Seeking Originality — in Writing Sem and Beyond

Be original.

Professors never fail to offer this piece of advice. As R3 deadlines approach, Writing Seminar professors are undoubtedly pushing students to shoot for originality in their writing. And who can blame them? No one wants to read a worn-out argument or encounter unsurprising research findings. But originality is not only your professor’s concern.

Throughout my research experiences, I have infallibly found that I benefit the most from original projects. In my writing seminar, The Politics of Intimacy, a creative purpose continuously drove my work. I began my research with the intention of writing about depictions of sexuality in films and their influence on movie ratings and reviews. I intended to use the film Blue Valentine (2010) as my primary evidence because extensive pop-culture articles and scholarly discussion have addressed the implications of its rating. The Motion Picture Association of America rated Blue Valentine NC-17 (their harshest rating) because they deemed certain sexual acts inappropriate to watch. This rating prompted significant controversy and feminist analyses of the MPAA’s policy that I found to be incredibly intriguing.

In a sea of Princeton students doing exceptional research, how can you push yourself to stand out from the crowd?

But these controversies were exhausted public debates. In other words, they were overstated, and repeating this discussion would be unoriginal. The paper solely examining Blue Valentine had essentially already been written.

I wanted to push myself to engage with movie evaluations in an innovative way without disregarding Blue Valentine, a source of fascinating and fruitful primary evidence. I resolved this puzzle by choosing to examine evaluations of Blue Valentine in comparison to those of a relatively uncontroversial film: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Analyzing this film allowed me to incorporate new topics, such as phallocentric narratives and male sexual aggression while simultaneously engaging with the Blue Valentine scenes.

Ultimately, approaching Blue Valentine from an innovative angle positively transformed my research experience. It allowed me to make my own discoveries and define a unique perspective. One might think that this process sounds daunting—after all, isn’t it easier to just analyze others’ discoveries? Would it not be easier to take a cliché approach that time and discourse have proven to be adequate?

My experience with research projects urges me to answer “no” to both questions. While making a predictable argument might simplify the process of forming a thesis, it ultimately complicates other aspects of a research project. When I started researching Blue Valentine, I felt suffocated by the existing analyses of it. Amidst all the debates and opinions, I struggled to objectively see my primary evidence. Following the path-most-taken inhibited me from viewing my research in a clear and impartial light.

Following the path-most-taken inhibited me from viewing my research in a clear and impartial light.

With an original topic, I was able to clarify the material, offer a fresh perspective and, most importantly, captivate the reader. My research paper was original because I delved into scholarly fields that did not seem immediately pertinent to my research — thus situating my studies in an unconventional academic discussion. But the most crucial step I took throughout the research process was choosing to investigate something that interested me. I reasoned that if I found my topic to be overstated and boring, chances are my audience would too. Trusting my own opinions as a valid indication of originality allowed my research to take a truly unique form.

Emma Kaeser, Social Sciences Correspondent