Short Essay Assignment

Due: Thursday, July 10th by 11:00am (the start of class) via email

To download the PDF version of this handout, click here: Short Paper Assignment.

For this assignment, you will write a 3-4 page essay about one of the following three texts: “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti, “The Dead” by James Joyce, or The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In this essay, you will perform a close reading of some aspect of that text by choosing a feature on which to focus, reading at least two articles that discuss the text and analyzing that feature in a way that engages with those articles and makes an argument.

Thus, you paper will have three components:

Thesis – Your thesis is your argument, the analytic point that you are trying to make. A thesis must have an argument; it cannot be an observation. Your thesis is a statement about the text that requires proof and it is the job of the rest of your essay to prove it. Anything self-evident is not a thesis.

Textual evidence – The proof for your thesis must come from the text. Textual evidence has two components. A) Quotation – You should not merely refer to the text that you are analyzing, but quote from it and show the exact words with which you are making your case. B) Interpretation – Whenever you quote from the text, you must explain why that quote is important and how you are using it to support your argument.

Bibliographic sources – Much has been written about these texts and your analysis should not only engage with the elements that interest you, but also speak to other work that has been done. You are not required to agree with these other works; you can use them to bolster your argument or to provide an opposing viewpoint that you will disprove.



Your paper should be written in 12 pt. Times New Roman font, double-spaced with one inch margins. You must provide a works cited page that includes which edition of the text you used along with your two bibliographic sources. You must include properly formatted in-text citations, a heading and a title. Your paper should be formatted according to MLA convention (See the Purdue Writing Lab for help).

A 3-4 page paper means that your paper must extend onto most of the third page excluding the bibliography and should not go much beyond 4.5 pages. Anywhere within those boundaries is acceptable.

Your paper must begin with an introduction that includes the name of the author and the text you are examining and ends with your thesis.

Your paper must end with a formal conclusion that does not simply restate the argument that is your thesis, but comments on it in some fashion.

Suggestions for Getting Started:

Your first job is to figure what in the text is of interest to you. Look for a theme, word, literary device, passage, formal tendency that you can analyze and use to say something about the text as a whole.

Start to think about what you want to do with that interesting moment in the text. Go back and analyze the sections in which it appears or reread the passage you are interested in several times. Make sure to pay attention to form as well as content: What kind of figurative language is used? What are the shapes and structures of the sentences? What kind of imagery is used? What allusions are present in the text? Is there anything contradictory or confusing about the text? Underline and take notes while you do this.

Look for published articles that deal with the topic of interest to you. See what they have to say. Look beyond your exact word or theme or passage at similar ideas and see what authors have done with those. If there’s a critical lens you are interested in, look for critics who use that same lens.

Start formulating your thesis based on your findings. Remember that your thesis is not set in stone until you finish the paper; you can modify it as your opinions change. Allow the text and your close reading to dictate the contents of your thesis, not the other way around.


Your paper will be graded primarily on the quality of your argument and how well you make your case. I will look for a strong, argumentative thesis; coherent paragraphs; textual evidence supported by interpretation; appropriate use of outside sources and adherence to MLA formatting. I will also be grading you on the presentation of your argument. I expect your papers to be well organized, progress logically from one paragraph to the next and to be clearly written with few or no typos. An A paper is one that does all these things.

One final word of advice – clarity is crucial. If I do not understand what you are trying to convey, I cannot grade you on what I think you might be saying. I can only grade you on what you say. So make sure that you write clearly; the main goal of every paper is to transfer thoughts from your mind into your reader’s. Doing that with panache is nice, but nowhere near as important as clarity.


I'm a doctoral student in English Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My interests lie in the field known very broadly as the Digital Humanities and I focus on reading digital books (what happens to books as they become not merely digitized, but digital) and reading books digitally (how can we use computers to learn new things about literature). In what spare time I have, I read speculative fiction, transform long strings of yarn into apparel and decor and play with my friends' dogs while eagerly awaiting the day when we move to an apartment complex that will allow us to have one.

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Posted in English 10: M14

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