Philip Nel > Courses > English 825: Comics and Graphic Novels (Spring 2016) > Paper


Philip Nel's English 825: Comics & Graphic Novels

LENGTH: 8-10 pages.


I want you to write a successful final paper. One way to increase the likelihood of this is to ask you —  in advance —  indicate what you have in mind. So, that's one reason I seek an abstract. The other reason is that writing an abstract is a really useful skill, irrespective of whether your future includes further academic pursuits. This kind of clear, concise writing —  describing something that does not yet exist —  is a highly transferrable skill. You use it in grant writing, or in proposing any project that has yet to be realized.

So. Write an abstract of no more than 500 words. In it, include the claims you plan to make, outlining what questions you wish to pursue and the argument you plan to make. (Obviously, these claims may change as you write, but do outline the direction of your thoughts.) Also include a bibliography of at least three sources you plan to read to assist the development of your ideas. For a model, I've provided you with a sample abstract of mine. The difference between your abstract and my abstract is only this: yours will include some sources, and mine doesn't.

Where should you look for critical resources? Try databases such as the MLA Bibliography (scholarly articles in journals and books), Project Muse (houses many on-line journals), the Hale library catalog (scholarly books), InfoTrack (some scholarly articles and book reviews), or Lexis-Nexis (book reviews since 1985 in British and American periodicals), and of course the many sources we're using in class.

I will read over each abstract, offering comments and suggestions. And, during the week of April 1st, to discuss your abstract.

Two Options for Paper: One | Two

Your abstract will be a response to one of the following two paper options.

#1: Conference Paper

During the semester, you've read many critical essays. You might think of a conference paper as half of a critical essay. Which half depends upon your project: The first half? the second half? the middle half? The answer is: whatever works best for this particular essay. Another approach — compatible with the first approach — is to think of a conference paper as a condensed critical essay. Pro tip: prior to any conference presentation, I always try to write more of the chapter/essay than I can actually present at the conference. This both creates more of the finished project and allows me to present the chapter/essay's "greatest hits" at the conference.

I would recommend taking one or two (at most) works as your central focus for the paper. To come up with a topic, there are at least two routes to follow, neither of which are mutually exclusive. First, you'll be reading a lot of scholarship on comics. You might disagree with some of this scholarship; this disagreement offers you a point of intervention. Or a scholar's argument might be applied to a work that she or he does not consider. Second path would be to take up any one of the questions that the course poses. That is, we're considering how comics might answer these questions:

For each of these, you'll want a "so what?" (i.e., why is this question interesting and/or what problem does it illuminate/solve?), and a specific text on which to focus.
If you want to write any of this in the medium of comics, you can. But be aware that this offers challenges as well as potential rewards.
Further guidelines for writing an essay below

#2: How Do Comics Work?

Offer your answer to the central question of this course: How do comics work? In your answer,...

If you want to write any of this in the medium of comics, you can. But be aware that this offers challenges as well as potential rewards.

Paper Guidelines

Getting Started.

1. Read and Reread; formulate a provisional thesis. Read and reread the work or works 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, as well as choices of design, style, layout, panel shape, and so on. Formulate a provisional thesis.

2. Consider the context(s). Consider the work in light of the context or contexts you have chosen. How does a particular context prove useful in understanding the book in question? What are the limitations of using this context? Decide how you will be using context (or contexts) to interpret the work.

3. Evaluate your secondary sources. What are the scholars' arguments? Read and reread the literary work or works in question, with a mind to the scholar's claims, your claims, and evidence (or lack thereof) for both you and the scholar. On what sort of evidence does the scholar's article rely? Is it persuasive? What about your evidence? How does the literary text support your position? How might the work's historical, cultural, or social context influence your thinking?

Writing the Paper.

1. The introduction:
a. Where does your paper fit into this discussion? Where do your secondary sources' arguments intersect with your own? Plan to devote your introductory paragraph to positioning your thesis in relation to others'. If you're opening up a new area of scholarship, then begin by noting the shortcomings of your predecessors' arguments. If, on the other hand, your work seems in accord with that of others, begin by indicating how your thesis supports or extends their arguments. And if you find that some arguments support yours and others do not, then you'll be doing a mix of the above. Whatever the case may be, conclude your introductory paragraph with a statement of your own thesis.

b. State your thesis. Make sure your thesis is specific enough to be covered adequately in the space of your discussion. Remember: merely noting a difference or similarity does not constitute a thesis. Refer to the handout titled "Thesis vs. Topic."

2. 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.

3. Provide support. To persuade your readers to your position, you will need to provide some evidence in support of your claims. Quotations, descriptions of illustrations, design, etc. of should be used as evidence to prove your assertions.

4. Analysis and explanation of evidence. Be sure to analyze the supporting example and discuss its significance. Explain for your reader how your evidence supports your claims.

5. 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.

And, after you finish your draft...

1. Revise and edit. Read your paper out loud to yourself. Often you will hear what your eyes will miss.

2. Grammar and structure are important. To help yourself proofread and revise with both of these ideas in mind, please see the handout titled "Keys to Structure and Style."

3. When in doubt, get help. My office hours are on the syllabus, and by appointment. My email address is Also, please make use of a grammar handbook and of the handouts linked to this paper assignment: "Imagery and Figurative Language," "Thesis vs. Topic," and "Keys to Structure and Style."




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Last updated January 24, 2016 .