LitWiki:How to Contribute

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While there are many ways to contribute to LitWiki, sometimes just deciding on an approach can be daunting. This document is here to help.

First, you may find that just doing some secondary reading on a primary text could be beneficial in piquing your interesting in a particular aspect of a text and supplying a good starting point. For example, you might want to write on the Epic of Gilgamesh, but you’re not sure how to begin. You might find that if you do a bit of research first, critical analyses of the text will suggest deficient areas of the wiki’s study guide.

Study Guides

Most study guides will address a text of some sort, from poems to prose, and even television shows and films. While there is no one correct way of writing a study guide, most will contain similar sections, listed below in a somewhat arbitrary order. You might begin by having a look at well written examples, like the Wikipedia entry for “Indian Camp” or one of the featured articles in literature and theater. These are all good models for study guides. You might also see the article template for books to give you an idea for organizing your study guide and a place to focus your research. Unless you are an experienced wiki editor, you might begin small by choosing a section of a study guide to research, write, and edit. The following are various places ways to focus.

Annotated Bibliography Entry

An easy way to get started adding to a study guide is be contributing an annotated bibliography entry. Simply, this is using a template to add a secondary resource to a bibliography, followed by a couple of sentences that explain the significance of the resource. Bibliographies are staples of scholarly writing and give researchers a list of resources. Annotated bibliographies should be subpages of the study guides (e.g. Odyssey/Bibliography) and bibliography entries are organized alphabetically by author’s last name.

First, locate a strong secondary source,[1] usually a book or an article from a scholarly journal—your university library is a big help here. Get the article and read it, taking notes as you go. Try to identify the critic’s main point(s) and write it in your own words. Once you have read the article, you are ready to write your bibliographic entry.

Next, find the appropriate citation template: book, journal, magazine, newspaper, or web site[2] will cover most of them.[3] Templates provide an easy, consistent way to use sources. For example, this is the template for citing a book:

{{cite book |last= |first= |author-link= |date= |title= |url= |location= |publisher= |page= |isbn=}}

These are the basic variables, but there are many more, if needed (see the book template for all of them). Simply paste the code on the wiki page in the appropriate location (alphabetically by author’s last name) and fill in the details. Once you have them filled in, click the “Show preview” button to see how it looks and if there are any errors.

Once you have the citation looking right, add a couple of sentences at the end that detail the main arguments of the source. The idea is to give readers an overview of the source in case they are interested in reading it for themselves. Here’s an example of an annotated bibliography entry:

  • Kaufmann, Donald (2007). "An American Dream: The Singular Nightmare". The Mailer Review. 1 (1): 194–205. Retrieved 2021-08-02. Kaufmann reads AAD as, in Mailer's words, "in a funny way . . . a novel of manners" (202). These manners become a struggle between the institutionalized American Dream (195) and Rojack's internal and individual code (204). Kaufmann interprets AAD as a "singular nightmare" that reflects Rojack's relationship with the moon, or "magic, dread and perceptions of death as the center of motivation" (196; AAD 8). Rojack exists in his own dream world, and the narrative reflects this by juxtaposing "fantastic content with a realistic presentation" to illustrate the American ambiguity of the mass media: a lucidity verging on insanity (195) or where much is implied and little substantiated (201). Much of AAD remains implied, unsubstantiated, and inverted — like "what passes for paradise in America is really hell" (201, 200) — showing Rojack's relationships with white magic at the bottom (Cherry, Roberts, Deidre) and black that seems to have all the power (Kelly, Ganucci, Deborah) (199). AAD becomes a sort of medieval dream-allegory (199) where salvation remains an individual, inner condition where one survives only through "adherence to a code of relative manners" (204).

This example is fairly lengthy—most will be half this length. Also note that the writer includes parenthetical citations that reference specific pages for the source, a nice way to help out researchers. Remember, the idea behind an annotated bibliography is to help out researchers as much as possible, so detail and accuracy are paramount.

Plot Summary

Summarize the important plot points in paragraph form. This is a “Cliffs Notes” version of the plot, or synopsis, that covers main plot points only, without commentary or analysis.[4] Plot summaries should not be too long, but give the reader an adequate idea bout the narrative’s main events and characters.

Character Sketch

Describe the character and his or her importance to the text. A sketch, or analysis, introduces the character to the reader by giving a brief overview of the character.[5] Longer sketches might be their own sub-pages of the study guide. Use the {{Infobox character}} and this page template. The template will give you an outline of details to consider when writing the sketch, but generally you might start with the character’s role in the work, including a physical description and background, the character’s main actions, and his or her personality, psychology, motivations, and relationships.[6] Remember, you want to provide a snapshot of the character to help readers visualize him or her and that answers some of the important questions about the character’s role in the story.[7]

Theme Exploration

Identify and explain a theme, or a main concern, of the text. First, do some research by finding a couple of strong secondary sources, like chapters in an edited collection (book) or articles in scholarly journals. You might even use the keyword “theme” while searching. Read the articles to get an idea of the themes in the work, and write a paragraph explaining how the theme operates in the text. Be sure you cite your sources correctly: add the source to the “works cited” section using the proper template and use shortened footnotes for in-text citations (see Help:Contents). For example, see “Indian Camp,” “To Build a Fire,” and/or “The Man Who Studied Yoga” on Wikipedia.

Symbol/Metaphor Analysis

Identify and explain a major symbol or metaphor of the text. This is particularly important in poetry study guides.

Historical Context

Research and explain the historical context that influenced the creation of the text. Are there any major events that have an obvious connection? Is the text reacting to contemporaneous events in some way?

Publication History

When was it published? Where was it published? Are there any interesting stories about its publication?

Writing Style

Research and discuss the style of the text.

Critical Reception / Legacy

How did contemporaneous critics react to the text? How is the text important to subsequent works, artists, or society?

Content Expansion and Revision

Nothing is ever perfect. Revise or add to any sections that need it.

Literary Term

Research and define a literary term applicable to your course of study.

Notes and References

  1. See Wikipedia:Reliable sources for a thorough discussion about choosing reliable sources for research. Essentially, you should keep your sources to scholarly printed material: books and journals. Occasionally web resources will work, like reviews and essays in magazines and newspapers and the infrequent web site, but mostly you will want to stick to those items you find in a library. Physically going to the library is the best way to uncover excellent sources, but increasingly full-text resources are available via university libraries. Either way, introduce yourself to a librarian to get the best sources.
  2. Web sites should be used sparingly as they (1) are often not credible, and (2) tend to disappear. If you think a web page would make a good source, look for two things: an author’s name and a posted date. If these are missing, you might want to avoid using the site as a source.
  3. See Wikipedia:Citation templates for further explanation and a list of other source templates you can use.
  4. Glass, Mitch (September 30, 2019). "How to Write a Book Summary, Step-by-Step (w/ Templates)". Copywriting Course. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  5. "How to Write a Character Sketch?". Leverage Edu. April 16, 2021. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  6. White, Ralph (August 14, 2014). "Character Sketch Template". Columbia Fiction Foundry. Columbia Alumni Association. Retrieved 2021-08-20.
  7. Leverage 2021.