How to Write a Research Essay in Literature

Writing guide
Posted on August 9, 2019

A research essay is one of the most popular tasks that college and university students get during academic semesters. Usually research essays start with a topic or a particular problem that needs to be researched. Typically, college research essays are described as an academic work that leads the readers to the works of other authors since it guides the readers to comparing the current and the previous research essay. This type of academic assignments teaches your readers about a particular topic as it properly identifies the key points of the essay and the thesis.

Research Essay in Literature: Getting Started

Before you rush into the library, it is recommended to think about what you are going to write your research essay. If it’s Literature course that you’re writing your paper for, ensure to brainstorm how you want to approach the topic. Thus, you will get the focus that you need to find the most relevant sources. If you have no idea where to start, conduct some primitive research in order to get a sense of the context of the topic.

Creating the thesis of the research essay in Literature will help you at the research stage. Mind that it should encourage your readers who are eager to knowing more about the topic. What is the problem? Why should you research one? Why should you write about the problem? Why does your target audience want to know about the topic? What is known about the chosen topic? What exactly needs to be researched? You can you find the relevant information? If, for instance, you work on the topic that sounds as ‘Love and Death in Don Quixote,’ you will most likely check what Miguel de Cervantes had to tell himself in some sources if available or read the works of the other authors who studied the literature masterpiece by Cervantes. Besides, you will mention the influence that the book had on the others writers and artists of all times. Check the article ‘The Long Lasting Influence of ‘Don Quixote’ from Shakespeare to Broadway’ on Culture Trip to get inspired for the research essay. Find unknown terms in a specialized dictionary and read background information in online encyclopedia. This will enable you to get new precious knowledge of the topic and help you approach it appropriately.

Topics for Literature Research Essay

When it comes to Literature, the number of topics that you might choose for your research essay is endless. If you’re looking for the easiest way to find an idea for the next research essay in Literature, it is recommended to start broad and then move toward making your topic more specific and thus, more interesting to your potential reader.

Here are a couple of examples of research topics in literature to help you decide on what exactly you would like to write about in this or that novel:

  • 1. The Roles of Women and Men
  • In what way the gender roles are shown on the pages of the book or story? Are they completely different? Are they given equal rights? What kind of gender expectations do the characters follow or do they fight against?

  • 2. Politics
  • Does the novel address any political issues? If yes, which ones? Equality? Discrimination?

  • 3. Religion
  • Is the chosen novel religious? What beliefs does the novel question or promote?

  • 4. Historical Background
  • Who is the author of the book and what is his or her story? Was he or she involved in any sort of controversy associated with their work? How does the novel reflect the beliefs and society of the era? What is the significance of the chosen novel today and in the time when it was created?

  • 5. Comparison between the Book Characters
  • You can compare characters of the same story or two (or even more!) different ones. In what way are their similarities or differences important to the plot?

  • 6. Allusions in the Story
  • Are there any significant allusions in the story? How important are they to understanding the story, as well as its place in the world literature?

  • 7. Symbolism
  • Are there any significant symbols in the book? How important are they?

  • 8. Comparisons between Novels
  • In case the books seem absolutely different but at the same time they represent the similar genre or were written in the same time period, you might want to explore this issue.

  • 9. Criticism
  • Does the plot include any notable criticisms? What kind of response do the other Literature experts have to this work?

Developing a Focus

The goal of the brainstorming stage is to develop a clear and concise research question, summative description, or tentative thesis statement. This will make your research more efficient because you will be well-prepared to evaluate whether the sources on your list are relevant to your topic and Literature in general.

Having some trouble choosing an interesting research essay questions to discuss? There is a collection of ideas that may ease the process of selection the most captivating one:

  • The Sexuality of Politics in Early Modern American Literature;
  • The Portrayal of Legendary Heroes in the World Literature and How It Affected the Way Males Perceive Their Roles in Today’s Society;
  • Politics of the Woman’s Body: Postcolonial Female Writers of the 3rd World;
  • Rabbit Tetralogy by John Updike: Mastered Irony in True Motion;
  • In What Way Has Literature Changed People’s Expectations of Religion and Science?
  • Why Was William Shakespeare So Gifted in the World of Literature?
  • The First World War in English Poetry;
  • Holden Caulfield as a Lost Teenager in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

Locate Your Resources

Before you get your hands on the writing process, read up on the subject of your project. It’s recommended to gather all the sources and review each carefully before you start writing so that you can have everything planned out when it’s time to begin you research essay. To find information related to your topic check various types of resources (the more the better!). Here are some of the examples of the resources:

  • Specialty books. Search these resources in your college or local library. A book written on the topic of your choice is an incredible resource and will definitely become one of the best options when you start searching for quality information. What is more, these books also have various references where students can find more useful information.
  • Academic journals. Today, students have an opportunity to find loads of periodicals on various academic researches related to the field if Literature. The best thing about these resources is that each article is written by a specialist in Literature and scrutinized by other experts to ensure accuracy. LitLine, Failbetter, Decomp, Journal of Literary Studies are just a few of online resources of the kind for those in need of sophisticated and detailed materials on Literature topic.
  • Online encyclopedias. This is where the most reliable information can be found on the internet. The sites like and are at your service 24/7. Are you required to write a research essay on ‘A Rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner? There’s a useful article on that will help you get your thoughts together on the issue. Be careful with the websites like Wiki. Those can be pretty helpful; however, they are known for containing unverified materials that you should check before you use them in your research essay in Literature.
  • Expert interviews. If you get a chance, interview a professional in the subject of your Literature research essay. Professionals can be experts working in the field of Literature, college tutors, writers, professors with advanced degrees, and so on.

Analyze Your Research

Carefully and critically read through the material that you have managed to gather. Now you need to know and understand what exactly the authors are saying and why. Taking notes is a must as you read. Focus on identifying the key conclusions of the article or book, and the approach that the author prefers using in order to arrive to that very conclusion. It is important to have a brief summary of the whole, with some short relevant details.

Take a look at your research question, thesis statement, or summative description now that you have done all that reading. Does the evidence that you’ve found answer the question or support your thesis? Have the arguments or the data made you change your mind? If needed, revise your thesis statement or research question to account for the info that your research uncovered.

It’s Time to Write

The first part of your research essay is the introduction. Use this part to introduce the topic and set the purpose for your paper. Use introduction to provide your readers with an idea of what you’re going to talk about in your essay. Make it relatively short, i.e., one or two paragraphs would be enough. If it’s a really long essay that you write, you may need to expand your introduction.

Don’t think that your readers already know everything about your topic unless it’s an issue of common knowledge. For instance, you probably do not need to explain in your essay intro what the romance novel or romantic novel is, but it’s better to define less general terms like ‘direct characterization’, ‘pathetic fallacy’, ‘stream of consciousness’ or ‘tragicomedy’.
Proceed to the body of your research essay. This is where the focus of your essay is located. Include the key arguments, all the research methods used, the results that you have obtained and the main research findings.

If you need to provide some background information on your Literature topic, include it in a special section at the beginning of the essay. For instance, if you’re working on a research analysis of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and you’d like to include some extra information on the marriages of the 14th century, state that ‘in point of fact, the child marriages weren’t ‘common’ in the times of Romeo and Juliet; however, child marriages were reasonably widespread and accepted among medieval nobility for financial purposes.’

Arrange the body sections in order to ensure they flow logically since the organization is what matters the most. Depending upon the length of your essay, the end of the body will include your discussion of the findings. In other words, you wrap up your findings but you don’t state your conclusions yet.

It’s the conclusion section where you’re supposed to place your final thoughts on the research topic. If, for instance, you write a research essay on the friendship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, your conclusion might include the following information, ‘while the poor peasant Sancho Panza was described by Cervantes not so intelligent, he turned out to be cunning and strong, as well as intelligent enough to not only take care of himself, but his master as well; thus, a pointless business arrangement turned into a heartfelt and meaningful friendship’.
The biggest problem that many college students face when working on a research essay in Literature is that they prefer waiting until the last moment to write one. Plan every step of your research essay. Organize every part of it. When you work on the outline of the pager, include an introduction, the main points, and the ending. Start early to gather information about the topic. Create loads of note cards to have them near when you’re in the process of writing. Don’t lose the source of every piece of information to know where all the details come from. Thus, you will avoid any accusations of plagiarism. Provide credit to every paraphrase or quote. The best way to get the research essay done in Literature is to work on a section at a time and revise each more than once.

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