Philip Nel > Courses > English 440: Harry Potter's Library > Paper Assignment

English 440: Paper


in class, Thursday, 5 Dec. 2013.


6-7 pages.


Assignment | Guidelines | Useful handouts


        Develop a thesis about some of the texts we've read. The word "some" in the previous sentence could denote as many as all seven books in the Potter series or as few as one or two novels (neither of which need be from the Potter series). In other words, the Potter series can "count" as one novel; otherwise, keep to just one or two novels.

        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).


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 J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass both feature young central characters on a quest. Perhaps, but so what? Instead, you might argue that, in both novels, the young main characters embark upon a quest motivated by both self-discovery and selflessness; as they learn about themselves, they also learn to act for the greater good. In having Harry and Lyra embark upon journeys that lead them both inwards and outwards, their authors send their protagonists in pursuit of two central mysteries: Who am I? And what is my role in the world? 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 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 440 (Fall 2013)

Harry Potter's Library: Links | FAQ | 2002 | 2003 | 2005 | 2006 (Spring) | 2006 (Fall) | 2009 | 2011 | 2013

Philip Nel | Courses | Books | Blog | Crockett Johnson Homepage | Don DeLillo Society | Links | Self-Promotion | Site Map | FAQ
Program in Children's Literature| Department of English | Kansas State University

Copyright © 2002-2013 Philip Nel. Please read the Disclaimer.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 .