At the end of WR 111, students need to write a formal, argument-driven academic essay on the longer work (novel or memoir) that has been assigned. (Consult the sidebar here for the current list of longer works used in WR 111.) For this assignment, students should be mainly focused on thematic analysis, rather than primarily stylistic/rhetorical analysis, though of course they will need to quote and closely analyze passages of text in order to make their argument effectively. Scaffold the assignment with a series of reading journals, summaries, claim-writing workshops, and other pre-writing assignments as you see fit, and walk students through a process of peer review for their essay. Remember that the final paper should not be due after the last day of classes. 


to build upon the summary and analysis skills that you have been working on since the start of the semester; to develop a theme-related argument about the longer work we have read and support a claim through close analysis of selected passages; to write a coherent, well-structured academic essay of 2-3 pages (550-750 words)

Key Terms

analysis; argument

Assignment Template

  1. Choose a theme to analyze in the longer work we have discussed.
    Hint for instructors: Try to focus on one theme; while some students may worry that one theme is not enough for them to focus on in an entire essay, and may suggest looking at 2-3 themes, we do believe that, when treated deeply and analytically, a single theme is sufficient for an essay-length focus. If students are insistent that they want to discuss 2-3 themes, try to ask them to articulate the relationships among the themes. Does one affect another? Is one an interesting flip-side of the other? Is one the result of another? (Etc.)
  2. Develop an arguable claim, or statement of interpretation, about your theme; if your “claim” is in fact merely a statement of fact, or an obvious observation, it is not in fact a valid claim for an argument-driven essay. As long as you can articulate an interesting interpretation or observation about your theme–not just that it exists in the book–you are on solid ground here.
  3. Use this test: ask yourself if a reasonable reader of the longer work could potentially disagree with your interpretation.
  4. Quote from the text, and explicate your quotes, in order to make an argument in favor of your claim. Aim for at least one quote, but often 2-3 quotes depending on length and your analysis, per body paragraph.
  5. Review (if needed) what it means to write an academic argument, or to analyze a text, using elements of these Flipped Learning Modules:
  6. Include a properly formatted Work Cited page at the end of your paper. This should begin at the top of a new page, be double-spaced, and follow MLA style and formatting guidelines.

Tips for Successful Essay Elements

  • Effective thesis statements: Remember that your claim needs to be a focused arguable, provable claim or interpretation, not a fact (FACT: Montana 1948 is about a boy named David Hayden) or an opinion/belief (OPINION: Montana 1948 is an exciting book). A strong claim will present an interesting argument that answers the question “so what?”
  • Quotes/evidence: The support for your argument will be quotes from the text, so choose them carefully, and make sure it’s clear to your reader why that particular quote supports the specific point you’re making. Quotes should be the filling in a “quote sandwich.” Make your assertion (David projects his emotions onto his horse Nutty), provide the quote (“my tears were not for Marie . . . but because I believed I would never see my horse, Nutty, again”) and the parenthetical reference in MLA style, and then, most importantly, explicate the quote, showing how that quote illustrates your point. Look at key words and word choice, literary devices, what the quote reveals about the characters, etc.
  • Focus on the novel: Keep your focus on the text and avoid bringing in outside sources or discussing your personal experiences or judgments. This essay is an analysis of the novel, not a discussion of small town life or whether or not boys should have guns, or any other issue or experience other than the text at hand.
  • Organization: Use transitions to link ideas, but be careful not to make the essay sound like a shopping list (first . . . and then . . . next . . . ). Use summary sparingly, giving your readers only as much as they need to follow your argument. Your focus should be on analysis of the theme and your particular interpretation/claim.
  • Title: Provide an engaging title that gives your reader a glimpse of what your argument is (something other than “Final Paper”).

NOTE: Some instructors like to leave the choice of theme or topic for this paper more open, while others like to offer specific prompts. While the final paper in WR 112 should, generally, be open-ended, with students allowed to come up with their own claims, there is an argument to be made for offering WR 111 students more guidance (scaffolding). Whether or not you choose to offer students specific prompts, however, you will likely help them preview appropriate themes, structure their claims, and brainstorm how to complicate their interpretations of the text in class. The following example shows one instructor’s approach to using specific prompts with the novel Montana 1948. Though we no longer use that novel in WR 111, it may offer ideas for how to structure similar prompts with the longer work of your choice.

  1. CHILDHOOD and INNOCENCE: Some critics argue that, above all, Montana 1948 is a story about the shattering of one child’s illusions (illusions about family, honesty, adulthood, justice, good/evil) and his subsequent loss of innocence. Do you agree? Why/why not? Select specific passages from the novel that will help you to explain and prove why/why not.
  2. SECRECY/LIES or HONESTY/TRUTH: It can be argued that Montana 1948 is more about what goes unsaid—and the consequences of such secrecy—as it is about what secrets are revealed within the Hayden family. Do you agree? Why/why not? Select specific passages from the novel that will help you to explain and prove why/why not.
  3. POWER: Some critics argue that Montana 1948 is primarily a story about the need for power and control, whether power over an entire town (Grandpa Hayden, Wesley), over a minority (Frank and other townspeople), over one’s family (Grandpa Hayden, Gail, David), or over nature (David). Do you agree? Why/why not? Select specific passages from the novel that will help you to explain and prove why/why not.
  4. FAMILY LOYALTY/JUSTICE: Within the Hayden family, to what extent does family loyalty prevail over justice, or vice versa? Consider each of the primary family members (David, Wesley, Gail, Frank, Grandpa Hayden) in order to form your argument. You are also encouraged to think about family loyalty regarding matters other than the prosecution/defense of Frank. Select specific passages from the novel that will help you to explain and prove whether you think family loyalty or justice (the law) prevails for the Hayden family.