1685Writing about LiteratureWhen it comes to the study of literature, reading and writing are closely inter-related—even mutually dependent—activities. On the one hand, the quality ofwhatever we write about a literary text depends entirely upon the quality of ourwork as readers. On the other hand, our reading isn’t truly complete until we’vetried to capture our sense of a text in writing. Indeed, we often read a literary workmuch more actively and attentively when we integrate informal writing into thereading process—pausing periodically to mark especially important or confusingpassages, to jot down significant facts, to describe the impressions and responsesthe text provokes—or when we imagine our reading (and our informal writing) aspreparation for writing about the work in a more sustained and formal way.Writing about literature can take any number of forms, ranging from the veryinformal and personal to the very formal and public. In fact, your instructor maywell ask you to try your hand at more than one form. However, the essay is by farthe most common and complex form that writing about literature takes. As aresult, the following chapters will focus on the essay.* A first, short chapter coversthree basic ways of writing about literature. The second chapter, “The Elementsof the Essay,” seeks to answer a very basic set of questions:When an instructor says,“Write an essay,” what precisely does that mean? What is the purpose of an essay, and whatform does it need to take in order to achieve that purpose?The third chapter, “TheWriting Process,” addresses questions about how an essay is produced, while thefourth chapter explores the special steps and strategies involved in writing aresearch essay—a type of essay about literature that draws on secondary sources.“Quotation, Citation, and Documentation” explains the rules and strategiesinvolved in quoting and citing both literary texts and secondary sources using thedocumentation system recommended by the Modern Language Association(MLA). And, finally, we present a sample research essay, annotated to point outsome its most important features.28PARAPHRASE, SUMMARY, DESCRIPTIONBefore turning to the essay, let’s brieﬂy consider three other basic ways of writingabout literature:paraphrase,summary, anddescription. Each of these can be usefulboth as an exercise to prepare for writing an essay and as part of a completedessay. That is, an essay about a literary text must do more than paraphrase, sum-marize, or describe the text; yet a good essay about a literary text almost alwaysincorporates some paraphrase, summary, and description of the literature and, inthe case of a research essay, of secondary sources as well.