Biography Paper Guidelines

Guidelines for the Biography Research Paper & Presentation

Topic: The purpose of this assignment is to allow you to become an expert on one author in American Literature during the period 1850-1960, and to share that knowledge with your classmates.  In order to avoid multiple duplication and fruitless searching, Mr. Sbarra must approve all topics.                   


Research Paper:

1. You must explain clearly what figure you have chosen, and the essential biographical data (when, where, who, etc.).  This includes information on their childhood and family life.

2. You will need to know something about the historical context in which this person lived.  This might mean analyzing events of that era, or reminding your reader of the particular characteristics of that time and place which helped to influence the culture. (What was the cultural inspiration for their writing).

3. You will have to evaluate the significance of the person that you have chosen.  For example, was this person a pioneer or relatively ordinary?  Did he/she have an immediate impact in their own age, or only later?  You also need to demonstrate how this specific person’s writing(s) relate to the historical era/locale in which he/she lived.  Did their writing(s) reflect some important value(s) of that society?

4. You will have to focus on the authors most credible/known work of writing. Give the background for why they wrote the book, how they wrote the book, where and when it was written/published. You might chose to give a brief (2-3 sentences) synopsis of the book.

5. You might choose to add your own opinion of the person, which should be a logical conclusion based on your research.  Remember that you are seeking to make an argument, to prove a point to the reader, not simply rehearse basic facts about this person’s life.

Length: Approximately 7-8 double-spaced typed pages (approx. 2000 words).  This is intended to give you an idea of the length, not a rigid minimum or maximum.  I am more interested in the quality of your research and your writing than in the number of words in the paper.

Style: All papers must be typed or word-processed.  Use a one-inch margin on all sides, and double-space the text. Select a standard 12 pt. Times New Roman font.  Use page numbers in the upper right corner or at bottom center. A title page is not necessary.  Staple all pages together.  If you cite a source or use a quotation, you must document this with a parenthetical citation and work cited page (MLA).  Do not mix styles of documentation.  Avoid monotonous vocabulary and vary your sentence structure.  Beware excessive use of the passive voice!  Use transitions to link your ideas from one paragraph to the next.  Use specific examples whenever possible. 

Plagiarism, or the copying of material from other sources without proper citation and quotation will not be tolerated. Be certain that you know how to cite your sources.  Please consult a writer’s guide or ask your teacher if you have any questions at all. 


In your oral presentation, you will want to convey the essential information about your topic in four minutes or less.  You are encouraged to use audio-visuals to present your information: for example, PowerPoint slides, a QuickTime movie, a Web page w/ relevant links, historical props, costume, a dialogue, etc.  Think about what makes you follow a presentation with interest, and incorporate those tricks into your own work. 

Due Dates:

March 8 – Brief statement of topic (one paragraph) w/ name, birth/death dates, and significance.

April 8 -  1st draft of Bibliography Paper

April 22 – Final paper due in class.  Late papers will be docked 5 points per day.

April 23-25 – Student Presentations (4 minutes each) of research to classmates via lecture, Web, etc.