FL 380: An Archaeology of the "Boom": Modern Latin American Prose Fiction
Research Papers: An Introduction

 A literature research paper is not too different from other types of research essays that you might have written before.  In a nutshell, it is an attempt to develop a series of ideas with a view to proving a certain hypothesis about one or more given texts (PRIMARY SOURCES).  In getting to this end your intuition and intellect will play the largest part, yet you will also have to resort to the ideas and opinions of more expert readers who have published their thoughts in articles and books (SECONDARY SOURCES).  The "research" part of this enterprise is thus composed of the gathering, reading, and assimilation of these secondary sources.  It also envisions the integration of it all in the body of your paper.  The paper itself comes about as the result of a process of personal reflection.  As a reader, you will be trying to sort out a troubling issue to you, a burning question, something that after consultation with your professor and reading some secondary sources, still fails to "make sense".

Coming up with a topic:
 The most common mistake made by students comes at this stage.  Often students will pose overly ambitious questions:  ie: "Philosophical Implications of Borges's Narratives", "Death in Pedro Páramo", "Existentialist Aspects of Cortázar's Hopscotch", or "Colombian History in García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude", etc.
 Before you start working on something make sure that it is a manageable project worth developing.  The first step, after sorting out an area of interest, is to narrow the topic and reduce its extension.  In this fashion your inquiry can attain a greater depth and possibly reach truly interesting results.

The Topic and the Thesis:
 A topic would remain an unfulfilled promise of knowledge if it were not by the delineating virtues of a thesis.  To do this you must move beyond your general topic towards a good object of study, a thesis, by means of relentless questioning.  Your are trying to turn an idea or a text into a problem the solution of which haunts you.  St. Augustine's words in his Confessions are helpful here: "mihi quaestio factus sum", that is, "I became a problem [an object of study] to myself.
 Bear in mind that these questions may come about as a result of your own reading of the primary text or be found as you read through your secondary sources.  Ideally it would always be great to arrive at a topic out of one's own curiosity, but often it is not the case.  Whichever way it may happen for you, be absolutely sure not to end up dabbling in  platitudes.  If you fear that this might be the case come and see me as soon as possible.

Looking Ahead:
 A natural result of this effort is that after a while one begins to see where one's ideas and points are leading.  That is, you begin to anticipate the conclusions of your research.  If this happens more or less steadily until the very end and/or beyond you are in luck.  Oftentimes though, one's conclusions evolve in ways that veer away and even contradict one's stated thesis.  If this happens to you are still in luck, BUT you must go back to the beginning to reformulate your thesis and re-write those parts of your argument that are not in agreement with your conclusions.

Where Can I Begin...?
(A)- FIRST STEP: Think about what you have read and/or will read.  What have you liked about it?  Do this during the first few weeks of class and keep on doing it frequently.  Carry these thoughts to your Journal so that you may review them later.  YOU MAY WORK ON A BOOK THAT WE WILL READ TOWARDS THE END OF THE TERM IF YOU PLAN AHEAD.
(B)- SECOND STEP: Your course-packet contains detailed bio-bibliographical and critical notes on each of the writers we will be dealing with.  Read these carefully to get an idea of what you would like to work on and what other expert readers have deemed interesting in the area of your choice.
(C)- THIRD STEP: Use the resources available to you: SIMON, the Modern Language Association Bibliography (MLA), the WWW, etc. in order to see who has written on what and how does it illuminate or even change your own perspective.
(D)- FOURTH STEP: Once this has been going on come and see me to talk about it: Office Hrs: M-W-F: 11:00-11:45 and W-F: 16:00-16:45, or make an appointment if you absolutely cannot make any of these times.

Paper Guidelines
1)- You will be penalized for not having a bibliography.  A list of works cited (bibliography).  This is understood to be the list of works (primary and secondary sources) that you have quoted. A minimum of two bibliographical items is required.

a)- Bibliography:
 SIMON: The library has a great many books on modern Latin American fiction.  Use SIMON and share your finds with your classmates.  In addition, the Library is now a member of ORBIS, a regional group of libraries working together to make information available to you.  Remember that your classmates might need some of the books that you check out.
     The Modern Language Association Bibliography (MLA) (available in paper {....-1981} and online {1982-199...}) is a fundamental research tool.   Articles unavailable in our library can be xeroxed and delivered to Collins in a matter of hours or days.  Ask your librarian. Be resourceful: You live only 38 miles south of the 12th. best research library in the United States of America.  Visit the Suzallo and Allen libraries at the University of Washington if you must.  TIP: Make a fun trip out of it and remember that there are express buses linking downtown Tacoma with downtown Seattle running on the hour!

b)- Documentation:
 Quoted material should be relevant not only to the paper in general, but to the specific context in which it appears.  A quote ought not to stand on its own; it has to be an integral part of your discussion.  Frame every quote, that is, "sandwich" it between your own words.

2)- Use the MLA Style Manual when writing your paper especially when preparing your end-notes and the list of works cited.

The Paper Itself:
     Have a clearly defined topic.  Name it in the title, describe it in the introductory paragraph, and develop it through the body the text.  Argue your points with elegance and substantiate your assertions with ably selected quotes.  Be persuasive and provocative but never loud, presumptuous, or militant.  You want to engage your reader not to hit her over the head.
 In the process of writing it is entirely possible that your ideas may evolve in a way that contradicts your thesis.  Were that to happen, go back to your thesis and re-formulate it.  Never lose sight of your goals so as not to find that your point has disappeared after ten pages of prose.

Some Useful Advice
1) Avoid topics that merely seek to confirm the presence of historical facts in fiction, that is, avoid the obvious.
2) Avoid summaries of plot, characters, history, lectures, etc... which again means: stay clear of what is obvious.  You may need to re-tell a particular point in the plot -that is OK-, but do not make recounting the novel the purpose of your essay!
3) Avoid quoting from your class notes.  Be extremely careful if you must absolutely do so.  Cite by the date and subject of the lecture.
4) Avoid collages.  Do not run from one idea to the other.  Not everything goes together.  Run a tight ship with regards to your thoughts.  One well argued keen intuition is worth more than twenty ill connected notions.
5) Do not write as if you, your classmates, and I were the only readers in the universe. Your paper should be a readable experience for educated human beings outside the context of Foreign Languages 380.  TIP: Have someone who is not enrolled in the class read your essay before handing it in.
6) Avoid idiomatic expressions and conversational "style". ("The kind of stuff that creeps into your paper, if you know what I mean": ie. "granted", "impact" (used as a verb.), "bogus" (used as a slang term), "sort of...", "right?", "ditto", etc.)
7) Avoid impressionistic language:  "Borges is a great writer...",  "Pedro Páramo is an awful man...", etc.  These type of statements are "opinions" or "impressions" and add little or nothing to the presentation of well thought ideas.
8) Say what you have to say; do not hide behind a "perhaps", a "maybe", "who knows if...", etc.  In a concluding sentence one "perhaps" may make all the difference:  ie. Saying: "Perhaps, it is this aspect of Rulfo's fiction which is most relevant for readers today" is not as convincing saying: "It is this aspect of Rulfo's fiction which is most relevant for readers today".
9) DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO, BUT DO NOT TELL ME ABOUT IT IN THE PROCESS OF DOING IT.  Unless your paper deals with highly intricate developments in literary theory there is no need to spell out your plan of attack: ie. "In this paper I will first...".  Remember that this paper is a short piece and not a Senior Thesis.  As, Nike, the sports gear manufacturer preaches: "Just do it!".  Present your thesis in the introductory paragraph and dive into its development.  If you do this in an organized and eloquent way an educated reader will never lose your train of thought.
10) Do not hand in your paper without:
 a) Re-reading it and proofreading it.
 b) Stapling all the pages.
 c) Carefully numbering each page if you have not done so already before printing it.
 d) Keeping a paper copy and a copy of the computer file in a diskette until after final grades are posted!!!
11) Check and double-check for grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and style.  TIP: It doesn't hurt to have someone at the Writing Center read your stuff before handing it in.
12) Please, inspect the condition of your typewriter or printer ribbons before you proceed.  I will not read with a kind heart any paper that is not printed legibly.
13) RULES ON PLAGIARISM WILL BE STRICTLY ENFORCED.  Refer to the Student Handbook.  Be careful when paraphrasing others' thoughts.  Paraphrases ALSO have to be acknowledged.  Document your sources fully.

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