by Alexandra Makris, Peer Consultant, University Writing Center
One of my favorite conventions in writing that I have learned in college is the concept of the working thesis.
What is a thesis, you ask?
I will explain, happily (is there any other emotion to have when explaining a thesis statement? Considering it is about 30% of my job as a writing consultant, no).
A thesis statement is a claim that you are going to back up throughout your paper. It should be something with which someone else can plausibly disagree without sounding silly. For instance, if you begin an argumentative essay with the sentence “Chicago is located in Illinois, which is a state in the United States of America,” the main response you would get is “Yes, yes it is.”
The claim is something other than mere facts. It is a stance, a view, a flag upheld in a battlefield of contrary forces.
A working thesis is a beautiful concept that should find a comfortable place in your academic vocabulary. Properly considered, it will save you both time and stress. It is essentially a work-in-progress thesis, which is helpful because often we do not know exactly what we want to say until we have gotten further into the research and the writing process.
It is perfectly acceptable to have your working thesis loose, with imprecise and general language. I often find in a tutoring session that one of the first steps is reassuring the student that getting a perfect thesis statement the first time you write it is utterly unrealistic. It does not happen to us mere mortals, and revision is a necessary part of improving your writing.
The purpose of the working thesis is to give structure to your writing as you begin, rather than trying to create a unifying thesis after finishing your paper entirely. This way, as you write, you can constantly return to the thesis and ask yourself, “Does it fit with the purpose of my paper?” Writing, whether academic or not, has specific purposes, and all details and support ought to relate to that purpose. If you are writing a persuasive paper on the topic of gun control on school campuses in Indiana, including commentary on rising school tuition or the lack of parking on campuses does not help your cause. Those topics could potentially overlap, but you would have to make that overlap an intentional action rather than a tangential detour. If, as you are writing, a brilliant point of analysis comes to fruition that is not covered by your working thesis, consider reworking the thesis to include it.
Happy writing, and feel free to come see us in the writing center any time.