Research Projects

Your research projects will involve two related tasks: 1. You’ll write a seminar essay based on course readings and independent research and 2. You’ll adapt this essay into a component of a course web site featuring the work of all students in the seminar.


In your seminar essay, you will make an argument that contributes to a scholarly or intellectual conversation or debate about the the relationship between literature and the human brain or mind.

To do this, you’ll need an angle, or method. Consider some of the following possibilities:

  • An analysis of the representation of the brain in a particular literary text or group of texts.
  • A survey of works of literature in a particular genre that emphasizes the human brain or mind (for example: “brain memoirs,” “neuronovels,” science fiction, or Modernist novels).
  • An examination of a literary text or group of texts through the lens of a prominent theory about the brain or mind (for example: Damasio’s “framework” for understanding consciousness or Freud’s theory of dreams).
  • A survey of a particular brain phenomenon in various works of literature (for example: autism, epilepsy, or Tourette’s syndrome; dreams, hallucinations, or visions; particular qualities or quirks of memory; or particular aspects of consciousness (for example, the relationship between organism and object or the role of the body in the formation of consciousness).
  • A close examination of the ways a single author draws on neuroscience or a particular brain phenomenon to achieve literary aims (for example: the use of a narrator with Tourette’s syndrome in Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn or an autistic child protagonist in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time).


Choose a topic and a set of texts that fascinate you. Challenge yourself by addressing sources that may seem daunting at first. Let the project evolve as you conduct research and learn from it; don’t be afraid to change your mind or change direction. Start early and write your essay in stages. Revise. Take feedback seriously. Revise again. And again. Think THESIS and MOTIVE. Be sure your SOURCES are reliable and relevant. Choose your EVIDENCE to advance your argument. Think of your audience as all the members of our seminar.

Formatting Guidelines

Your essay should be approximately 2,500 – 3,000 words in length (about 10-12 pages). Use a 12-point font and 1” margins. Include page numbers, a title, and Works Cited list. Use MLA Style. (See link on on this site for Purdue University’s Online Writing Lab guidelines for MLA Style.)


You will adapt your seminar essay for a web format. While much or most of your essay’s content and argument will probably remain central, your adaptation will be aimed at a new audience: any interested readers who may happen upon your project online. The rhetorical demands of writing for the web overlap with those of writing a traditional essay, but they also differ in significant ways. With this in mind, you’ll want to do the following:

  • Structure your project for the web, creating an introductory page and a set of readable sub-pages easily navigated using a menu. See UMASS-Dartmouth suggestions for “chunking” when writing for the web.
  • Adapt the style and tone of your writing to appeal to an audience who may be unfamiliar with the texts or ideas you’re writing about.
  • Be sure you have a title that is both explanatory and catchy.
  • Include images, videos, or sound files wherever they are relevant.
  • Indicate sources using live, embedded links whenever possible.
  • Include a short “about” page introducing yourself as author.

Writing for Multimedia 

We’ll use a WordPress template to create a collective website representing your work for the seminar. We’ll give it a name, and we’ll include an introductory page explaining what readers can expect to find when they navigate the site. We’ll decide on menu topics, and we’ll arrange your various projects according to these topics. We’ll consider how particular design elements send rhetorical messages. In addition to all this, we will work on finding ways to use multimedia elements–video, images, charts, maps, graphs, sound files, etc.–as more than windowdressing. Sometimes an image or video may simply offer readers a visual example to accompany a detail in your wriitng (an author photo, for example), but you should also strive to use multimedia elements to help develop and drive your argument, as texts that offer evidence or new ways of thinking about the questions you explore. The University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth offers some good advice for Writing for the Web.


You’ll complete your research project in stages (see calendar):

  • April 9: Proposal
  • April 16: Analysis of a passage
  • April 23: Annotated bibliography
  • April 28: Draft of seminar essay
  • May 6: Revised seminar essay
  • May 14: Introductory page for your web project  
  • May 16: Draft of web project
  • May 23: Revised web project

 These stages are designed to help you make steady progress on your projects, with opportunity for reflection, feedback, revision at each stage.

Cover Letters
Submit a cover letter with each draft or revision of your essay. Use the cover letter to orient your readers—explaining what you set out to accomplish, what you still need to work on, and what kind of help you would like. Be specific. You might even include a list.


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One Response to Research Projects

  1. Debra says:

    I am looking to explore how the four British Romantic poets, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and John Keats use qualias in their poetry and see how it contributes/ enhances the poems, like contributing tone, imagery, etc.. The poems I am considering are “Song: How Sweet I Roam’d Field to Field” and “The Little Black Boy” by Blake; “Tintern Abbey”, “My Heart Leaps Up”, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections od Early Childhood” and “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud” by Wordsworth; “The Pain of Sleep”, “Constancy to an Ideal Object”, “Frost at Midnight” and “Youth and Ages by Coleridge”; “The day is gone, and all its sweets are gone!”, “To Sleep” and “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” by Keats.

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