BK Writing Lab

Writing a Literary Research Paper
Paul DiGeorgio, Ph.D.


Literary Research Paper is a thesis-driven, argumentative interpretation of a work of literature. The paper is argumentative because it is advancing the argument of its author; the paper is "making a point" and giving reasons and evidence in support of that point.

When you have finished reading the work(s) on which you will write your literary analysis research paper—preferably after multiple readings and substantial note-taking—then you are finally ready to synthesize all of your ideas and notes into a clear analytical overview, stated as concisely and precisely as possible in an opinion or claim. This is your (hypo)thesis. It may change a bit as you proceed, but it will allow you to better direct your research efforts for appropriate critical analytic support. In other words, it is not until you have a working thesis that you can really discern which scholarly resources will be usable for you.

A working thesis will be a complete sentence that names the author and the literary work(s) and makes a clear statement of your opinion to be supported in the paper. For example, the following could be a working thesis about symbolism in Hawthorne:

In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” the author uses the character Faith to symbolize Goodman Brown’s religious faith, in order to suggest a theme that loss of one’s religious faith will cause one to question other beliefs as well.

You’ll note that the thesis presents an opinion about both symbolism and theme that its writer would then have to support by offering persuasive proof or evidence from the story itself, along with the explanations necessary to convince a reader that the opinion is a reasonable one. The thesis is like the fundamental “blueprint” or foundation on which your entire paper is based!

In order to be most convincing, you’ll need to support your own opinions with established scholarly opinions, which is why college-level papers are most often thesis-driven research papers. When you write a research paper you are performing the same sort of academic work that is required for an Honors B.A., many M.A. degrees, and all PhDs! What’s more, many J.D.’s and M.D.’s conduct and publish research that is very similar! The only difference is with regard to content and scale.


If you have any questions, send us an email at bkwritinglab@bishopkennyhs.org!


Image Credit: Research by Komkrit Noenpoempisut from the Noun Project

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