Conference Abstract

I did it! I finished my senior thesis, which topped out at 17 pages. I had to cut it down to 7 pages to read at the annual senior seminar conference, which wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be. As part of the class and the conference, I have to submit an abstract of the smaller paper. Here it is!

Magical realism is a genre that has been studied extensively in Latin America for its ability to blur the lines between reality and conjecture. In this way, magical realism seeks to confront perceptions of reality, an aim easily documented by research and criticism in the genre. However, there is not much research dealing with magical realism across cultures, especially as it pertains to the United States. Offering a cultural comparison of how magical realism manifests in both Latin American and American cultures provides a lens through which we can examine commonly held beliefs and views not otherwise apparent. Through a close comparison of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Un senor muy viejo con unas alas enormes” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” the stark contrast between the author’s respective cultures comes into sharper relief.

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Commenting on Craft: Part Six

There are lots of other parts to this series. (It reflects the fact that research really is a never-ending process. Maybe that’s just how it feels from where I’m standing.)

Today’s installment is about intros and conclusions. I’m to a point in my life where I love writing introductions because it’s the only way I can give myself a blueprint to follow. Anymore I write an intro for me, not my readers. Conclusions, though? I still suck at conclusions. Because of that, I’m going to choose my quotes from the section on writing conclusions. Makes sense, right?

You may be happy to know that you can write your conclusion using the same elements in your introduction, in reverse order.

That’s all well and good, but that puts me in a trap where my conclusion sounds too formulaic and too similar to my introduction. I understand it’s good to have everything come full circle and tie together, but it’s boring as hell to write—and if it’s boring to write, it’s boring to read.

Don’t start grandly. If your subject is grand, it will speak its own importance.

I think I fall into this sometimes. We always want to feel like what we’re writing about is important, but we don’t have to say it’s important. If we as writers and researchers have done our jobs, the reader will already know that it’s important—and why.

You can bring your report to a graceful, even literary close with an echo of your opening fact, anecdote, or quotation.

This seems much more human to be than a standard intro-in-reverse approach, as seen in the first quote I chose. I love the idea of being able to have a literary close, especially since mine is a paper about literature. A novel concept, don’t you think?

Thank you, thank  you. I’ll be here all week.

(Not true. Easter break starts tomorrow. I’ll be here the week after, though!)

Commenting on Craft: Part Three

Parts one and two can be found here and here, respectively.

Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty, the stuff that actually terrifies the writers of research projects. Usually I can come up with ideas pretty easily, but when faced with even the prospect of outlining or planning, I panic. That being said, the section was really helpful for me in terms of being able to wrap my mind around the onerous task of planning.

If, for example, you were asked to ‘compare and contrast Freud and Jung on the imagination and unconsciousness,’ you do not have to organize your report into two parts, the first on Freud, the second on Jung, a kind of organization that too often results in a pair of unrelated summaries. Try breaking the topics into their conceptual parts, such as elements of the unconscious and the imagination, their definitions, and so on; then order those parts in a way useful to your readers.

This was especially helpful for me because I too often use this flawed method of organization. As a matter of fact, until reading this quote, I was going to organize my paper into the two texts I’m analyzing rather than breaking the analyses down into their more meaningful elements. The fact that the authors use a specific topic also helps conceptualize how this method of organization can be employed effectively.

Now, just as you picked out key terms to run through your whole report, circle the ones that uniquely distinguish this section from all the others; they should be in the sentence that states the point of that section.

I’m notoriously bad at topic sentences. I’ve gotten better at writing theses found in an introductory paragraph, but the idea of other topic sentences still thoroughly terrifies me. This idea helps immensely, because if there are no terms that are unique to a specific section, it’ll be easy to tell what’s essential to the main argument and what’s only serving as fluff.

Readers may have to understand the outlines of your overall position before they can follow how you apply it to specific texts, events, situations, and so on.

This quote comes from the section of the reading dedicated to finding a suitable order for the information you’re trying to relay. For me, the “general analysis followed by specific applications” will work the most because of what the above passage states. I’m doing a genre study, and unless I define the genre first, no one is going to be able to follow my argument. I think it’s important, too, to give the reader a big picture as a guide so they can better understand how smaller pieces contribute to that big picture. I know that strategy helps me as a reader, at least, and because it’s important to think of your writing from a reader’s perspective, I think this will be all the more helpful when I sit down to write a first draft.

Commenting on Craft: Part Two

If you’re wondering out this series, check out this post first.

Here are today’s quotes:

Even so, once you have a question that holds your interest, you must pose a tougher one about it: So what? Beyond your own interest in its answer, why would others think it a question worth asking?

This is another one of those quotes that emphasizes the importance of a proper audience and keeping that audience in mind. It also helps to aid the researcher in realizing that there is a reason for what they’re doing beyond a sometimes seemingly menial task.

To make your problem their problem, you must frame it from their point of view, so that they see its costs to them. To do that, imagine that when you pose the condition part of your problem, your reader responds, So what?

This is similar to the previous quote but one that helped me narrow down my somewhat abstract topic to something more concrete, with real-life applications rather than being a little removed with every day life. Asking the question, “So what?” is actually immensely helpful, as odd as it sounds.

The consequence of a conceptual problem is a second thing that we don’t know or understand because we don’t understand the first one, and that is more significant, more consequential than the first.

This one took me a few read-throughs to actually grasp. We often think that our topic is the be-all-end-all, but every topic relates to something more universal, and it’s that universality that brings readers in and makes them care. Without that, everyone except you will think that what you’re doing is inconsequential.

This section was helpful for me in that it made me want to make my research more meaningful, which, to be fair, is the purpose of research, but one that I can easily lose sight of. I definitely think it will help me tailor my topic to something more grounded.

Commenting on Craft: Part One

As I mentioned in my previous post, a lot of what I’m going to be blogging about for the next few months is the process by which one goes about conducting research. I’ll likely be providing some commentary about the field of English language and literature as well. This shift is all part of my English Senior Seminar for my undergraduate degree, so while it may be a little dry and more formal, I hope you’ll at least find some of it useful.

This particular series, which I’m calling Commenting on Craft, contains responses to, appropriately enough, The Craft of Research, a great tool written by Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams. I’ll take two or three quotes from each section of the book and give a short response, partially so that I can sort out what’s going on and partially so that you all can get a gist of the book.

These quotes come from the introduction as well as the first two chapters of the book. The beginning is mostly concerned with A) choosing a topic that will interest you and B) making sure that topic will also be interesting to the reader.

But it would be a feeble education that did not change you at all, and the deeper your education, the more it will change the ‘you’ that you are or want to be.

I love this. Many people get hung up on research projects because they feel that their voices are lost under a sea of work done by other people, or maybe they’re frustrated that they have to conform to a certain style of writing that doesn’t seem like theirs. While it’s valid, for sure, to feel that way, Booth et al. would like you to think of it as changing your writing for the better–making it something that will guide you into the career you’ll ultimately choose. (And, really, the quote by itself is pretty powerful, isn’t it?)

[…] it would be a mistake to think that learning to write sound research reports must threaten your true identity. It will change the way you think, but only by giving you more ways of thinking.

Again, this addresses the idea of losing one’s own voice in the process of writing academically, but I think it ultimately answers the question we all have when starting a project like this: “Why is it necessary for me to do research in the first place?” It’s necessary, say the authors, because it gives you a whole array of tools you otherwise wouldn’t have found.

You establish your side of the relationship with your readers when you adopt one of those three roles–I have information for you; I can help you fix a problem; I can help you understand something better. You must, however, cast your readers in a complementary role by offering them a social contract: I’ll play my part if you play yours. But that means you have to understand their role. If you cast them in a role they won’t accept, you’re likely to lose them entirely.

This speaks for itself. Writing for the proper audience is important no matter what kind of writing you’re doing, but in academic writing, it’s especially important to consider if you want to have ethos. You don’t just want to write a bunch of information, wipe your hands of it, and walk away; you want your reader to get something out of it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

I hope, if you’re someone who finds yourself in the position of having to write an extensive research project, that this (and other posts in the series) will help you along the way. Cheers!