When high school students first discover they have to research their English papers, their typical response is to think, “Well, this ought to be easy.” After all, how hard can it be to regurgitate a few lines of a text, add your spin on it, and then call it a day?
Then, they learn about citations. They learn about primary and secondary resources. They learn about inductive reasoning and academic dishonesty. Suddenly, the whole prospect of researching an English paper looks pretty intimidating.
Take a deep breath. Yes, high school academic research is more intensive than when you used to write three-paragraph essays in middle school. However, it’s an easily acquirable skill – provided you take the proper steps. This article offers a short guide to researching your English papers.
Guiding Principles for Researching Your English Paper
Whether you’re in a brick-and-mortar classroom or you take ENG4U online, you need to be proactive in researching your English papers. This means committing to certain guiding principles. Chances are, your instructor will review the best practices around English essay research. However, if they do not (or if you need a refresher), here are some essential tips:
- Research a variety of sources – don’t just stick to one!
- Keep detailed tabs on where and how you found information – this will prove valuable when citation time rolls around.
- Build your thesis around what you find, not the other way around – you aren’t trying to misrepresent sources to fit your preconceived ideas.
- Maintain academic honesty – avoid AI generators, content spinners, plagiarized materials, etc. Your teachers will find out.
- When in doubt, ask an instructor – leverage your main asset in the classroom and talk to a teacher if you have questions.
With these guiding principles firmly established, we can move on to the process itself.
Primary and Secondary Sources
Your research will consist primarily of two categories: the primary resources provided and authoritative secondary sources.
The primary resources will likely be texts you study in your English class: MacBeth, Animal Farm, the film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, etc. When you research a text by using the text itself, you engage with the work on its own terms (sometimes called a “formalist” approach).
Secondary sources are external texts about (or somehow related) to the text. They might include existing literary criticism about the text, biographical material about the author, historical contexts for the text, feminist/Marxist/post-colonial readings of the text, etc. These sources help situate the text in a broader context – whether historical, political or cultural.
How to Cite Your Sources
While APA style reigns supreme in other disciplines, English class is all about MLA style. This citation style requires students to provide an in-text citation listing the author and page number (this differs for web URLs). It also demands a “works cited” citation that includes a bevy of information: full author name, title of work, volume, publication date, page number(s), website name, etc.
Concordia offers a comprehensive run-down of MLA citations, which you should explore before diving into your English paper. Likewise, several sites and apps provide a convenient MLA citation generator (don’t solely rely on these; cross-reference their generations with an authoritative MLA style guide).
Hopefully, this short guide will help with your next English paper. Remember, if you have outstanding questions or concerns, don’t turn to an internet article (like this one). Talk to your teacher!
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