Engl. 875-01

Seminar: Emily Dickinson

Spring 2006

MWF 10:00-10:50, Rm. 312

Instructor: Dr. K. Nichols


Writing Assignments


Due: Mon., Feb. 15. Late papers will be graded down.

Length: 4-5 typed pages (double-spaced), plus a separate "Works Cited" page.

Grading: 20 pts., based on substantive content; insight into your material; focus and organization; quality and appropriateness of your evidence; documentation; and grammar.

Directions: Select one of the following poems, research at least three different readings of it, and write an explication of the poem, weaving together your own ideas and those of your secondary sources. If you encounter critical disagreements about your poem, evaluate them in light of your own understanding of the poem. Choose one: F 353 I'm ceded; F 466 I dwell in Possibility; F 764 My Life had stood; F 479 Because I could not stop; or F 591 I heard a fly buzz.

  • Close-readings: A close-reading does more than explain the themes/ideas in the poem. It also analyzes the figures of speech and imagery used to convey those ideas and suggest others; the significance of diction and stylistic features like compression and ellipsis; sound effects like alliteration, consonance, and assonance; and the role of punctuation and meter and rhyme scheme, as well as poetic form, in enhancing or creating effects important to some aspect of the poem. Also consider the speaker and tone and setting/situation of the poem. For a review of the basics of close-reading, see this guide to reading poetry.

  • Secondary sources/readings: Information from these sources must be integrated into your paper and form a significant part of it. However, the paper is still about your reading of the poem, based on your own study of the poem as well as your sources' readings of the poem. Some of the sources may agree or disagree with your reading and with each other, and some sources may add something to or enrich your reading. Whatever the case may be, make sure you understand, and communicate to your reader, the larger arguments your sources are making as well as the details of their analyses of your selected poem.

  • Three or more secondary sources: At least two of the sources should come from the scholarly excerpts at this website--Modern American Poetry: Emily Dickinson-- and one source should be a recent book (in Axe Library) that covers your poem. Make sure all the sources are scholarly (intended for other professionals in the field). For books, look in the online catalog under the SUBJECT heading "Dickinson, Emily." Check the Table of Contents and Index of the book to find out if the book discusses your selected poem in any significant way. More recent publications will probably be more useful for your paper since older publications are sometimes rather "old-fashioned" in their approaches or assumptions (with some important exceptions, of course).

  • You may gain some extra credit if you can present something significant about the manuscript or other version of ED's poem in comparison with Franklin's version or about the poem in relation to the fascicle in which ED placed it. (Consult Johnson's Poems; Including Variant Readings. . . and/or Franklin's The Manuscript Books. . . on Library Reserve.)

  • For the class discussion, select something specific from your own reading or a secondary source that you thought was particularly interesting or enlightening. No vague generalizations, please. To be on the safe side--in case a classmate covers the specific you wanted to talk about--pick out a couple "back-up" aspects of the poem that you can talk about instead.

Focus and Organization

  • Introductions in short papers should be short--maybe 4-5 sentences long. Begin with some general statement about your topic, plus the author and title (In the poem "The Soul selects her own Society," Emily Dickinson explores . . . ). NOTE: End the introductory paragraph with your thesis statement. Do not phrase it as a question, but rather as an assertion--your overall conclusion about what your paper adds up to.

  • Body of Paper: Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/conclusion into 4-6 sub-points. Those sub-points will form the topic sentences that should be placed at the beginnings of the body paragraghs.

    WRITING TIP: It is often effective to arrange your sub-points according to the Order of Climax--begin with your second-best sub-point followed by your weakest sub-point and then work your way up to your best sub-point at the end so that the paper finishes on a strong note. Whatever order you use, always end with your strongest material.

    Each topic sentence should be followed by lots of specific details and examples and short quotations, etc., from your texts, as well as your explanation/analysis of that information. NOTE: I hate skimpy paragraphs that are only 1-2 sentences long; put some meat on those bones--another 5-7 sentences of details and examples and explanations, please!

    For quotations, include a page number (in parenthesis) directly after the quote. The author's name may precede the quotation or be placed within the parenthesis next to the page number. (I prefer the first option.) Avoid long quotations in short papers and do not reprint entire poems. It is often much more effective to work a quoted word or short phrase into your own sentence. Be sure to use slant lines to indicate the ends of poetic lines when the quote is worked into the paragraph. For secondary sources, include in-text citations for all language or ideas you "borrow" from them.

  • Conclusions in short papers should be short--maybe 3-4 sentences long. NOTE: Begin the concluding paragraph with a re-statement of your opening thesis/conclusion--but in language different than was used in the introduction. In a couple more sentences, refer to your topic as a whole-- why it is significant and worth studying, for instance, or finally, what it all adds up to. In a short paper, do not repeat your sub-points--much too repetitious!

See also Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style and Typing Directions.



Due: Week 13 (Apr. 5-9, on your scheduled Conference date).

Length: Each annotation should be about 250-300 words, the thesis statement 100-200 words.

Grading: 20 pts., based on substance and format. Late papers will be graded down.

Directions: During Weeks 8-12, annotate 2 articles/book chapters per week (for a total of 8) that relate in some way to your selected topic. On a separate page, compose a thesis statement (100-200 words) and attach to the annotated bibliography.

It is important that your annotations/short summaries be as specific as possible, or they will not be much help to you later when you are writing your seminar paper. Here are some typical kinds of information often included in an annotation/short summary:

  • Summarize the thesis/main argument of the article/book chapter. For the thesis, check both the introduction (it may be several paragraphs long) and the concluding paragraphs (the thesis should be re-stated there in some form). Don't be vague. Perhaps note how this argument/approach differs from other approaches to the topic.

  • Note some major sub-sections in the article/book chapter, and give some key details discussed in connection with poems that particularly interest you. Perhaps note whether the comments on the poems of interest to you are extensive or limited or which poems get the most attention. Also note any special features that particularly stand out.

  • Do not ignore or minimize the second half of the article. Sometimes students get so involved in the opening pages of the article that they overlook the rest of it. In other words, they omit half the argument--the part being developed in the last half of the article. Also remember that scholarly articles often contain several pages at the beginning which review "background" materials of various kinds--maybe past critical controversies or the theoretical underpinnings of the article--which means that, in some cases, the heart of the discussion (the part that would interest you the most) does not even begin until 3 or 4 or even 5 pages into the article.

  • If your source is a book chapter, you might want to skim briefly through the introductory chapter of the book (or the concluding chapter) since it would usually explain the thesis for the entire book, whereas Chapter 3 (for example) would only give the thesis for that chapter. For books, it is also helpful sometimes to note the other chapter titles listed in the table of contents and see if there is another chapter you might want to explore later. Or check the Index at the end and see if there is more than one section of the book that covers something you might want to use in a section of your seminar paper.

  • Perhaps speculate on some way you might want to use this article/book chapter in your own seminar paper.

  • For correct MLA format, check your MLA Handbook or this convenient online model: MLA Annotated Bibliography (Orlav). Here is an example of a longer, more informative annotation (but don't use that format): Annotated Bibliography Template.

  • In your thesis statement, explain what aspect of your topic interests you, how other sources have addressed aspects of your topic, and indicate some possible break-down of your topic--some major sub-divisions you anticipate will need to be covered. (Note: You do not need to have drawn final conclusions at this stage.) The question is: What is the plan you have, at this point, for exploring your selected topic?

See also Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style and Typing Directions.


SEMINAR PAPER, documented

Due: Mon., May 3. Late papers will be graded down.

Length: 20+ pages (double-spaced, Times New Roman font size 11 or 12), plus "Notes" and/or "Works Cited" attached as separate pages.

Grading: 40 pts., based on substantive content; insight into your material; focus and organization; quality and appropriateness of your evidence; sufficient research and documentation; and grammar.

Directions: A seminar paper is the culmination of an entire semester studying Dickinson in some breadth and depth. It should reflect your understanding of a certain selection of D's texts and contexts and your awareness of trends and arguments found in a variety of related secondary works by recognized scholars.

So that the project does not become overwhelming, it is crucial that you begin your research early in the semester (the articles assigned as class readings will assist in this process) and continue it weekly, independent of class assignments, throughout most of the semester. Here is the schedule we will be following:

  • By Feb. 24: Select a topic to investigate and compile a generous list of poems on the topic. Do not draw conclusions at this stage. All you need at this point is a topic that interests you and that seems researchable. To help you find a topic, read and absorb as much of D's poetry and letters as possible. Read her texts often, and re-read them again--and again. Study carefully the secondary articles assigned for class discussion, looking for interesting ideas you might want to pursue in more detail.

  • Weeks 8-12: Read and annotate several scholarly articles/book chapters each week so that you become familiar with a variety of ideas and approaches related to your topic. These readings will include the assigned class readings and the independent readings that make up your Annotated Bibliography. (You need around 15-18 sources for your seminar paper.) In addition, keep some notes on your own thoughts and tentative readings that occur to you along the way, but be flexible and willing to revise your thoughts at this stage.

  • Weeks 13-16: Write up a short but specific proposal/explanation of what you will do in your seminar paper. At this point, you should have some solid conclusions you can draw about your topic. Those conclusions will become your thesis for your paper. Confer with the instructor several times while you draft your seminar paper.

  • Week 17: Your seminar paper is due.

Organization: Note the ways in which the articles you read are organized. Although there is no one set pattern, your goal is to carry on a dialogue with your secondary sources by weaving them into your paper while you develop and support your own thesis. Here is a general pattern you may follow:

  • Introduction: In a longer seminar paper, your introduction may need to be several paragraphs long. Briefly introduce the kinds of approaches scholars have taken to your topic, or what they did instead of addressing your topic. Acknowledge what is helpful or valuable in their approaches, but also set up your thesis by indicating how or why their approaches are lacking in relation to your topic. Make sure your reader understands what the issues are and why they are important or worthy of further study. Sometimes some brief background is needed, but if it needs to be treated in some detail, save most of it for a section in the body of your paper. Near the end of your introduction, make sure your thesis/approach is clearly indicated, perhaps in a thesis paragraph (rather than just a thesis sentence).

  • Body of Paper: Since you can't talk about everything at once, sub-divide your thesis/argument into a series of sub-points, and treat each separately, making sure that you provide evidence from D's texts to support your sub-points.

    Often, the first section in the body will be what is called in some academic fields a "Review of the Literature." Although we rarely use that language in our field, a review of what other scholars have said about the topic is one common way to begin the body section of the paper. That review may even be several pages long. Make sure you relate it to your thesis--how it does or does not advance your approach.

    Whether you use that approach or not, definitely weave into your discussion at different points what other scholars have said in relation to your sub-points, but don't use secondary texts as your "evidence;" secondary texts should be viewpoints/readings you agree or disagree with. Remember that D's texts are your evidence for supporting your reading.

    Make sure that each sub-point is clearly stated in a topic sentence at the beginning of each body paragraph.

    For quotations, include a page number (in parenthesis) directly after the quote. The author's name may precede the quotation or be placed within the parenthesis next to the page number. (I prefer the first option.) Be sure to use slant lines to indicate the ends of poetic lines when the quote is worked into the paragraph. For secondary sources, include in-text citations for all language or ideas you "borrow" from them.

    In most cases, avoid long quotations and do not reprint the entire poem. You can briefly indicate what the poem is about as a whole and then just quote the specific phrase(s) or line(s) within your own sentence.

  • Conclusion: In one or more concluding paragraphs, re-state your thesis (in language different than you used in the introduction) and indicate the ramifications or significance of your overall approach and conclusions in your seminar paper.

See also Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style and Typing Directions.



  • The language used for paraphrases/summaries should be very different than the original language used by your source.

  • The language used in quotations must be exactly the same as the original language used by your source.

  • Quotation marks must be used around all quotations. If you have a quote-within-a-quote, use a combination of double and single quote marks (see me for assistance).

  • Cite a source for all summarized AND all paraphrased AND all quoted secondary material (articles on your topic, etc.).

See MLA style and Typing Directions.



See this good summary of MLA style: Using Modern Language Association (MLA) Format (see sub-headings in left column). Together, they give the basic "rules" for in-text citation and bibliographies, including how to cite electronic sources.

Put all documentation on a separate bibliography page (labeled "Works Cited") and follow MLA directions.

See an example of Basic Paper Format (scroll down the page) and an example of a Works Cited Page (but put the words "Works Cited" in the center of the page--like a title).

For more detailed information on MLA style, consult a hardcopy of the "official" MLA Handbook.

See Avoiding Plagiarism and Typing Directions.



Use Times New Roman font, size 11 or 12. Double-space everything--no exceptions. Use one-inch margins on all sides. Include your last name and page number in top-right corner, 1/2 inch from top. (Carefully handwrite it in if you do not know how to do that on a computer.)

On the first page, in the top-left corner, put your name, your instructor's name, the class name and number, and the date. Below that, in the center of the page, add a title.

See an MLA example (scroll down the page): Basic Paper Format

Put all documentation on a separate page as shown here: Works Cited Page. NOTE: In that example, the heading "Works Cited" should be centered on the page (like a title).

See Avoiding Plagiarism and MLA style.

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Updated: 12-10-12

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