Introduction to Theory, Research and Writing

This course will introduce students to MLA citation style, standard bibliographic and research practices, literary theories of the later 20th century, and possible scholarly directions in the 21st century.

DURATION: 12 weeks
ID: LITZ 5301

Disclaimer: The information on this page is provided as an overview. The course outline, readings, and assignments may be subject to change in the final syllabus as determined by the lecturer and/or preceptors.


Brenton Dickieson
Lecturer; Preceptor
Erin Aust
Dr. Faith Acker
Faith Acker
Lecturer; Preceptor

What is literature? Why do we read it? How do we interpret it? Who has the authority to interpret it? What practical tools and skills are required for the interpretation of literature? How do we evaluate conflicting interpretations? How do we bring our own interpretations into dialogue with those of others? How do contingent matters such as gender, race, class, and historical context affect the ways we interpret literature? How do we maintain contact with the significant scholarly conversations relevant for reading particular kinds of literature? And how does one learn to communicate clearly and cogently concerning these matters?

These questions and the various ways the discipline of English literature has responded to them are the subjects of Signum’s Introduction to Theory, Research and Writing course. Beginning with the most basic matters of writing, evaluation of evidence, and essay structure, this course is designed to introduce students to: the MLA citation style; standard bibliographic and research practices; the “theoretical turn” of the later twentieth century; and possible scholarly directions in the twenty-first century “post-theoretical” state of the discipline.

Structurally, the course is oriented around lecture material featuring introductions to weekly topics from a variety of scholars, not only giving students access to presenters uniquely qualified to introduce their particular fields, but also giving them experience with a number of different lecture formats and scholarly approaches. Following up on these recorded lectures, preceptors provide the more hands-on content of the course, including direction in assignments, discussion of citation and research, and application of theoretical paradigms to literary texts. Through these means, students by the end of the course will be well-equipped with the mechanical, theoretical, and bibliographic tools necessary for both an informed scholarly approach to their own research interests and entry into broader scholarly discourse in the field of English literature.

This course is required of all M.A. students and should be taken within the first four courses of enrollmentStudents should take at least one other class for credit at Signum prior to this course. This course will typically be held every Spring semester. Visit the Future Courses page to see when this class will be offered next.

Weekly Outline

There will be one 90-minute lectures and two 60-minute preceptor sessions per week as assigned.

Week 1

  • “On the Writing of Papers”: Corey Olsen
  • Mechanics, Sentence Structure, Sentence Diagramming, Essay Organization

Week 2

  • The “So-What” Question: Verlyn Flieger
  • On Being a Public Intellectual: Brenton Dickieson, Sørina Higgins, David Russell Mosley
  • Research Avenues at Signum University; What is Peer-Review?; Evaluating Sources

Week 3

  • The Theory of Bibliography; Joining the Conversation: Janet Brennan Croft
  • An Introduction to MLA Style; Essay Formats and Conventions; Quotation, Paraphrase

Week 4

  • Archival Research: Laura Schmidt
  • Group Discussion

Week 5

  • Pre-Twentieth Century Perspectives on Literature: Karl Persson
  • Discussion of Primary Texts

Week 6

  • Overview of Critical Theory: Corey Olsen and Sørina Higgins
  • Discussion on Readings/Lecture

Week 7

  • Formalism, New Criticism, and Close Reading: Mark Womack
  • Discussion on Readings/Lecture

Week 8

  • Literary History, Historicism, and Historiography: Susan Johnston
  • Discussion of Readings/Lecture/Application of Theory

Week 9

  • Structuralism and Poststructuralism: Jacques Lezra
  • Discussion on Readings/Lecture/Application of Theory

Week 10

  • Gender, Race, and Class: Jamie Paris
  • Discussion of Readings/Lecture/Application of Theory

Week 11

  • Philological Approaches: Nelson Goering
  • Pop-Culture/Cultural Studies: Faith Acker
  • Discussion of Lecture

Week 12

  • The Inklings and Literary Theory: Corey Olsen and Sørina Higgins
  • The Religious Turn: Karl Persson
  • Discussion

Required Texts

Recommended Texts

Course History

Course Offerings
Spring 2020Brenton Dickieson, Erin Aust
Fall 2018Brenton Dickieson, Erin Aust & Faith Acker
Fall 2017Brenton Dickieson & Erin Aust
Spring 2017Karl Persson