Individual Work

SparkNotes is an online literary website dedicated to providing study guides and information regarding various forms of academic subjects. Originally, SparkNotes was created to supply information and guides for different forms of literature; including novels, plays, poetry and much more. SparkNotes has significantly expanded its informational subject matter to include other academic study guides for topics such as, biology, chemistry, physics, math, economics, and the humanities. In addition, SparkNotes has various novels for purchase with modern day literary translations. Users are able to easily access SparkNotes through a basic web browser, their content is open access through their website. In addition, users are able to purchase their text translations through Barnes & Nobel, Amazon, or Indigo’s website. Through the SparkNotes website you are able to sign up with your email address to receive updates and special offers.

SparkNotes was created by four Harvard University Students on January 7th 1999.The company was bought by a larger corporation called iTurf Inc and was most recently sold to the company Barnes & Noble in 2001. During this time SparkNotes had published six study guides as a physical print to be sold at Barnes & Noble, the prices range from about $4.00-6.00 for each copy of physical text. The editors of SparkNotes are scholarly writers and editors who have extensive knowledge and degrees with regards to the publications found on the site. Therefore, everything on SparkNotes is peer reviewed and trustworthy as SparkNotes claims that their “ mission is to help you make sense of confusing schoolwork. We are well qualified to lend a hand: we're graduates of top schools, we have advanced degrees galore, we've taught undergraduate and graduate classes, and we've edited books on Shakespeare, The Scarlet Letter, and the SAT (and that's just the S's!). We work with experts to create books, blogs, quizzes, and flashcards that will help you master hard material”. (2021)

SparkNotes has many features that benefit students who are studying literature and other forms of academic subjects. For literature they have an extensive list of over 500 study guides for popular novels such as, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Autsen and much more. Each of the study guides is organized by different characteristics of literature. For example, there is a section that focuses on the characters within the novel, a section that analyzes the plot, a section with important quotes, themes, and symbols. Furthermore, within their study guides they have study quizzes which test readers on the content of their chosen piece of literature. With the various aspects of the novels that are dissected provided, it greatly benefits the students with regards to fully comprehending the novel at hand. Then, they are able to produce high quality and polished work that better represents their true understanding of the work of literature. In addition, SparkNotes offers other resources to better understand literature. They do this through their online blog which features different activities and humorous posts. For example they have different personality quizzes to match you with different literary characters, quizzes to tell you what book you should read next, as well as informational posts about literature.

When it comes to reading and understanding Shakespeare it can be quite difficult. SparkNotes has a complete section of their website dedicated to the breakdown and understanding of Shakespeare plays called, No Fear Shakespeare. Within this section readers will find in depth analysis and modern day translations of almost all of William Shakespeare’s work; including Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Macbeth and more. Similarly, the No Fear Shakespeare is like the other study guides where they provide analysis with regards to characters, symbols, plots, themes etc. For more background information they have also included an in depth biography on William Shakespeare. Furthermore, all of the Shakespeare translations and analyses can be accessed on SparkNotes website or purchased online or in store.

There is quite a bit of controversy when it comes to the use of SparkNotes and academic writing. Various scholars such as David Golumbia believe that SparkNotes provides students with an easy way to complete assignments and believe that using information off of the website can be seen as plagiarism and cyberlibertarianism. Teachers and Professors worry that SparkNotes gets used to avoid the completion of assignments and leads to plagiarism. SparkNotes does not support academic dishonesty and does not condone plagiarism. They ensure the public that, “here to help you learn, not to help you cheat. Our literature guides are meant to be read along with the books they analyze. They are not intended to be copied on tests or papers”. To avoid plagiarism they offer resources and tools to learn how to cite information on SparkNotes.

SparkNotes uses social media to connect with students and people who use their site. They are very vocal on the platforms Twitter and Instagram where they share informational posts as well as very accurate and humorous memes. In addition to their social media presence they also welcome feedback from readers and encourage them to share their opinions and inputs on ways to improve the experience with SparkNotes; which can be found on their website in the contact us tab.

I believe that SparkNotes is a very useful tool when it comes to fully understanding literature. As an English major I read a LOT of books from various time periods. Therefore, sometimes it is difficult to navigate the language and phrasing used and this is when SparkNotes comes in handy. With SparkNotes I feel that I am able to fully grasp the concepts in the novel and fully comprehend what the author is trying to convey. I have and will continue to use SparkNotes throughout my English Literature career.

This entry was written as a part of Dani Spinosa ENGL 4309 Engaging Digital Humanities at Trent University for the winter semester of 2021.