Philip Nel > Courses > English 545: Literature for Adolescents (Fall 2011) > Paper Assignment

English 545: Paper


in class, Thursday, 1 December 2011.


5-6 pages.


Assignment | Possible Topics | Guidelines | Useful handouts


        Develop a thesis about some of the texts we've read for this course. The phrase "some of the texts" in the previous sentence denotes one or two texts. For the purposes of this assignment, a single "text" could mean a novel, a film, a fairy tale, a graphic novel or any other fictional work on our syllabus. Your paper should offer a persuasive argument about a theme or issue or question you see in our readings.

        Your paper should offer a persuasive argument about a theme or issue or question you see in the text(s). In the preceding sentence, "theme" can include anything from recurring motifs, to subject matter, to what you perceive as the work's political goals. A persuasive argument requires a thesis, supporting evidence from the text(s), and explanation of how that evidence supports your claims. Please use MLA documentation style for your citations and Works Cited page. Further guidelines are below.

        If you wish to use critical commentary or a secondary source to initiate your argument, you may do so. Include the critical or secondary viewpoint in the introduction and at the appropriate moment in your argument, but remember: your primary evidence must come from the primary material itself (i.e., the novel or novels).

Possible Topics:

        You are not limited to any specific topic. The primary limitation is that you must use texts we've read in class. You may use an outside text in combination with one we've read in class, but you must clear this with me first.

        That said, I realize that some of you may want suggestions. So, here are a few suggestions, all of which will require more specific thesis statements.


Getting Started...

1. Read and Reread. 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, and (if applicable) 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. So, it would not be sufficient to say that Rebel Without a Cause and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye both feature alienated, teen-aged male characters who reject the society in which they live. Perhaps, but so what? Instead, you might argue that, in both works, the alienated main characters both reject their society and secretly wish for a way to belong to it; in order to resolve this tension, Jim Stark and Holden Caulfield begin to explore ways that they can both resist and fit in, but on their own terms. Their experiments' varying degrees of success can be measured by each character's ability to compromise and to develop lasting friendships with others. 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 from the primary text should be used as evidence to prove your assertions.

4. Analysis and explanation of evidence. Be sure to analyze the quotation 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 listed 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."

Useful Handouts: Imagery and Figurative Language | Thesis vs. Topic | Keys to Structure and Style

Return to Syllabus for English 545

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