The department believes strongly that writing is an essential part of the learning process in courses in Literature, and that research, broadly defined, is an essential part of any education. Research may be defined as “close and careful study” as well as “scholarly investigation or inquiry.” Obviously research of the first sort is at the heart of your studies in this department: research of the second sort is an adjunct to close study and reading.
Writing about what you have learned serves several purposes. The most important is expanding your own knowledge. Writing about literature is an important way of understanding the text. In addition, the research paper provides a way of sharing your knowledge. You inhabit a community of scholars, both local (your teachers and fellow students) and global (the community of those who have read, pondered, and written about the works of literature you study). Making your work public, which you can do in a variety of ways other than print publishing, enrolls you in this community of scholars.
All of your literature courses will require some writing and research, combined in various ways and in various proportions. You should also learn the habit of reading secondary materials yourself, beyond any assignment, for the greater understanding such reading brings.
Writing well, whether the writing be research based or not, is a requirement which you should place on yourself and one which your teachers will expect you to meet. Revision is an in indispensable part of any writing. Careful thinking, critical questioning, composing, and revising are part of any writing project.
A Few Specific Suggestions
- Every Literature major should own a copy of A Glossary of Literary Terms, by M.H. Abrams, the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Paper, and perhaps a brief guide such and Strunk and White’s Elements of Style or William Zinsser’s On Writing Well.
- For questions of formatting papers and of simple matters of documentation, consult a source such as the MLA Handbook.
- The department does not assume all students already know how to do research. Information Literacy Intensive classes devote time to research methods. Most literature courses will provide some of the instruction you need in class, but you should feel free to seek advice and suggestions from your instructor.
The following guidelines will apply to all assigned paper and essay exams in the department. Individual instructors have the authority to emphasize one element or standard more than another and may provide you with either an oral or written extension of these guidelines. In lieu of other instructions, however, the following criteria will apply:
The “A” Essay
The A essay is an excellent piece of writing. It presents a focused thesis that is clearly supported throughout the essay. It is structurally sound, with smooth and apt transitions between sentences and paragraphs. The work demonstrates effective organization and development of ideas as well as originality and substantive content. The essay logically moves toward its stated purpose, and is appropriate in language and style for its audience. The writing is clear and controlled, and the language is often sophisticated, effective, and interesting. Papers at this level show an ability to interpret or criticize in depth; often, they reveal creative and imaginative approaches. The essay is original, forceful, and compelling; it is free of spelling, typographic, and/or other grammatical errors. If documentation is required, clear and graceful signal phrases appear in text, and style conventions in the Works Cited are accurately followed. In other words, an A paper is one of exceedingly high quality.
* Grade inflation in high schools and in many college classes may lead students to believe that “good” work is the same as “excellent” work. It is not. The Department of English maintains standards and believes that an A must be earned honestly and diligently. To lower those standards harms all students by devaluing the quality of their education.
The “B” Essay
The B essay is a good piece of writing. It supports a thesis in an organized and thoughtful way, developing the subject with few mechanical errors. The B essay shows an ability to discuss or interpret on more than a superficial level. The language is effective. Such work differs from A work in that it may show definite competence while lacking distinction; the examples and details may be pertinent, but not particularly revealing or interesting. It may contain shortcomings, such as occasional monotony in expression, lack of originality, ambiguity in purpose, or some lack of precision and economy in word choice. If documentation is required, clear and graceful signal phrases appear most of the time in text, and style conventions in the Works Cited are closely, if not perfectly, followed.
The “C” Essay
The C essay is a fair piece of writing — acceptable college work. It meets the minimum requirements of the assignment. There is likely a thesis, but it may be too broad or too narrow, or not adequately supported throughout the essay. It reveals an adequate grasp of subject and a basic understanding of major elements. It offers examples but may rely on predictable arguments and obvious supports or hasty generalizations. There are likely transitional flaws. Language is adequate, but flawed with awkwardness and/or imprecision. There are likely spelling, typographic, and/or grammatical errors in most paragraphs. Logic may not always be evident; some ideas may not be clearly explained. The C essay lacks originality, significant purpose, or development. If documentation is required, some signal phrases may be missing from the text, and the Works Cited may contain repeated errors. In general, a C paper fails to show an understanding or appreciation of the more subtle qualities in language or the subject being written about. On the other hand, it remains minimally satisfactory.
The “D” Essay
The D essay falls below acceptable college standards. It may partially address the assignment, but lacks insight corresponding to the goal of the essay. It may express a thesis, but it is likely inappropriate for the assignment. Paragraphs do not exhibit coherent organization or sufficient development. Imprecise word choice, monotonous sentence patterns, rambling or illogical organization, and repetition of ideas may be present on every page. Sentences are poorly constructed, and spelling, typing, and/or grammatical errors appear frequently. If documentation is required, signal phrases do not appear in the text, and the Works Cited contains a large number of errors.
The Failing Essay
The F essay is an unsuccessful piece of writing that shows a multitude of flaws. It may have no thesis or no support, and little development or organization of ideas. It likely contains many spelling, typing, and grammatical errors. The essay may show little understanding of the assignment. If documentation is required, the lack of accurate source attribution may suggest plagiarism. An essay that receives a failing grade means that performance on the particular assignment is markedly below college standards and that prompt intervention and improvement needs to be made if the student hopes to pass the class.
Faculty members in the Department of Literature and Language recognize that unexpected occasions may arise when a student must be absent from class. Although such absences are not encouraged, the following policy will prevail:
- Three absences will be tolerated in classes that meet three times a week.
- Two absences will be allowed in classes that meet twice a week.
- One absence only will be permitted for classes that meet once a week.
Students remain responsible for all material covered in missed classes, including reading assignments, announcements and changes of schedules. Should any further unexcused absences occur, however, the instructor has the option of lowering the final course grade by one letter grade for each hour missed. Failure to attend class in a responsible and committed manner may thus be grounds for failure in the course.
Plagiarism and Ethics in Writing
In order to avoid confusion, the UNC Asheville Department of Literature and Language defines plagiarism in this widely accepted fashion: Plagiarism involves the appropriation and use of someone else’s ideas or words as one’s own. All definitions, terminology, concepts, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source must be identified and documented in any essay or exam students write–whether it be for this department or any other.
When outside reading is undertaken for an assigned paper, all students are responsible for recording accurate notes so that later, should they wish to incorporate some of the ideas or phrasings encountered in the reading, they may properly and adequately identify the source. In identifying such sources, they should follow current MLA guidelines.
Facts of general knowledge (such as the place and date of an author’s birth, honors granted during his or her lifetime, the titles and dates of published works, etc.) need not be documented. However, facts which are not in the area of general knowledge must be credited to the source. Ideas, interpretations, terms, and patterns of organization taken from an outside source may be either directly quoted (in which case the exact words should be placed in quotation marks) or paraphrased. Paraphrase is recommended whenever possible in order to avoid a disproportionate amount of direct quotation in the paper. In either case, whether with quoting or paraphrasing, credit must be given to the source.
A good definition of paraphrase is found in the Practical English Handbook: “To paraphrase is to express the sense of a passage entirely in [the student’s] own words, selecting and summarizing only information and ideas that will be useful[. . . .] It is the recording of relevant information in the student’s own words. It extracts items of information instead of merely recasting the entire passage and line of thought in different words.”
The key to avoiding plagiarism is to remember that students are responsible for giving credit to the source of any idea, phrase, term, definition, or pattern of organization they use in their own work.
The Department of English considers plagiarism a grave breach of intellectual integrity. Instructors in the department have the authority to give students a failing grade for the course because of a single instance of plagiarism or other form of cheating. At the least, the following minimal steps will be taken:
- The student will receive the grade of F for the particular work attempted in which plagiarism or cheating is involved
- The incident will be reported to the Department Chair
- The incident will be reported to the Academic Dean who will determine whether any other punishment should be taken. Additional penalties may be imposed at the Dean’s discretion. They may include cancellation of scholarships, suspension, and expulsion.
Writing and Literature Resources
- UNC Asheville Writing Center
- Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab (OWL)
- Strunk and White’s Elements of Style
- OED Online (access requires on-campus connection or proxy configuration; see Ramsey Library for details)
- Voice of the Shuttle
- Alex Catalog of Electronic Texts
- Project Gutenberg
- Glossary of Poetic Terms from BOB’S BYWAY
- Lynch, Glossary of Literary and Rhetorical Terms
- UW-Madison’s How to Read a Poem
- Internet Poetry Archive
- Modern American Poetry
- Poetry International Web