Writing Resources Guided Tour
Step Three: Developing a Working Thesis
If you know what your assignment requires and you know what topic you'd like to write about, your next step is to develop a working thesis statement. A working thesis statement is just like a regular thesis statement, except that you can tweak it and change it as you research and write. It’s sort of like making a plan for the weekend on Tuesday night: you know the plan will probably be modified, but it’s a good place to start. Make sure you can confidently answer each of the statements below before moving on to step four:
- My assignment requires a thesis statement. More info...
- I have a working thesis that contains both a topic and an assertion about that topic. More info...
- My thesis makes a debatable claim. More info...
- My thesis can be supported with logic and evidence. More info...
Are you confident you have a strong working thesis? Click on the associated "More Info..." links to explore, or you can view all the details for this section. If you can comfortably answer these statements, go forward by clicking "Next."
1. Figuring Out if Your Assignment Requires or Implies a Working Thesis
Not all writing assignments require a formal thesis statement, but most do. It is important to read over your assignment carefully to determine if your assignment would benefit from having one. Remember, a thesis statement is just a fancy phrase for the main point of your paper. Nearly all types of academic writing need a central direction or point. Even if you plan on using many different kinds of examples, anecdotes, or pieces of evidence, you will want to make sure to bring them together under a clearly stated thesis statement somewhere in the beginning of your paper. There are some foreseeable projects that might not require a formal thesis statement—such as an informal reflection essay or a piece of fiction writing—but it is very likely that even the most informal of writings would do better in having at least a topic sentence outlining or hinting at the main direction of the paper.
2. What is a Working Thesis?
The idea of a working thesis
A working thesis is just a thesis that isn't quite sure of itself yet. You, the author, are still working out where you want your paper to go. You might be perfectly confident about your topic—that is, generally you know what you want to write about—but you still might not be sure how you want to deal with it or what direction you want to take that topic. A working thesis is just a thesis in a sort of rough draft form. It's not final or complete. It may be lacking focus or a debatable claim, or a combination of both. Generally speaking, a thesis is the main point or assertion of your paper.
Should I worry about only having a working thesis?
No, not necessarily. Often, it can be useful to have general thesis to start out with simply so you can feel free to charge ahead and begin writing on your topic. An unrefined thesis usually occurs when you haven't spent enough time exploring the complexities of your topic. Simply writing about your topic can help determine the main focus of your paper.
How can I tell if my thesis is in good shape or is still in the working stages?
The best way to know if your thesis is still in the working stage is to "grill it," that is, interrogate or question every single word of the thesis and determine if each word is sufficiently specific and meaningful. Assault your thesis with a barrage of questions asking what, who, where, when, and why. Your thesis should to some degree answer of all these questions fairly effortlessly. If you find it doesn't, then you know you still have some work to do. Don't worry; many writers do not discover their true, final thesis until after finishing their first full draft.
The importance of a thesis containing both a topic and an assertion
As mentioned, for your working thesis to attain the status of a thesis statement, it must possess both a topic and an assertion about that topic. In other words, you must put forth a debatable argument about your topic.
For example, an incomplete thesis might look something like this:
a wolverine's claws and their usefulness in defending themselves.
That statement might make for a good starting topic but it does not really assert anything that is debatable or interesting. Turning that topic into a thesis could look like this:
a wolverine's claws are quite sharp and consequently help the animal defend itself from predators.
Here, the writer mentions both a topic (a wolverine's claws and self-defense against predators) and an assertion (a wolverine's claws are quite sharp and help defend it from predators). However, as we will see in part three, the above thesis could be quite stronger with a more datable assertion or claim.
3. The Importance of a Thesis Making a Debatable Claim
A truly debatable assertion makes for a stronger thesis
A thesis must not only make an assertion about the topic; it must make a debatable or controversial claim about the topic. The example in the previous detail section (What is a working thesis?) about wolverines possesses the two key ingredients of a thesis, but its assertion is boring and rather obvious. A stronger thesis might state:
Not only are a wolverine's claws the sharpest and most deadly of any species classified within the Mustelidae family, they use these claws in self-defense against a dozen various predators found in its home ecosystem.
This thesis statement makes a much more debatable claim—"the wolverine's claws are the sharpest and most deadly of any species classified within the Mustelidea family."
Arousing suspicion or intellectual interest in the reader
If an assertion is debatable enough, a reader might question its accuracy. A strong thesis should arouse at least a little of this skepticism in its reader, which in turn might be proof that the thesis author is claiming something interesting and worth debating. Regarding our example, a reader might ask himself, even if a wolverine's claws are somehow the sharpest, does that make them automatically the deadliest?
4. A thesis must be supportable with logic and evidence
The paragraphs that follow your thesis should be full of supports, e.g. examples, anecdotes, or evidence. Additionally, each paragraph should link back up to your thesis statement in a logical way. If after examining your working thesis you find that evidence or logic can't be used to support it, then your thesis is probably too opinion based.