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Writing Across the Curriculum

Document 2 – an excerpt from TERM PAPER THESIS FORMULATION
by Nell W. Meriwether

Think about the topic about which you would like to write. Research the topic and determine which approach you would like to take. One way to determine your approach is to brainstorm ideas that you have gathered through your research. Jot them all down, then cross out the unsuitable ideas until you arrive at one you can support with your research. For example, in determining what would be a good thesis for a paper on Tourette Syndrome Ellen brainstormed the following ideas:

  • Tourette Syndrome affects more boys than girls, and its causes and resulting effects are controversial, making it difficult for the child with Tourette to be accepted by society.
  • Tourette Syndrome is an illness that continues to be misunderstood scientifically and at the same time is even more misunderstood by society, which causes the person with Tourette to suffer untold agony as well as those around him or her to be affected.
  • Understanding Tourette Syndrome as an illness is the first step in understanding the person who has Tourette, thus helping those around the individual to adapt to the illness and the person more appropriately.
  • While there is debate about what causes Tourette Syndrome, the fact is that the person with Tourette faces almost insurmountable obstacles because of the ignorance of society and the resulting reaction to his or her actions.
  • The person with Tourette Syndrome lives in a world to himself, often feeling isolated from others because of their reaction to him and because of his own feelings of being different.
  • Schools and society as a whole are going very little to recognize the problem of Tourette Syndrome and to help the person with Tourette feel accepted as a part of society.

As you can see, each of the statements can evolve into a thesis statement for a paper on Tourette Syndrome. Each statement also carries with it the idea that the child is not the only person who suffers; others around him or her also must learn how to cope. It will be up to the writer to determine which point will be more effective in her research paper.

Another way to help you arrive at a thesis is to ask the same questions you would use in narrowing your topic: who, what, when, where, why , and how . These questions can be asked with different types of papers, for by exploring them you will be able to home in on your thesis. For example, if you plan to use an analytical approach in your paper, you will be more concerned with the what and the how of your subject, and your thesis will reflect that stance. If you choose to develop your paper by explanation, you will concern yourself more with who, what, when, where, and perhaps why . If you are clearly writing an argumentative paper, you will think more about why and how and perhaps who or what . As you ask these questions, you will develop an objective for your paper that you can state in one sentence—your thesis.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about how to choose a thesis. Brainstorming ideas or asking the question who, what, when, where, why , and how and looking over the material you have researched can help you decide what you want to defend in your paper. There are, however, some other points to consider in determining whether you have a viable thesis—one that will work well with your subject. And even though some papers do not lend themselves well to argument, the thesis must be a statement that can be supported in order to ascertain whether the purpose of the paper has been carried out. Otherwise, as your instructor reads your paper, he or she will not be able to determine if you have adequately supported anything! There will be little direction to your paper.

Developing a Sound Thesis

The following guidelines can help you to develop a good thesis:

  • A thesis should be one arguable point. While writing an informative paper may not lend itself as well to argument as an argumentative paper, your thesis is arguable to the point that you are presenting your point of view. Another person could write on the same subject and approach it entirely differently. Because your point is debatable to whatever extent, your approach to the subject is what you will support in your research paper. Your research is simply gathering material others have compiled to support the point of view you have chosen for your paper.
  • A thesis should not be a question . If your thesis asks a question, the reader has no idea what you are trying to support and what stance you are taking. Because of that, it will be a statement , not a question.
  • The thesis should be restricted, which means that it should cover only those points you intend to discuss, thereby providing a nutshell of your paper in one sentence.
  • The thesis should have unity. This means that it will have a single purpose, not a double purpose or two different ideas in your paper. Sometimes this purpose is called a single principle by which the paper is constructed. Even with a comparison or a comparison and contrast paper, there should still be one overall purpose, or thesis, that unites the two areas you are investigating.


Refining Your Thesis

One of the most difficult parts of writing the research paper is finalizing your thesis statement. The reason for that is exactly what you have just read about in developing a sound thesis statement. You are aware of the fact that it is the nucleus of your paper and you must include the main idea of what you want to incorporate in your paper. For that reason, you will spend some time making sure that it is a good thesis statement.

It is very unlikely that your first thesis will be the one you will choose for your paper. Your attitude toward your subject may change slightly as you write, necessitating a change in your thesis. This means that you are refining your thesis, cutting out parts that you cannot support and adding others that you can support. Of course, some truly experienced writers are adept enough to have an implied thesis, but if you follow this route, everything in your paper will support the implication because of it being evident.


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