Peanuts Paper


During the second half of the semester, we will be using computational methods to try to analyze all (?) of Peanuts. Put very broadly, we’re hoping that the computer will find patterns that would be hard for us to see at the scale of 50 years’ worth of daily comic strips.

That said, humans are really good at spotting patterns that computers cannot. Our brains are wired to do this; they don’t need everything to be described in exact and discrete terms to find connections. So, we needn’t leave everything to the computers. We should see what we can find by doing our own search for patterns, followed, of course, by our attempts to interpret them.

As we (eventually) take both approaches at the same time, we can let our readings of individual strips shape how we are using computers; and our exploration of Peanuts at a large scale can feed back into our individual, small-scale readings. Working in such a centaur-like fashion may help us get further in research than we could ever get by taking either path exclusively.

Nitty Gritty

For this assignment, you will write a six-page-minimum paper (more is fine!) that compares and contrasts Peanuts from the 1960s with that of the 1980s. Of course, you can’t compare/contrast everything between these two decades of the strip; you’ll need to pick an angle. You could consider the visual elements of the strip, the representation of sports (or cooking or make-believe or…), the personality of a particular character, the range of political issues that Schulz appears to be responding to, or any number of other options.

It is important to remember that you are making an argument, something that you will need to persuasively demonstrate. You should draw your evidence for this argument via “close reading,” an analysis of the language and techniques present within the strips. You must marshal evidence to support your claims, and that evidence should be specific. Do not rely on generalizations about the strips; draw on particular strips in detail.

You not only need an appropriate amount of evidence but you must also spend an appropriate amount of time demonstrating and explaining how your evidence adds up to your interpretation. Help your reader understand how the dots connect in your argument. What this means is that when you use evidence from the strip, you must also take the time to make clear how that evidence relates to your larger argument. This is not as simple as it sounds, but I suspect you’ve all done this before.

I have three general tips for writing papers, which I will be happy to explain in class. But as a reference, here are the short versions:

  • what does it mean? how do you know?
  • the rule of “although”
  • not A → D, but A → B → C → D

I anticipate that you will draw from the two volumes of The Complete Peanuts that we are reading in class. However, you are welcome to consult the other volumes that are on reserve. What’s more, the library owns the WHOLE of Complete Peanuts. You are not required to use external sources for this assignment, although you may do so if you would like. Whether or not you use external sources, you will need a Works Cited list in correct, MLA 9th edition style. Feel free to use EasyBib or Zotero to make this process easier.

Papers must be submitted as a PDF via Learning Suite no later than Tuesday, 4 April at 11:59 pm. Please name your file “last name”-peanutspaper.pdf (e.g., croxall-peanutspaper.pdf). The paper must be in 12-point Times New Roman font and double-spaced. It must have a title and 1″ margins on all sides.


This assignment is worth 125 points. I will grade the papers simply with letter grades. A+ = 100%; A = 95%; A- = 92%; B+ = 88%; etc. I will use a rubric that will focus on a few discreet things:

  • Appropriateness of scope: Here, I am looking to see that you understand what can be persuasively covered in the page limits. A topic that is too big (e.g., sports in Peanuts) may result in a poorly developed essay. Something more manageable (e.g., hockey in Peanuts) allows you more room to build an argument.
  • The thesis for the essay should state an argument, not just a topic. This is a topic: “My essay will consider how Charles M. Schulz represents hockey in the 1950s and 1970s.” This is an argument: “Although Schulz’s strips seem to depict hockey in similar ways, the equipment he draws for his characters points to the changes the sport underwent in the intervening decades.” One way to determine whether you are presenting a topic or an argument is to ask yourself, “Could a person reasonably dispute what I am saying?” If the answer is “no,” then you probably don’t have an argument. Demonstrating the validity of your argument should be the goal of the paper and, thus, each paragraph.
  • Use of evidence: It’s not a persuasive argument if you don’t have evidence to prove it. You can’t do this without substantially referring to the text, by quotation if dealing with prose and by description if dealing with visuals. Both quotations and descriptions should be smoothly introduced by and integrated into your own prose (the proverbial quotation sandwich). Furthermore, you should clearly and effectively provide analysis of the evidence, limning how it connects to your larger argument for the reader.
  • Prose and organizational effectiveness: This is a writing assignment, so the quality of your writing is at stake. The grammar and spelling of your paper should be flawless. It should be possible for the reader to see why your paper is organized in the way that it is and that this organization contributes to the rhetorical power of your argument. Finally, your paper should make correct use of MLA style where necessary.

Research & Writing Center

The BYU Research & Writing Center is an excellent resource for you as you’re working on any stage of your paper. In fact, I think seeking this sort of feedback is so important that I will award you 4 extra points if you bring a draft of your paper there. That works out to a 3.2% increase, which is the same thing as moving from a B to a B+.

Be sure to ask your tutor to notify me at brian [dot] croxall [at] byu [dot] edu. They will send me a very brief outline of the tutoring session, but what I really care about is your attending. The RWC can get very busy at different points in the semester. You should consider making an appointment sooner rather than later.


This assignment was designed by Brian Croxall and is licensed with a Creative Commons BY (CC-BY) license.