So this semester, now that I am in 300 level classes, at least for English [which by the way, I would NOT recommend to first years, two 300 level classes second semester, but I am having the time of my life in both of them, and I would regretting not taking either, so I’m glad I didn’t take my own advice. Still, a lot of work though], I have to write research papers.
That seems to be the main difference between 200 and 300 level classes, at least at Agnes and within the English and Classics department, that in 200 level classes all of the papers are focused on a single, primary source. Like last semester, in American Poetry, I wrote a five-page paper on “Paradoxes and Oxymorons” by John Ashbery, who is sort of the Postmodernist answer to Auden and Eliot. But I didn’t do any real research. I listened to a view podcast interviews with Ashbery, and a reading by him to help me determine how to interpret the punctuation, but other than that I really just looked at Ashbery in the context of America Poetry, so my main secondary source was really the primary source of “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman.
[whoo shout outs to my favorite poet and my least favorite poet! Auden and Whitman, respectively]
But this semester in 300 level classes, we “react” a lot to pieces and then build off into research papers through these reactions. I’ve discussed my Mina Loy paper before, and now I’ve been completely converted to a 20 page paper about her in the context of Imagism, Futurism and the Lyric tradition, so I thought I’d share a little bit about my research process, specifically for poems, which for some reason I feel I’ve written a lot more about and choose to write more about.
So what I always start out with when I research poetry is an outline. Not necessarily of my paper though. Instead I usually outline the poem, identifying characters and their descriptions, metaphors, any pattern in meter or rhyme, and what all these things maybe have to do with the larger meaning of the poem.
This is the “poem outline” of “Sketch of a Man on a Platform,” and the first bit reads:
i. “absolute physical equilibrium” line 1—average, sure of himself, solid
ii. “you stand so straight on your legs” 2—not moving? Stationary, stagnant
iii. “among men you accrete yourself” 5—making self larger as a reaction to competition in other men, possibly impotence under assumed power and stability
So I started off with the subject of the poem–the man, and listed the descriptors the speaker notes about him and what these phrases could mean. Later I broke down the metaphors in the poem and the speaker’s characterization of herself through the judgments she makes on the man.
I also do a “thesis outline” where I break down my basic argument and list possible sources of information and directions my working thesis outline could go. I feel like this works better than a “working thesis” because it encapsulates more possible directions for the paper before the research is completed.
For the actual research, I am loving lined index cards. I write the source on the back, the point that the article/book/poem relates to on the top, and on the body of the card how my point is strengthened by specifics in the article, not always quotes, but the ideas and concepts in the passage I am reading.
One thing that I don’t really do, that I believe most college students take advantage of, is the word processing program for my outlines/note cards. They easily could be typed, but I feel like they are somehow more organic when I physically write them down. I like the physicality of scribbling something out really quick and messily writing down a brilliant a-ha moment. But the outline does provide some basis and organization for my thoughts, which before in high school was more just scribbling until I stumbled upon that brilliant a-ha moment. Now at least I can research, and sometimes even start writing before I completely have my thesis molded to perfection.