This book gives students an answer to the question, “What does my professor want from this essay?” In lively, direct language, it explains the process of creating “a clearly-written argument, based on evidence, about the meaning, power, or structure of a literary work.” Using a single poem by William Carlos Williams as the basis for the process of writing a paper about a piece of literature, it walks students through the processes of reading, brainstorming, researching secondary sources, gathering evidence, and composing and editing the paper.
Writing Essays About Literature is designed to strengthen argumentation skills and deepen understanding of the relationships between the reader, the author, the text, and critical interpretations. Its lessons about clarity, precision, and the importance of providing evidence will have wide relevance for student writers.
“I am a student at the University of Kansas studying English and American Studies, and this may be a bit unorthodox, but I wanted to say that your book Writing Essays About Literature was one of the best books I have ever read in the world of academia! I am taking a Critical Theory class, and we were assigned only the first 55 pages, but I really could not put the book down. Your writing is magnificent, and I am constantly referring to the book when writing papers. You have done a brilliant job making essay-writing easy, structured, and actually enjoyable!” — Lauren Gaylor, University of Kansas
“Katherine O. Acheson’s Writing Essays About Literature is a concise, fully portable and very well-priced guide that gets it right. Acheson’s emphasis on inductive reasoning is wonderfully refreshing. It really helps English professors persuade their students to argue from the specific to the general, to found their arguments on the details of evidence and on the careful—and affectively sensitive—analysis of that evidence. And the very best thing about this book is that Acheson’s casual and unassuming prose style makes students want to read it. And they do. And then they bring it to class!” — Glenn Clark, University of Manitoba
“For those of us interested in teaching writing through literature, Katherine O. Acheson’s guide is an indispensable companion, teaching students that writing is more about process and less about imagined giftedness. The book begins by teaching students how to perform a close reading of a text—a craft that every writer should learn to hone. After this groundwork has been laid, Acheson builds upon it with chapters on research, analysis, methodology, argumentation, and revision; all of this from an author whose writing style is clear, witty, and intelligent.” — Jack R. Baker, Spring Arbor University
“Writing Essays About Literature is a useful and refreshingly entertaining guide for both students and instructors. The focus on one poem (the eminently teachable ‘This Is Just to Say’) allows for a comprehensive dissection of the process from initial reading and response, to final polish of an argument grounded in current modes of critical analysis. Acheson’s witty, subjective style is consistently engaging, and reminds students that instructors are also readers and writers; that they too constantly revisit and refine these processes.” — Gisèle M. Baxter, University of British Columbia
Section One: Introduction
CHAPTER 1: THE PURPOSE OF AN ESSAY ABOUT LITERATURE
Literature: Instruction, Delight, Imitation
The Literary Essay
How to Use This Book
Section Two: Research and Analysis
CHAPTER 2: RESEARCH WITHIN THE TEXT
Taking Notes About Literature
Recording Your Responses to the Text
- Do I Like the Work?
What Words Stand Out?
What Feelings Does It Give Me?
Do I Identify With Any of the People Represented?
Is There Anything About How It’s Written That Stands Out?
What Is the Work About?
CHAPTER 3: USING REFERENCE WORKS
The Oxford English Dictionary
Examples of Usage
CHAPTER 4: RESEARCH ABOUT SOCIAL AND HISTORICAL CONTEXTS
Topics for Research: Social Phenomena and Literary Movements
Using Your Findings
CHAPTER 5: RESEARCH ABOUT THE CURRENT CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF LITERARY WORKS
Finding Critical Works
- Assessing Publications
Reading Critical Works
Taking Notes From Critical Readings
CHAPTER 6: INVENTING YOUR ARGUMENT
Arranging Your Evidence
- Reviewing Your Labelled Evidence
Categorizing Your Evidence
Charting Your Evidence
Section Three: Composition
CHAPTER 7: COMPOSING YOUR ARGUMENT
Composing the Thesis Statement
- Writing the Subtopic Sentences
Composing the Body of the Thesis Statement
Concluding the Thesis Statement
A Variation: An Essay Without Secondary Sources
CHAPTER 8: WRITING THE BODY OF THE ESSAY
The Body Paragraphs
Features of Strong Paragraphs
Writing the Conclusion and Revising the Introduction
- The Conclusion
Revising the Introduction
Section Four: Polish and Presentation
CHAPTER NINE: EDITING AND PROOFREADING YOUR ESSAY
Conventions of Essay-Writing Style
Common Grammatical Errors
- Demonstrative Pronouns
Common Errors in Punctuation and Sentence Structure
CHAPTER TEN: DOCUMENTING YOUR SOURCES AND PRESENTING YOUR WORK
Reasons for Documenting Sources
Presenting Your Work
- Layout and Order
Multimedia and the Literary Essay
- Exemplary Illustrations
Section Five: Conclusion and Review
Collecting Evidence (Chapter 2, 3, 4, and 5)
CHAPTER 11: THE PROCESS OF ESSAY WRITING—A SUMMARY
Categorizing Evidence (Chapter 6)
Writing Your Thesis Statement (Chapter 7)
Troubleshooting the Thesis Statement (Chapter 7)
Writing the Body Paragraphs (Chapter 8)
Concluding Your Essay (Chapter 8)
Proofreading (Chapter 9)
Documentation and Presentation (Chapter 10)
Katherine O. Acheson is Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo and the editor of the Broadview Edition of Lady Anne Clifford’s Memoir of 1603 and Diary of 1616–19.
For a sample from chapter 1 of Writing Essays About Literature, click here. (Opens as a PDF.)
— Enthusiastic, encouraging tone and lively, direct language
— Makes repeated reference to William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just To Say” as the basis for the process of writing a paper about a piece of literature
— Walks students through the processes of reading, brainstorming, researching secondary sources, gathering evidence, and composing and editing a paper
— Focus is on the strengthening of argumentation skills with particularly fine guidance in close reading and gathering evidence
— Step-by-step instructions on building arguments from evidence
— Clarifies the relationships between the reader, author, text, and critical interpretations
— Includes review questions, exercises, and discussion topics
— Includes a summary of the writing process at the end of the book
Kelley Griffith earned a BA from Wake Forest University and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania. In his 34-year teaching career at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, he taught courses in composition, American literature, English literature, European literature, and literary research. In 1996 he won the Alumni Teaching Excellence Award, UNCGreensboro's top honor for outstanding teaching. He is the author of two textbooks, Narrative Fiction: An Introduction and Anthology (Harcourt Brace, 1994) and Writing Essays about Literature: A Guide and Style Sheet (Wadsworth Cengage Learning), soon to appear in its ninth edition. Upon his retirement in 2002, he completed the Fine and Creative Woodworking Program at Rockingham Community College and now makes custom furniture. Examples of his work can be seen at www.sunburstfinewoodworking.com. He continues to be a deeply engaged reader of literature and maintains a strong interest in literary theory and pedagogy. On occasion he teaches non-credit courses at UNCG. In his new career he has been struck by how the skills required for interpreting and writing about literature mesh with those for operating a small business and making furniture. These skills include such things as analyzing complicated structures, doing research, solving problems, thinking systematically, and communicating clearly and persuasively to a general audience.