american literature essay

american literature essay





Instructions for Researched Response Essays 1 and 2

The purpose behind the Researched Reponse Essays is to enhance close reading, writing, and research skills, and to encourage critical thinking and engagement with the assigned text(s). There are several ways you can approach writing a researched response:

  • Significant quote: Respond to how a significant quote in the text illustrates and relates to the argument made by the author, how that quote resonates/doesn’t resonate today, or how that quote has been interpreted
  • Structure/Form or Genre: Focus response on the effect the structure/form or genre of the text has on the point/argument being made by the author
  • Historical Context: How does the text reflect the social, political, or cultural context and values of that time? Does that context, and/or those values, still resonate today?
  • Literary Criticism: How have scholars evaluated and interpreted the text? Enter the discussion by pointing out where you agree, or disagree, with scholarly interpretations.
  • Biography: Response makes connections between the author’s biographical background to the content, structure, or purpose of the text

You are encouraged to use Discussion Board assignments as an opportunity to work out and generate ideas.

Basic Requirements

  • Length:
    • 3 to 4 pages, or 900 to 1200 words–not including Works Cited page
  • Format:
    • MLA page and citation format (in-text and Works Cited)
    • Double spaced throughout using 12 pt font and one inch margins
    • First page includes heading information in the upper left corner: Name / Instructor’s Name / Course Name/ Date
    • No title page, but essay must include a title–centered and following heading information
    • Last name in upper right corner followed by page number (use “header function” in your word processor)
    • Essay is submitted in a .doc or .docx format–NO PDF files!
  • Sources:
    • Minimum of two reliable and reputable sources, outside of the original text(s)
    • Students may consult a variety of sources: print, video, audio, podcasts, etc., but they must be reputable and scholarly in nature.
  • Content:
    • Essay must have a clear thesis in the introduction
    • Essay must include a clear introduction; body paragraphs that support, explain, and illustrate thesis; and a clear conclusion
    • Supporting quotes and/or paraphrases from original text(s) and sources must be correctly cited in MLA format (in-text, and on separate Works Cited page)
    • Paragraphs are focused, well-developed, and coherent
    • Essay is free of major errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling

Essays must be submitted by the posted due date to receive a grade.


  • Choose one of the assigned texts to respond to (choose a text from 1st half of semester for RRE1, and a text from 2nd half of the semester for RRE2).
  • Re-read text carefully and make note of:
    • The purpose/thesis of the text: What is the main point the author is making? Who is the audience?
    • Significant quotes or ideas presented: Do they still resonate today? If not, why not?
    • Elements of the text’s structure you find interesting
    • The political and/or social historical context of the text
    • Information needed (research) to more fully understand the purpose and content of the text: What questions does the text raise for a 21st century audience?
  • After re-reading and taking notes on the chosen text, draft a working thesis of your response and begin researching your topic. [As you research and learn more about your topic, you can adjust your thesis, or change it entirely.]
  • Write a first draft, and put it aside for a day
  • Return to first draft and edit/revise for clarity and coherence
  • Carefully proofread final draft for grammar/mechanics (punctuation, spelling, and MLA format) before submitting


Suppose you decide to write your first Researched Response Essay on John Winthrop’s lay sermon “A Modell of Christian Charity.”


As you re-read the text and take notes, ask yourself questions about the text: What is the criteria Winthrop lays out to his audience for them to be a “model Christian community”? Why does he see it as so important to ensure their success in the New World? What is the significance of being “a city upon a hill”?


Decide what aspect of the text you want to focus on for your response. For example, you might choose to respond to a significant quote:

” . . . Soe that wee shall see much more of his wisdome, power, goodness and truthe, than formerly wee haue been acquainted with. Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when hee shall make us a prayse and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, “the Lord make it likely that of New England.” For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty upon a hill. The eies of all people are uppon us.

Winthrop, and his fellow Puritans on the Arabella in 1630, viewed settling in the Massachusetts Bay Colony [Boston] as a spiritual mission, directly related to Puritan ‘covenant theology’ (see “Important Terms Weeks 1 and 2”). Hmmm . . . Not many/any Puritans around in the 20th century, yet Presidents Kennedy and Reagan made direct references in speeches to Winthrop’s sermon, equating the United States to “a city on a hill.”


The focus for your research could be on the context for Kennedy’s and Reagan’s reference to (and interpretation of) Winthrop’s quote. How has the context changed? How did each (Winthrop, Kennedy, and Reagan) use the image of “a city on a hill”? What are the similarities? The differences?

And then:

Write your first draft . . . Revise/edit and proofread before submitting final draft.