What we worked on last class:Differences between high school, college and university writingFundamentals of postsecondary writingRundown of the writing assignment
Today we’ll look at:Thesis: What makes a thesis strong What role the thesis plays throughout the paper structurally Some reasons why theses do or don’t work**Through the session we’ll be drawing on content from the book ‘Writing Analytically’ by Rosenwasser, Stephen and Babington
“The Thesis-Builder’s Bottom Line” Look for a thesis by focusing on an area of your subject that you feel should be opened to opposing viewpoints or multiple interpretations. Rather than attempting to locate a single right answer, search for something that raises questions. Treat your thesis as a hypothesis to be tested rather than an obvious truth. Evolve your thesis – move it forward – by seeing the questions that each new formulation of it prompts you to ask
“The Thesis-Builder’s Bottom Line” –cont.Develop the implications of your evidence and of your observations as fully as you can by repeatedly asking “So what?”When you encounter potentially conflicting evidence (or interpretations of that evidence), don’t simply abandon your thesis. Take advantage of the complications to expand, qualify, and refine your thesis until you arrive at the most accurate explanation of the evidence that you can manage.
How to fix a weak thesis: 1. The thesis makes no claim Example: “I’m going to write about Darwin’s concerns with evolution in The Origin of Species” There is nothing at stake, no issue to be resolved.Solution: Raise specific issues for the essay to explore, & propose specific opinionsSolution ex:Darwin’s concern with survival of the fittest in The Origin of Species initially leads him toneglect a potentially conflicting aspect of his theory of evolution – survival as a matter ofinterdependence.
How to fix a weak thesis: 2. The thesis is obviously true or is a statement or factExample: “The jeans industry targets its advertisements to appeal to young adults.” There is no point in arguing something that few people would find doubt in – its not interesting, thevague follow-up cues us that there may be tension in exploration of the vaguenessSolution: find some avenue of inquiry – a question about the facts or an issue raised by them. Make anassertion with which it would be possible for readers to disagree.”Solution ex:By inventing new terms, such as “loose fit” and “relaxed fit,” the jeans industry has attempted tonormalize, even glorify, its product for an older and fatter generation.
How to fix a weak thesis:3. The thesis restates conventional wisdom Example: “An important part of one’s college education is learning to better understand others’points of view.” These are clichés.Solution: Seek to complicate – see more than one point of view on – your subject. Avoidconventional wisdom unless you can qualify it or introduce a fresh perspective on it.Solution ex:While an important part of one’s college education is learning to better understand others’points of view, a persistent danger is that the students will simply be required to substitutethe teacher’s answers for the ones they grew up uncritically believing.
How to fix a weak thesis: 4. The thesis offers personal conviction as the basis for the claimExample:“Sir Thomas More’s Utopia proposes an unworkable set of solutions to society’s problems because, like communist Russia, itsuppresses individualism.” Personal opinions are not self-evident truths. Check to see if the answer to the question is “because I think so”.Solution: Replace opinions (in the form of self-evident truths) with ideas – theories about the meaning and significance ofthe subjects that could be supported and qualified with evidence.Solution ex:Sir Thomas More’s Utopia treats individualism as a serious but remediable social problem. His radical treatment of what wemight now call “socialization” attempts to redefine the meaning and origin of individual identity.
How to fix a weak thesis:5. The thesis makes an overly broad claimExamples:“Violent revolutions have had both positive and negative results for man.” Overly generalized theses avoid complexity, and make a thesis impossible to argue well, becausethere is too much to say and the argument lacks focus.Solution: Convert broad strategies and generic (fits anything) claims to more specific, more qualifiedassertions; find new ways to bring out the complexity of your subject.Solution ex:Although violent revolutions begin to redress long-standing social inequities, they often do so at thecost of long-term economic dysfunction and the suffering that attends it.
The Grammar of a Good Thesis Don’t rely on nouns, but instead verbs Be specific with your word choice (especially transitional ones), using active voice (verbs) when possible instead of passive Move toward specificity in word choice, in sentence structure, and in idea. Be conscious of what order things are expressed in your sentences. This affects emphasis in a big way and sometimes changes the meaning.
The Question of the QuestionCan a thesis be a question?: This makes it difficult because there is no overt “claim” Use these cautiously, include a follow-up claim sentence if possible
**Exercise: 1. Read this thesis statement, and ask yourself “what does the thesis require the writer to do next?” – play with wording until the follow through structure seems interesting and intact Thesis: Regarding the promotion of women into executive positions, they are continually losing the race because of a corporate view that women are too compassionate to keep up with the competitiveness of a powerful man.
**Exercise – cont:2. Have a partner read your thesis statement, and give youfeedback about what it means to them, and the ways itsworking or not, try to help each other polish your thesisstatements3. As a group we’ll read and discuss the thesisstatements everyone arrived at, to get a sense of what we’velearned and can apply when writing theses in the future
What role should the thesis playthroughout the paper?