Philip Nel > Courses > English 690: Children's Literature and the Left (Spring 2004) > Paper Assignment (Graduate Students)

Paper Assignment for Graduate Students

Philip Nel's English 690: Children's Literature and the Left

PROSPECTUS DUE: In class, April 23, 2004.
PAPER DUE: In class, May 10, 2004.
PAPER LENGTH: 20 pages.

Assignment | Guidelines: Prospectus & Paper | Resources


        You should develop an argument about one or two of the literary works on the syllabus. If you are choosing two works and you would like to use a literary work not on the syllabus, you may do so only if you check with me first. Your paper should offer a persuasive argument about a theme or issue or question you see in our readings. A persuasive argument requires a thesis, supporting evidence from the text(s) (direct as well as indirect support), and explanation of that evidence. Your paper should have an introduction which states the thesis, body paragraphs providing the support and explanation of that support, a conclusion, and a "Works Cited" page. (Further guidelines are below.)

        Situate your argument is in relation to critical discussions about the author's or authors' work. Plan to include at least three other critical voices alongside your own. By "three other critical voices" I mean at least two scholarly essays (or chapters), and one (or more) of the following: another critical essay, the author's own comments, book reviews, other media, cultural context, historical context. Your own voice must take precedence, of course, but the other critical opinions should help you argue your ideas. What I mean by this last sentence is that you need to position your argument in relation to the others'. Perhaps you disagree with another critic; perhaps you agree; perhaps you agree with some ideas and disagree with others. It's a good idea to figure out, first, what you want to argue and then see what others have written. What will you be contributing to the discussion? With which critics do you agree? With which do you disagree? And (in each case) why? Once you figure out these questions, you'll be able to sharpen your thesis accordingly. A word of advice about secondary sources: since the primary piece of evidence is the literary text or texts, remember to include examples from the work(s) of literature to support your claims.

        Whatever argument you elect to advance, please situate your claims historically. That is, you should consider the context -- historical, cultural, social -- in which the work was written. For example, please do not use a phrase like "was ahead of its time" unless you can prove it. And under no circumstances should you make large claims like "Throughout history,..."

Prospectus Guidelines

        For your prospectus, offer a 250-word abstract of the claims you plan to make about your selected text(s), outlining what questions you wish to pursue and the argument you plan to make. (Obviously, these claims may change as you write, but try to 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 recent abstract I've written. The difference between your prospectus 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), 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 any other resources listed on the syllabus. You may use websites, but only alongside of other resources.

        If you do use websites, be especially careful to evaluate your sources: not all websites are equal. For example, consider the following: an article from the New York Times Book Review, "Customer Comments" at, a corporate website, an educational website, or a site representing a particular interest (say, the Green Party). To evaluate each website, ask yourself: whose interests does this site serve? For example, is it a .edu (education), .org (organization), .com (commercial), .gov (government), etc.? Who wrote it? What are the author's credentials? Is she an expert in her field? Or is he not identified?

I will read over the prospectus and offer comments and suggestions, but please feel free to meet with me before or after you've written your prospectus.

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, and (if applicable) illustrations. Formulate a provisional thesis.

2. 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 from the novel 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 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."


for English 690: Children's Literature and the Left

Philip Nel | Courses | Crockett Johnson Homepage | Don DeLillo Society | Links | Books | Self-Promotion | Site Map
Department of English | Kansas State University

Copyright © 2004 Philip Nel. Please read the Disclaimer.
This page was last updated on Tuesday, August 2, 2005