English 251 Essay 1 Topic and Requirements

English 251 Essay 1 Topic and Requirements

English 251 Essay 1 Topic and Requirements

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Topic:   Literary Ideas in America’s Foundations

The earliest printed works coming from the Americas were non-fiction accounts of exploration and colonization for European readership.  From these beginnings, it is clear to see that American literature -even in its genesis- was concerned with this question: What is America?  Political and religious literature alike lean towards this question, and both fiction and nonfiction do as well.  These voices and works of literature all had their part in creating the idea of America before even the country was formed.


For this essay, you will explore different ideas in literature that are foundational to the formation of the United States. 

  • Use any literature covered in the Age of Discovery or Age of Reason.
  • Cite at least 3 texts (one per body paragraph) as primary sources.
  • At least one of the three texts you examine should come from an under-represented author or work (ex. Native American or African-American).
  • Cite at least 1 secondary source


Process: As you read, pay attention to the ideas presented in literature.  These ideas can range from the widely abstract to the more focused and concrete.  Ideally, you will find 3 text all connected by one idea or similar ideas.   If you do not, it is acceptable to find the most important ideas.  Discuss what idea or ideas are present in early American literature that are foundational to the United States.


Essay Format

Paragraph 1: Introduction

Introduce the idea that you will present from your literary findings in broad terms, perhaps even how it is still part of America today.  It is possible to even mention the texts you’ll be analyzing without giving away too much material from the rest of your essay.  Narrow down your discussion to the specific argument you’ll be presenting, then give us your thesis (needs to be a specific, arguable idea).


Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4: Body Paragraphs

Each body paragraph will analyze how your idea(s) are presented in the respective texts. Begin with a topic sentence then provide quotes to prove your point.  Each body paragraph should have at least one direct quote from your primary source. You will most likely also use secondary sources here.  Remember that primary source quotes are best used for analysis and not summary.

Paragraph 5: Conclusion

Reiterate your thesis and remind us how you arrived at this as the logical conclusion from all the information presented in the essay, possibly by summarizing key points of the literature.


Examples of Possible ideas for Discussion: 

The Promised Land                           The Great Melting Pot

Peace or War                                    Freedom

Religion                                             Unity or Separation

Capitalism                                         Authority


*If you have a potential idea for your essay but are unsure of its quality, you are always welcome to email/message/call your instructor*


Essay Requirements

  • Your essay must be a five-paragraph essay.
  • The overall minimum length should be 600 words (not including title or header). The maximum length is 900 words. Be sure to count your words.
  • Each paragraph in your essay should be at least five sentences long. Keep in mind that brief paragraphs will probably not result in a 600-word essay. The body paragraphs will be better developed with at least six sentences.
  • Include a well-developed introduction paragraph containing an arguable thesis statement.
  • Include three well-developed body paragraphs that develop your argument and prove your thesis.
  • Each body paragraph should contain examples and reasons that back up your argument.
  • Introduce every quotation with a signal phrase.
  • All quotations must be cited using proper MLA 8th edition format.
  • If you use information from your textbook (for example, information found in the introduction to a work or in the footnotes at the bottom of a page), cite to the editor(s) of your text. Also, be sure to include the editor(s) on your Works Cited and cite him/her/them in the essay.
  • When typing your essay, you should use Times New Roman 12 font.
  • Page margins should be one inch on all sides.
  • Examine the rubric for grading essays, available in this course.
  • Be sure to put quotations in quotation marks.
  • Format titles of literary works in quotation marks or italics, depending upon the type of literature. See the reading list that I provided to determine whether to use quotation marks or italics.
  • For most titles, capitalize the first word, the last word, and all important words (don’t capitalize “a,” “an,” “the,” short prepositions, and short conjunctions unless those words start or end a title).
  • Use parenthetical documentation for all quotations. Remember that poems are cited by line numbers. Short stories and essays are cited by page numbers.
  • No more than 20% of your paper should consist of directly quoted material. If you use too many quotations, you have copied a paper, not written one!
  • The general rule regarding what should be placed in quotation marks is that if you copy three or more words in a row from the original source, you must put the material in quotation marks and provide a parenthetical citation.
  • Be sure to use a proper 8th edition, MLA-style heading on the first page of your paper. See Sam Student for a heading sample.
  • Be sure to include your last name and page in the header position in the upper right-hand corner of your document.
  • You must have a correctly formatted, original title that indicates the topic of your essay and clearly shows what you will argue. Do not put the title of the essay in quotation marks. Do not title your essay with only the author’s name or the name of the literary work. While it is fine (and even recommended) that you include the title of the work in the title of your paper, your title should be creative and original.
  • A separate cover page isn’t needed.
  • I recommend using an outline or other graphic organizer for essay planning, but you do not have to submit an outline with the essay.
  • A works cited that lists the literary work and any other sources used to prepare the essay (including your textbook) must be included. Your works cited will include anywhere from 4 to 6 sources: 2-3 literary works as your primary sources and 1-2 secondary sources.  You may also have information from critical articles written about the literary work (these articles should come from the Alabama Virtual Library).
  • Be sure to use scholarly sources; Wikipedia and google are not scholarly sources.  However, Google Scholar does provide scholarly sources.
  • Using the link in Blackboard, upload a copy to be checked for plagiarism.
  • Your score will be based upon a 60% content and 40% mechanics system.
  • Be sure to avoid use of first- and second-person pronouns (particularly “I” and “you”). Always use third-person pronouns in a formal essay. “I” and “you” may appear in the quoted material from the literary work and/or songs.

MLA Information

  • Current (8th edition) MLA format for anthologies and Websites is available via Blackboard in the Sam Student Handout.

Reminders: English 251 Essay 1 Topic and Requirements

  • Be sure that all sources are listed on the works cited.
  • Be sure that all sources listed on the works cited are cited in the essay.
  • When creating parenthetical citations, be sure to use proper format. Cite short stories and poems to page numbers. Cite poems to line numbers.
  • Double-space the entire essay, including the works cited.
  • Reverse (hanging) indent the works cited.
  • Arrange sources on the works cited in alphabetical order using the first word in the source entry (unless that word is “a,” “an,” or “the,” in which case, you ignore the first word and alphabetize using the second word.
  • Names of authors and solo performers are put in reverse order when placed on the works cited: Last, First.



Age of Discovery

“The Iroquois Creation Story”

From “The Winnebago Trickster Cycle”     


“Powhatan’s Discourse of War and Peace”

“King Phillips Speech”


“Letter of Discovery”                                                                                                 Columbus                              

“General History of Virginia”From Chpt. 2                        Smith                                     

From “A Description of Virginia”                                                      Smith


“Of Plymouth Plantation” -Chpt. 10                                                  Bradford                   

“Difficult Beginnings” and “Dealing with Natives” Bradford                               


“The author to her Book”                                                                                           Bradstreet                 

“Before the Birth of one of her Children”                              Bradstreet                 

“To my Dear and Loving Husband”                                                   Bradstreet                 

“In Memory of my Dear Grandchild”                                                            Bradstreet                 


Age of Reason

A Model of Christian Charity”                                                                     Winthrop

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God                                            Edwards


“The Way to Wealth”                                                                                                Franklin

“The Speech of Miss Polly Baker”                                                     Franklin        

“Remarks Concerning the Savages…”                                               Franklin        


“What is an American”                                                                                              Crevecoeur

“To Governor Benjamin Franklin”


“Common Sense”                                                                                                                   Paine  

“The Federalist”                                                                                                          Hamilton


From “The Declaration of Independence”                 Jefferson

From “Notes on the State of Virginia”                                   Jefferson

“On the Equality of the Sexes”                                                         Murray          

“On Being Brought from Africa to America”                        Wheatley                               

“To the University of Cambridge”                                         Wheatley

“To His Excellency General Washington”                  Wheatley


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