Reevaluation of Thesis and Working Outline
Creating a Thesis
By this time, 'you should understand your topic thoroughly and be able to formulate an opinion about it. Now you need to focus your knowledge and take a good look at your working thesis. Simply put, a thesis is the main point of your paper. It is what you will argue and hopefully prove through your research. It's hard to write a good paper with a weak thesis, so spend time making sure you have a good argument. A good thesis meets the criteria listed below:
- It is an opinion and therefore arguable.
- It is focused. It gives your main idea and your primary reason.
- It is easily recognizable. It is the most specific and opinionated sentence in your paper.
- It is not a question.
Check out this example of a broad versus specific thesis:
Overly Broad Thesis. States rights and the Southern way of life caused the American Civil War.
Tight, specific thesis. The South seceded from the Union in 1860-1861 primarily because of its definition of Federalism, economic stagnation, and outdated social structure.
The vagueness of the first thesis will leave the researcher floundering as she tries to formulate supporting arguments. The second, however, is more focused. It specifically states the basis for the author's supporting arguments. She will discuss political, economic, and social forces at work as causes for the Civil War.
Supporting arguments defend your thesis. How many do you need'? The answer depends on length requirements (how long your paper needs to be) and the quality of your supporting arguments. A quality supporting argument has details and examples that allow you to develop it. For a larger research paper, the one page rule is a good test for a supporting argument. That is, if you can write at least one page about a supporting argument, with quotes, paraphrases, examples, and details, it will probably work. You may want to write a good deal more than one page. This is fine, as long as you stay within your length requirements.
Formulas for a Good Thesis
Assertion + because:
Gives your opinion and your main reason for what you believe.
Example. Abraham Lincoln was the best president our country has ever known
because he maintained public's unity and morale during a divisive time.
Assertion + your two or three main reasons
Gives your opinions and previews the main arguments you'll use.
Example. The death penalty should be banned: it is morally hypocritical and is ineffective as a moral deterrent.
Your Thesis Should Change
As you're doing your research, you should constantly be narrowing, developing and refining your thesis statement. Below is an example of how this process might look.
- Pick a topic
- What part am I interested in?
- What information is available?
- What do I believe?
- What can I prove? What are my main arguments?
- Topic: The American Civil War
Narrowed Topic. The effects of guerrilla warfare on Missouri civilians.
Working Thesis. Guerrilla warfare in Missouri hurt civilians.
Final Thesis. Guerrilla warfare hurt civilians in that skirmishes often killed women and children and destroyed many of the states' farms.
Creating a Working Outline
Once you have crafted a thesis, you need to create a working outline. A working outline is like a roadmap for your paper; it gives your writing direction and keeps you from getting lost. Spending the time to write a detailed outline will really cut down on the amount of time you'll spend writing your paper and decrease the time you'll spend revising.
Your paper will be easier to understand, not to mention more convincing, if it follows some kind of logical sequence. In Appendix A, you can reference some general strategies for organizing a paper. Of course, each of these strategies only works for specific kinds of arguments, so you'll need to know the assignment, and have a general idea of what you're trying to argue before you'll know which strategy will best serve your needs.
The outline at this stage is called a working outline because it may change as the paper progresses. Below is an example of how to organize a working outline. Notice that it starts with the thesis statement and continues by listing the supporting arguments, details, and examples. This method is called a topic outline.
Thesis. The Southern states seceded from the Union in 1860-1861 primarily because of complex interaction of specific political, economic and social forces.
II. Supporting Argument #1