Engl 385: C Dickens & JK rowling
Research Essay Guidelines

As part of the course requirements, you will write a 8-10-page (not counting the works cited page), analytical research essay that compares and contrasts (examines similarities and differences) one Harry Potter novel and the one Dickens novel--DC--we have read this semester.  (You cannot base your paper on Dickens or Rowling novels outside of our course reading, although you can reference these in your essay.  Since this is a research essay, you will use secondary sources (see below) to support your thesis. 

The research paper will require a minimum of four secondary sources + two primary sources.  (The novels are primary sources.) One source must be for a Dickens novel and one for a Rowling novel.  Of these four sources, only one can be a website, although you do not have to use websites.  One must be a journal article, and one must be a book, book chapter, or essay from an thematic essay collection.  Although you can use the introduction in the Penguin edition of DC as a source, it does not count towards the four minimum sources. If you use more than four sources, they can be any type of source.

Essay Topic assignment (10 pts)

1. Give the working title of your essay

2. State your topic and the main issue or question your essay is addressing.  Name the two novels you will be writing about.

3. State your working thesis, even though you will clarify this thesis statement as you draft and revise.

4. In a reasonable paragraph, at this point in your thinking, indicate some of your main evidence--your main points/a few examples from the novels/ and perhaps examples from one or two sources you will use.  (Give author and title of the source or sources.) If you do not have specific sources yet, indicate what your research plan is: what areas your secondary sources will focus on.

Submit via email: TBD - see syllabus.  Place info in the body of the email.  Do not send as an attachment.  Be sure to think about formatting; edit/proofread for grammar and mechanics.

Use an appropriate email subject line and salutation.  Use a 12pt, TNR font for text--based on Mircosoft Word.

Annotated Working Bibliography (15 pts)

You will turn (print copy) in a annotated bibliography ahead of your essay (due TBD  - see syllabus) , which must contain a minimum of 4 secondary sources (not counting your two novels--primary sources.  These are not included with your annotated bibliography). The purpose of the working bibliography is to obtain an understanding of sources you might use for your paper. These sources will help you think about your topic and obtain a sense of how they complement your ideas. They will also let you see how other writers approach a topic.

You may end up using additional sources in the final essay or not using all of the sources you list, hence the name annotated "working" bibliography.  See the note on the syllabus about beginning your preliminary research.

This bibliography will contain 1.)the MLA citations (8th ed.) for each source and 2.) a minimum four-to-five-sentence summary of each work.  Summaries should indicate the main point(s) or idea(s) of the source (its thesis) and a brief example or two.  Avoid being too general or vague. You also might indicate the connection of the source to your topic. This bibliography should consist of at least two journal articles (from print journal, from database, from an academic website) and one book, book chapter, or essay from a thematic essay collection. (At least one source for each novel.) Websites are optional, but you can include them; however, you should include no more than one legitimate website for the working bibliography.  If you wish to included additional sources beyond the required four, they can be any type of source.

Begin by conducting a search for articles (library databases--MLA International Bibliography/JSTOR) and books (library stacks).  Then find these source and preview them. If they will be fruitful, then read them carefully and take notes. There are books about Rowling's Harry Potter series on reserve. 

Format: Print copy. Typed, one-inch margins.  Single space the citations (if more than one line); summaries can be single or double spaced; 12pt. font, Times New Roman. Use reasonable spacing between entries and between the citation and summary. See handout example. 

Conducting Research

On the bottom of the website home page is a helpful resource page for your essay: Online Research Guide (see page for Engl 385).  This page has a plethora of suggestions and tips for conducting research.

Be sure to search the library book catalogue as well as the all of UW-System libraries. Use universal borrowing for books our library does not have. For journal articles, use MLA International Bibliography, JSTOR, Academic Search Elite (EBSCO) as well as other relevant humanities indexes. See me or a librarian for help. You can also request articles using universal borrowing.

Academic websites can also be used. Here, though, credibility is very important. Check authors and sponsoring organizations of sites (-edu? -org? -com?). See the websites I have listed on the course website (under "British Literature" link). Remember, an effective bibliography achieves balance in terms of the current dates of sources and the variety and types of sources.

See me early in the semester if you have questions.

Outline (10 pts)
  1. You will write an informal outline of your entire essay before you begin drafting your essay.  The outline will be due with the final essay, although we will most likely share your outline in class. This outline will help you solidify the content and structure of your essay before you start drafting.  It will also help you envision what quotations you will use and where in the essay they will go.
  2. Use the handout I gave you as an example of the type of outline you will construct.  Do not just make up your own type of outline.  As we went over in class, include quotations you will use as a subpoint (e.g., C. 1. Q: brief description of the quotation + page number.  You do not have to write out the quotations
  3. It was suggested in class that your outline might be between 15-20 paragraphs.  The outline can be handwritten or typed.
Research essay

The research paper will be a literary analysis of one Dickens novel and one Rowling novel. You will be comparing and contrasting them.  Based on your topic, you will develop a specific thesis about how these novels explore and develop that topic. In essence, your paper is an argument intended to convince readers that your thesis is a valid one, that your interpretation of the novels is a valid way of reading them. You can, however, briefly bring in other Rowling or even Dickens novels to support your points and make connections with each writer's other works.

You will support your thesis with:

  1. your reasoning and analysis
  2. quotations from the novel and
  3. secondary sources from your annotated bibliography.

You will use the MLA citation style (humanities) for parenthetical citations and for your works cited page. A copy of the MLA Handbook (8th ed.) is in the library.


Remember the function of an introduction--introduce your subject, raise key questions, situate your topic within the existing scholarship, and/or define your parameters (choice of texts). Your intro. does not necessarily have to include all of these. Finally, your introduction should include your thesis statement.

Thesis Statement

As you know, your thesis is the main point or idea of your essay. If you think of a literary analysis as an argument, then your thesis is the main point your are trying to prove. This "point" comes from your reading, thinking, and writing about the novel or novels you have chosen. Consider this introductory paragraph comparing Dickens's OT and Roman Polanski's adaptation of the movie.  The thesis is in italics:

As seen in both the novel and Polanski's movie adaptation, Oliver Twist is portrayed with innocence as a major personal trait; however, this picture of innocence varies throughout these two sources, therefore altering the audiences' image of Oliver as a whole.  These sources show Oliver remaining pure in a corrupt place, but these images go about different ways to create his character.  In Dickens's novel, Oliver is described as being unaware of his surroundings, therefore giving the reader the image of Oliver as a small, meek child, but Polanski ultimately reinterprets the character of Oliver.  The movie adaptation works as a translation of Dickens's novel by changing the way in which the audience views his character.  While the novel merely portrays Oliver as a meek child who is unaware of his surroundings, the movie's actual visual sources show Oliver as innocent, yet independent at the same time, giving the audience two different understandings of the character of Oliver as whole.  **There is a specific point here, but the writer's thesis might further specifiy what these two different understandings are.  What is the significance of showing Oliver as independent?  Why reinterpret the novel this way?*


Assume readers, who are students taking a 200- or 300-level English literature course, have experience reading literature and literary criticism as well as basic knowledge of the novel's plot, although the plots in Dickens's novel can be complicated. What would this audience expect to learn from your essay? What would be their reason for reading it? What writing style would they expect? Keep these questions in mind as your draft and revise.


For a comparison/contrast essay, you might block your discussion (discuss one novel then the other) or use an alternating structure based on common points/ideas of comparison, moving back and forth between novels.  There are pros and cons to each method.  For our essay, it is probably best to use an alternating structure; organize your essay by developing and linking supporting points/ideas. Move logically and clearly from supporting idea to supporting idea, each, in turn, supporting the thesis. Use clear topic sentences that focus each paragraph as well as clear paragraph transitions. Also, be sure paragraphs are not too long (overloaded) or too short (underdeveloped). An outline is an effective way to visualize the entire structure of your essay.


Choose your supporting ideas carefully. Do not focus on plot summary. You should only use plot summary briefly to contextualize points/ideas. Be sure to defend supporting ideas clearly and specifically using concrete examples. You may, for example, define key terms/words, interpret dialogue and actions, assess characters, explain the meaning/significance of key ideas/concepts.

Using/Integrating Quotations

Quotations emphasize and highlight important ideas/points that would be lost or muted with paraphrase or summary. They also allow readers to experience the language of the text. Remember, however, that quotations are not a substitute for your thinking, so they must be interpreted and explained. Don't overuse quotations and be careful about using long (block) quotations. Choose quotations judiciously. Check the MLA Handbook (8th ed.) for advice about integrating and punctuating quotations and citing page numbers.

You will include a works cited page that includes the sources you cited in your essay.  You can use the citations from your annotated bib if you ended up using those sources.  Again, check the MLA Handbook (8th ed.). 

Grammar and Mechanics

The essay length is 8-10 pages, double-spaced, one-inch margins, 12pt, Times New Roman.  Since you are indenting paragraphs, you do not also need extra spaces between paragraphs.  Please use page numbers.  Include a title (not "A Comparison of Dickens and Rowling") Use a paper clip rather than stapling.

Feel free to see me if you have any questions. I'll also be glad to look at drafts as you write them. Throughout the semester I will guide you through the writing process and add information to this page.