With a new school year beginning once again, the joys of fresh notebooks and pencils will soon give way to the stress of looming due dates for homework assignments. Amongst these assignments over the course of the year will be the classic book report. In the daydreams of teachers and students alike, book reports are completed without all-nighters or excuses involving paper-hungry pets. But in a time crunch, many students find themselves grasping for resources other than the primary text of their assigned novel.
But even in the worst-case scenario, they should avoid having to cite these dubious sources if they want their coffee-fueled cram session to result in a passing grade.
Whether CliffsNotes or SparkNotes, these 'study guides' can be helpful for students who need to grasp the basics of plot without investing the time in the prose. But extracting analysis from these thin booklets or online resources will raise a red flag with teachers, who might then bring out their red pens when grading.
Acceptable for finding the answers to random trivia in day-to-day conversation, Wikipedia is still not a valid academic source. The community-moderated site can point students to other materials in its own citations, but should not be quoted directly. Deliberately inaccurate entries might be amusing for the author, but it won't be for anyone who bases their paper on it.
Watching a movie in an afternoon is often faster than reading several hundred pages of a novel, but what you gain in speed and luxurious costuming you lose in accuracy. Even a lauded adaptation like 1995's "Sense and Sensibility" with a script written by Emma Thompson takes liberties with characters, increasing the role of some while completely eliminating others, like Lucy Steele's sister Anne.
Don't mistake the plot points of literary adaptations with the real thing. The difference will be particularly noticeable in the recent monster mash-ups. In Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice", for example, Darcy's climactic proposal is not accompanied by a zombie battle. And amongst her many trials and tribulations, Jane Eyre was not originally a vampire slayer.
Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch bring their own dramatic chops when they portray the infamous Sherlock Holmes in "Elementary" and "Sherlock" respectively. But the decisions they make as actors are dubious in connection to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original character. Just because the cases they tackle are often inspired by the cases of the novels doesn't make them elementary aspects of a school paper.