formal, narrowly focused research paper on an Intro to Theater

Research Paper Guidelines

Project Overview

Big picture

Instead of a paper responding to a specific question, I would like you to come up with a formal, narrowly focused research paper on an Intro to Theater topic or text of your choice. There are a number of important guidelines, which are detailed below. Broadly speaking, though, the topic and the area of research you bring into the project are up to you. So, take some time to find a topic that interests you, something you want to learn about, think about, and write about. Consider finding a way to connect theater and performance meaningfully with your broader studies. No matter what, though, don’t pick a boring topic! (And we all know it\’s unlikely to stumble magically onto an exciting topic at the 11th hour, so take advantage of the time off of regular course material, and find a way to write something that you\’ll be proud of.) Your topic should have the following two qualities:

It allows you to explore an aspect of theater that would have been invisible or inaccessible to you had you not undertaken the project. Every aspect of theater we’ve discussed this semester–whether classical dramatic plot, Schechner’s “bio-aesthetic web,” Grosz’s “chaos in a frame,” empathy, aesthetic frames, theatrical design, stage direction, stage acting, gender roles, Paleolithic cave art/performance/theater, the ancient Greek “seeing place,” Shakespeare’s “Globe,” Shakespeare’s Verona, Baz Luhrmann’s Verona Beach… each and every topic or scene or moment or concept we’ve discussed this semester has been the tip of one iceberg or another. So, when I say that in this project you need to explore an aspect of theater that would have been invisible to you, I’m not asking you to go anywhere you haven’t been. I’m only asking you to go deeper. All you have to do is pick any one of the dozens (and truthfully hundreds) of Intro to Theater iceberg-topics, and then just dive right in. In every case, go beneath the surface, go deeper than the introductory level, and simply explore something that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise. And then–through a purposive, persuasive, and enthusiastically researched academic essay–simply discuss what new things your efforts have enabled you to see and to think.

It’s actually captivating to you and/or likely useful to your broader intellectual and/or academic priorities. Not just for this class, but any time you have the latitude to make something your own and do something that’s potentially useful, never just jump through the hoop. With theater, we are, after all, dealing with a phenomenon that is coextensive with the human condition. Put another way, if you haven’t found something that relates to your broader priorities, or that directly relates to your life, keep looking and you’ll find it.

Guidelines, Requirements

Microscopic topics!

When you select your topic, you’re putting a conceptual frame around your topic. I strongly encourage you to keep this frame as narrow as possible. So, in terms of scope, if you want to write about Romeo & Juliet text v. film, by no means should you investigate something as general as the “differences between Shakespeare’s play and Baz Luhrmann’s film.” You should start with something simple and focused, like the fact that, in Shakespeare’s play, Juliet is 13 years old. You might not know whether your research will take you into an analysis of Early Modern versus late 20th century views of adolescent sex, or perhaps into a hypothetical exploration of how things would change if the Juliet to Leonardo Dicaprio’s Romeo was a male actor in drag, as was the case in Shakespeare’s day. You obviously wouldn’t know what your exact thesis would be within whatever context you finally go, but at least you’ve got something really specific to stsrt with. Whether you discuss Shakespeare in terms of Luhrmann, or, say, Elizabeth Grosz’s “chaos in a frame” in terms of framing in Deafman Glance, just keep it narrow. This course begins and ends with the wide-angle perspective, and even though the bulk of this course is much more narrowly focused on theater “proper,” this final project is intended to be the part of the course where you go all the way down to the microscopic level–another way of talking about going beneath the surface and basically seeing what, otherwise, would have been invisible. So, between that and the fact that it’s both a good writing strategy as well as an absolute necessity, grading-wise, that you keep this short paper sharply focused, there are a lot of upsides to keeping the ‘microscopic’ perspective in mind when you select your topic.

Thesis-driven, persuasive essay

The paper must be a persuasive, thesis-driven essay focused on a narrow topic. This is to say that your paper must take an obvious position. Your thesis will articulate that position, your research and textual analysis will support it, and your conclusion will persuasively re-state it as it summarizes all the supporting evidence you’ve provided in the paper. Your thesis should be strong enough that it demands to be supported with argumentation, textual analysis, and research, but narrow enough in focus that you can fully support it within the span of an essay as short as this. If you choose to write a 6-page essay–which, again, is an absolute bare minimum, not including the Works Cited page–it would be a blunder to choose a thesis that needs a lot more (or a lot fewer) than 6 pages to support persuasively. An outline where you plan-out your argument step-by-step, paragraph by paragraph, reference by reference, are extremely useful in making sure you’re neither over- nor under-shooting your intended mark.


The paper must be a minimum of 6 written pages, not including the required Works Cited page. This isn\’t a \”six page paper\” per se. This is to say that 6 pages is a bare minimum for all papers, but also that the true minimum length of your essay is whatever is necessary to argue your chosen thesis persuasively. So, choose your thesis carefully, and be conscientious about the scope of your argument, and certainly don’t stop writing at 6 pages and simply tack on a conclusion if your argument isn\’t developed. (It\’s obvious every single time someone does that, by the way.) In any case, there’s no maximum length. So if you\’re truly getting into some interesting territory, don\’t hit the brakes merely on account of page length.


There needs to be scholarly research. There is a wealth of material available online when you access it through Rutgers Libraries, including guides on how to use the library for scholarly research. It is just as useful to do research before you’ve selected your topic, as it is to do research focused on your topic afterwards. You should do both if you aren’t starting out with a specific topic in mind–a first round of open research into interesting topics in order to narrow your interests down to a particular topic, and then a second round of targeted research once you’ve landed on a topic. And in case it needs to be said–whatever articles or non-library online content you reference (be very cautious about using the latter, by the way), it must be from a reputable, peer-reviewed, scholarly publication. As a rule of thumb, if you’re in the position where you need to ask about whether a particular source is from a reputable scholarly publication, you should probably just find a better source, especially given that it tends to be pretty obvious in most situations. A university press is usually a good sign. Just keep things simple and use the library and the library website for your research. And if you’re new to all this and aren\’t already familiar with the wealth of resources available to you, a brief chat with a librarian can be pretty mind blowing. Also remember that you\’re paying for access to all this amazing stuff with your tuition money, so consider the many …many reasons, including the requirements of this assignment, not to limit yourself to google searches a few hours before the deadline.


The essays will be graded for all writing errors (grammar, syntax, logic/argument structure, essay structure, paragraph structure, easily avoidable citation mistakes, etc.). I’m not going to deduct points for every typo or something like that. Even so, there should not be a single typo on a short, formal piece of writing like this. I want to underline that the minimum page limit on this essay is low specifically to allow for revision, thorough proofreading, etc. The papers are short, but you should take them very seriously. They should be tight, clean, and purposive academic essays. Definitely spend a sufficient amount of time with the writing guide I’m distributing with the paper guidelines.

Citation method

MLA style, including Works Cited page. MLA style is not just a format for parenthetical citations. MLA style, as with any academic style sheet, is a writing template for conducting intellectual discourse at the highest level. It provides a common ground amongst those participating in a discourse (some styles are best suited for the humanities, others for the sciences) that ensures that the origins of existing ideas and the exact contribution of new ideas to a particular discourse are clearly established. If you’re not familiar with the many distinct ways that MLA gives guidance for the actual content of the paper, and not just the citation apparatus, spend some time looking it up. It will give you a much better sense of why you’re being asked to write in this format. It will also certainly lead to a higher grade, since you are being required to follow MLA style, which includes its guidance for almost every aspect of academic writing, from composing a thesis statement to the use of the third-person voice, to the familiar formatting for parenthetical citations. (By the way, for anyone who prefers, or has an interest in learning the Chicago Manual Style, you’re free to use that style instead of MLA. Chicago is widely used in theater studies and humanities research in general. The most obvious difference between Chicago and MLA is that Chicago, at least in its most commonly used form, uses endnotes instead of parenthetical citations within the body of the paper.)

Please note that your paper needs to be uploaded as a Microsoft Word-compatible document–either a .doc or .docx file. So, if you’re not writing the paper in Word, please make arrangements well ahead of time to make sure you’re able to save the paper in the proper file type. Many non-Microsoft text editors, like Google Docs, have the ability to generate copies of a given file in a variety of file formats, and most can create a .doc file. Also, I believe all Rutgers students now have free access to Microsoft Word through Rutgers\’ subscription to the Windows 365 platform. So, plenty of options. Just make sure you’ve got it worked out well in advance of the deadline.