Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous


25% of Final Grade

1000-1500 words (4-6 pages) – Due Friday, June 17th



Write an argumentative analytical paper that takes a critical approach. You can use Dr. Kusch’s five theoretical questions as a model or one of the literary theories mentioned in the document titled “A Basic Guide to Literary Theory”). You can also consult Purdue Owl’s website for more detailed descriptions of each form of literary theory: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/writing_in_literature/literary_theory_and_schools_of_criticism/index.html



The essay will be a reflection on some aspects of Ocean Vuong’s novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. You can choose your own topic, but here are some examples to get you thinking:


  • A reflection on the immigrant experience, as portrayed in this novel.
  • The role of communication in shaping individual experiences. Here, consider the very impetus of the novel: an immigrant son writing to his mother who cannot read English.
  • Character study: Rose, Little Dog, or Trevor. Be sure to have a specific thesis statement related to the character you choose.
  • Gender conflicts. Who operates within their traditional gender role and who does not? What problems arise due to gender stereotypes?
  • A study of language and connotative meanings via patterns. Hone in on a pattern you notice, whether it’s recurring words or images. What do these patterns suggest?



IT IS CRUCIAL THAT YOUR PAPER ARGUES A POINT. Your essay needs to move beyond a description of what happens in the novel to an interpretation of the significance of the details you notice. Your paper should offer an interpretation of the work, drawing on details of the text to support this interpretation. In short, it should have an argument.





  • Meet MLA formatting conventions
  • Include a title page with an effective title (rather than simply “research essay”)
  • Include a clear and argumentative thesis statement in the introduction
  • Contain coherent and unified body paragraphs that begin with topic sentences
  • End with a conclusion which restates your thesis, summarizes your main points and gives your paper a finished feel
  • Include a Works Cited page which list all of the sources you reference in your paper. You will include at least 2 secondary sources. The Oxford English dictionary can be one.


Note: due to the end of term marking load, I will only be providing detailed feedback to students who ask for it. Be sure to indicate right on your title page what kind of feedback you would like. Here are the different types. Please note that if you do not indicate your desired feedback, my default will be point form.


  • Substantive. For this type of feedback, you can expect track changes throughout and a summary paragraph at the end.
  • Paragraph summary. For this type of feedback, you will not receive in-line comments but I will give you a summary at the end.
  • Point form. Here, I will jot a few notes at the end to help orient you.
  • Just the grade.








Getting Started…


CHOOSE A TOPIC THAT INTERESTS YOU. Choose a topic that fascinates, angers or delights you enough to sustain you through the writing process (which can be grueling and tedious, even for the most seasoned writers).


READ AND REREAD. Read and reread the work you’ve decided to write about, with a mind to the topic you have chosen. Take careful notes, making note of all relevant words, phrases, images, and illustrations.



Writing the Paper…


  1. FORMULATE A THESIS. Make sure your thesis is specific enough to be covered adequately in the space of your discussion. Remember: merely noting a difference, similarity, or theme does not constitute a thesis. A good thesis also answers the “So what?” question. A good basic formula to keep in mind is: EVIDENCE + ARGUMENT: THESIS


  1. EACH PARAGRAPH SHOULD BEGIN WITH A CLAIM. Just as a thesis claim guides the paper as a whole, a paragraph’s claim (often referred to as a “topic sentence“) guides a paragraph. So, at or near the beginning of each paragraph, include a topic sentence that states your paragraph’s central argument. The topic sentence serves as a bridge between thesis and paragraph by making an interpretive claim that indicates how the paragraph will support your thesis.



  1. PROVIDE SUPPORT. To persuade your readers to your position, you will need to provide some evidence in support of your claims. Examples from the primary work should be used as evidence to prove your assertions. So, pay close attention to diction (word choice), point of view, tone, and symbols. Cite specific examples using transition/signal phrases to introduce the quoted material so the writing isn’t choppy.


  1. ANALYSIS AND EXPLANATION OF EVIDENCE. Be sure to analyze the example and discuss its significance. Explain for your reader how your evidence supports your claims.


  1. CONCLUSION. Your last paragraph should synthesize, not summarize. You should resolve — and not merely repeat — your argument. Think of a conclusion this way: it both reminds your reader of where you’ve been and suggests new areas to explore.



  1. REVISE AND EDIT. Read your paper out loud to yourself. Often you will hear what your eyes will miss. You may also choose to use online writing support services for extra help:


  • Grammarly: This service goes beyond spell-checking and actually looks at the clarity and tone of your sentences. If you add the program to your browser, it will check everything you write, including emails! https://www.grammarly.com/


  • Write Away: This online tutoring service is free for Selkirk College students. You will have an actual person review your work and give you tips to help develop your ideas and clarify the writing. Tutors usually respond within 48 hours. https://writeaway.ca/


  • Office hours: I am happy to look at drafts of your assignment before the due date. The earlier, the better, as it will leave you some time to revise after we review it together. Message me through Moodle to make an appointment. I see students every day except Wednesday.





ENGL 111 Research Essay Assignment Rubric



(A range)



  • The research paper has a clear thesis statement that guides the content of the essay.
  • All paragraphs are clear, focussed, well supported, and connect back to the central idea presented in the thesis statement.
  • The analyses demonstrate advanced comprehension of the topic and the novel as a whole.
  • The author skillfully integrates quotes and paraphrases source material when necessary using MLA citation style, and the author has included at least 2 secondary sources.
  • The writing has very few grammar, spelling, and mechanics errors.




(B range)



  • The research paper has a somewhat clear thesis statement that generally guides the content of the essay.
  • Most paragraphs are clear, focussed, well supported, and connect back to the central idea presented in the thesis statement.
  • The analyses demonstrate good comprehension of the topic and the novel as a whole.
  • The author mostly integrates quotes and paraphrases source material when necessary using MLA citation style, and the author has included at least 2 secondary sources.
  • The writing may have some minor grammar, spelling, and mechanics errors.




C range)



  • The research paper shows evidence of a central idea but the thesis itself might not be clear and as a result, the paper lacks cohesion.
  • The perspectives offered are not very clear, focussed, or well supported, but there’s evidence of analysis.
  • The analyses demonstrate a basic comprehension of the topic and the novel as a whole.
  • The author may have integrated quotes, but there are likely issues with the citations and there may be less than 2 secondary sources used.
  • The writing likely has major grammar, spelling, and mechanics errors.





The difference between a P and F grade is that the instructor deems the writing and argumentation of a P grade assignment to reflect the minimum standards of a first year university level English course.


Below 12.5




  • The essay lacks focus and strays from assignment guidelines.
  • The analyses don’t have a focused argument and switch topics in a jarring manner. Alternatively, the student has simply summarized the novel.
  • Sentences are difficult to read and understand.
  • The writing has major grammar, spelling, and mechanics errors.
  • MLA citation style is not followed and/or the assignment may be plagiarized.










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