generates and sustains interest. A personal angle is welcome for starters, but expand to wider appeal. Reinforce why your research matters.

Quality of research: Use what you've learned about academic research. Consult with Neumann Library's reference librarians.

Take some chances—interview a former teacher, review a relevant film, magazine, institutional, or commercial site.

Scholars in Literature and Humanities combine work and pleasure—honoring what they must do but redeeming what they want to do.

Learning: The most consistently redeeming quality in all research is the sense that the author (and at least potentially the audience) learn something of value.

Going through the motions is good enough for business but not for education.

Emphasize what you wanted to know and why + how your research advanced or changed your knowledge and understanding.