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Literary Analysis Research Essay


Melanie Borrego

Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, School or Arts and Sciences

Brandman University


Borrego, M. (2014). Literacy Analysis Research Essay. Brandman University.


This assignment is an 8-10 page literacy research and argument essay, standard at most universities. It requires the use of at least eight outside, scholarly sources. Students work on the assignment throughout the term, and it serves as their culminating assessment for English 104, the second course in a two-course composition sequence.

Background and Context

This assignment is an 8-10 page literary research and argument essay, standard at most universities. It requires the use of at least eight outside, scholarly sources. Students work on the assignment throughout the term, identifying a topic, constructing a thesis, working on and submitting a topic proposal with a Works Cited list, then writing and reviewing a draft of the full essay before turning in the final for grading. The assignment serves as their culminating assessment.


As we were building and revising our Associate of Arts in General Studies degree, we integrated both Communication Fluency (which we called Written Fluency) and Use of Information Sources (which we called Information Literacy) from the DQP in the signature assignment for English 104, the second course in our two-course composition sequence.

Students in English 104 have presumably passed the Rhetoric and Composition course. They come to this assignment having already completed a more basic research essay and skills such as organizing an academic essay around an arguable thesis, providing support with sources they have identified, evaluated, and synthesized. In this assignment, they are asked to apply those skills to more specialized research.

  1. The Program Learning Outcomes being assessed here are adapted from the DQP:
    Written Fluency:
    Compose written arguments that are coherent, grammatically correct, and rhetorically aware. Information Literacy: Evaluate and cite various information resources necessary to complete an academic research essay.

The assignment is used in English 104: Critical Thinking and Writing about Literature. This signature assignment is due in the final week of the ENGU 104 course.

Anyone assigning a research essay in a General Education course might find this signature assignment and rubric helpful.

Rationale for Assignment

Research essay assignments are very common, and because they are often poorly written and difficult to read, some instructors have begun to wonder whether or not they continue to be necessary at the first-year level, or whether they might be too much to ask of first-year students. Stanford University’s Andrea Lunsford researched studies conducted on the writing of first-year college students going back nearly a century. She found that the error rate has barely budged, despite the fact that today’s students are writing more challenging, complex essays about six times longer than a century ago (Thompson, 2013). The notion that the work may be too difficult for students, then, does not seem to be supported by the evidence.

In the past, students were not required to do so much scholarly research so soon in their academic career. However, the daily use of the internet by students (indeed by most citizens in America), means that knowing how to consistently identify and evaluate the sources of ideas, quotations, and evidence is more pressing than in years past. Students are researching all the time these kinds of assignments are a way to show them how to search more intelligently and to use more reliable, credible evidence to help form and support their arguments. The importance of research essays goes beyond the internet, of course. When thoughtfully constructed, they can help students evolve from thinking that they can only study the thoughts of great thinkers to beginning to realize that they can add their voice to the conversation.

Thompson, Clive. Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. New York: Penguin, 2013.

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