Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to enjoy writing an academic paper:

The journey to my finished product has been long and not without turbulence. Yet here I am, with a literary analysis paper behind me and I really enjoyed creating it. Here is a little bit about my process and what I have learned from interaction based research.

In the first post I wrote on this literary research blog, I summarized the novel Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine. Annalee was the first to comment about how there are several feminist aspects in the novel that I could relate to Alice in Wonderland. I shared it with my Facebook friends and got a lot of people interested in the paper I was beginning to construct. Even though I was trying to avoid feminism, I took Annalee's repeated advice to incorporate feminist tones and it led me to my finished product. Until I was convinced, my first working thesis (or tweethis statement) dealt with control more than the role of women in literature. Sophie suggested I use more formal analysis and bring the author into the paper more, which was great since formal analysis is a weakness of mine. Annalee commented as well and expressed that there was still not a real "so what" in my argument. The only way to rectify this was to finally let feminism in and start talking about men and women as well as control. 

As I circulated my ideas to my friends on Facebook, I asked some general questions to get a conversation flowing. I asked what people thought about the book Ella Enchanted and was linked to some helpful websites. I also asked what people thought about feminism in Young Adult Literature. Later, I was able to get some helpful opinions about the definition of beauty. In a comment on my new post, Kate confirmed that what Annalee had been telling me for several posts now was true. I needed to address the feminism in Ella Enchanted.

In my next post, I decided to break down the elements of Ella Enchanted that I felt would support my feminist direction and compare them side-by-side to the classic story of Cinderella. I found that three main themes arose: Beauty, Success, and Happiness. Both texts, Ella Enchanted and Cinderella chose to define how these come to a woman in completely opposite ways. I didn't want to let go of my original idea of control even though I was starting to let go of including Alice in Wonderland in my paper. So in my next post, I wrote an updated paragraph that incorporates my original thoughts about Ella's control in the novel combined with comparisons I could make with the other men she interacts with, or in other words, the feminist bit. Brianna commented about the men in the novel and it made me realize that the answers to my questions were too simple. I needed different questions.

In a "regaining composure" post, I uploaded a mind map that I created on OneNote. In the center I put "Ella Enchanted" and then let all of the ideas I was having about the text branch out and reveal themselves. I realized that I was juggling too many ideas. I decided I couldn't write about film adaptation, both authors, control, myths vs. magic, side-by-side character comparisons, etc. all in one paper. I decided to officially eliminate a discussion of Alice in Wonderland and let Ella's World be my main focus. This exercise helped me fine tune my research process over the next few days.

I found a book review on goodreads.com that lead me to the author of an article about feminism in Ella
Enchanted vs. the film adaptation. Although I am not focusing on the film, I found the article very useful and was able to contact the author through Goodreads which was an incredible boost of confidence and motivation for me. Along with this progress, I was able to research venues where I might submit my paper. It was very exciting looking for different places because it made my writing more real. Multiple people would be reading it. It mattered.

As I continued trying to solidify my thesis, I began to feel as though I had taken away too many ideas since I felt that, once again, my paper lacked a "so what?". Discouraged, I posted a synthesis of what I had been thinking about and circulated it to my classmates on the blog as well as my feminist friends on Facebook. Interestingly, my opening paragraph has remained somewhat the same. Once again, my dear friend Annalee commented, and gave my paper the stakes it needed. She wondered if I could try "explicitly stating that Cinderella idealizes/oversimplifies women and that Gail's version redeems it". Brilliant! It was exactly what I needed to make a clear point.

Around this time I had been reading and re-reading Fairest and it became clear that adding Fairest would be an excellent way to further prove what Annalee helped me realize I was arguing. I was able to do some great research with the help of a BYU Librarian at 11:30pm via chat. One article in particular, gave me the confidence I needed to decide to include Fairest and the corresponding story of Snow White. Andrew did some research for me and gave me an article about fairy tale re-tellings. Researching became a breeze because I knew what I was looking for! It made all the difference. Juggling four texts (Ella, Fairest, Cinderella, and Snow White) was already becoming difficult, but it was still manageable. 

I had more success with contacting authors of some of the most helpful sources I had stumbled upon, expressing my appreciation for their work and research, and explaining what I was planning to do with my paper. Responses were always positive and I wondered why I had previously been so afraid to contact authors. I took a similar opportunity at the BYU English Symposium to contact an author who presented at a panel called: "A Whole New World: Disney, Adaptation, and the Americanization of Fairy Tales". She wrote not only about how fairy tales are retold, but also about gender roles. Afterward, I went up and talked to her. We exchanged emails and she sent me a copy of her paper to assist me in my research. 

It came down to the week before a first draft was due. I set some goals for myself to break down the steps I would need to take in order to complete my draft including close readings, source evaluation, and more research if needed. Mid-week, I assessed where I was with these goals and posted an updated goal list with the things I had completed crossed off. Needless to say, that post motivated me to move faster since I had only finished about two of the five items. Now everyone could see that I was lagging behind a little bit. I worked faster and was able to come up with a draft for Friday's peer review activity.
Award For Annalee!
Creative Commons 2.0

I researched publication venues again more seriously and decided on three different places: BYU Scholars Archive, The International Student Journal, and AWE: A Woman's Perspective. I have now submitted my finished product to all of these places.

Special thanks to all my classmates, and especially Annalee! She wins an award for best feedback on my posts! My direction shifted several times and she always helped my finds ways to fill in the gaps. She was constantly commenting and giving me ideas.

Writing this paper has been an enlightening journey and I feel prepared for upper-level English classes where I am positive that my new-found skills will be a necessity.

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