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Developing a Research Thesis
        • Thesis Characteristics--explanation

Developing a Research Thesis

A research thesis has most of the same thesis characteristics as a thesis for a non-research essay. The difference lies in the fact that you gather information and evidence from appropriate, valid sources to support your perspective on a topic or stand on an issue. Yet although your sources provide information that informs your thesis, the thesis idea should be your own, particular to your personal way of thinking about and analyzing a topic.

The thesis focuses your ideas and information for the research paper. Remember that word "focus." Student writers often make the mistake of forgetting the focus and making the research thesis far too broad in order to include a lot of research. Yet depth more than breadth is the hallmark of a sophisticated research paper.

Create a working thesis for the research paper by specifying and ordering your categories of information. For example, the following theses offer the writers' main arguments and focus their research by specifying and ordering the reasons for their stance:

As you can see, a research thesis is your proposed answer to your research question, which you finalize only after completing the research. (It's o.k. to modify and revise the working thesis as you research more about the topic or issue.)

Developing a good working thesis, just like developing a good research question (researchable; neither too broad nor too narrow), is an important research skill.

Thesis Characteristics

Whenever you are writing to explain something to your reader or to persuade your reader to agree with your opinion, there should be one complete sentence that expresses the main idea of your paper. That sentence is often called the thesis, or thesis statement. (Some other names it goes by are "the main idea" and "the controlling idea.") Based on everything you've read, and thought, and brainstormed, the thesis is not just your topic, but what you're saying about your topic. Another way to look at it is, once you've come up with the central question, or organizing question, of your essay, the thesis is an answer to that question. Remember, though, while you are still writing your paper, to consider what you have to be a "working thesis," one that may still be "adjusted." As you continue to write, read, and think about your topic, see if your working thesis still represents your opinion.

Handy reminders about the thesis:

Were to Put the Thesis

The thesis usually comes within the introductory paragraph, which prepares the reader to listen to your ideas, and before the body of the paper, which develops the thesis with reasons, explanations, and evidence or examples. In fact, if you examine a well-written thesis, you will find hidden in it the questions your reader will expect you to answer in the body. For example, if your thesis is "Cannibalism, if practiced tastefully, can be acceptable in extreme circumstances," the body of your essay will develop this idea by explaining HOW it can be practiced tastefully, WHY it would be acceptable, and WHAT you would consider extreme circumstances.

Put the Thesis as a Statement

Make sure your thesis is in the form of a statement, not a question. "Can we save the Amazon rain forest?" is an ear-catching question that might be useful in the introduction, but it doesn't express an opinion or perspective as the following statements do:

Don't go Overboard!

Make sure your thesis expresses your true opinion and not an exaggerated version of it. Don't say "Computers are wonderful" or "Computers are terrible" if what you really believe is "Computers do more good than harm" or "Computers do more harm than good." Why commit yourself to an extreme opinion that you don't really believe in, and then look like you're contradicting yourself later on?

Focus Further

Make sure your thesis covers exactly the topic you want to talk about, no more and no less. "Drugs should not be legalized" is too large a thesis if all you want to talk about is marijuana. "Boxing should be outlawed" is too small a thesis if you also want to discuss wrestling and football. Bite off as much as you can chew thoroughly--then chew it!

Choose the Right Shape

Shape your thesis to fit the question you wish to answer. A thesis can come in many forms, including the following:

Exercise: Thesis Statement

Directions: Suppose you've been answering a research question about adult illiteracy in the United States, and have a fourteen-page draft about how widespread the problem is, six or seven pages analyzing the causes of the problem, and six or seven pages evaluating possible solutions and proposing one you feel would be effective.

Which of the following sentences might make the best thesis statement for your paper? (Remember, of course, that there are zillions of ways of stating your thesis, or main idea, and that no version is "perfect.")

Adult illiteracy poses the greatest threat to America today.

Adult illiteracy has many causes, but it can be eliminated.

How can the problem of adult illiteracy in America be effectively addressed?

Subsuming a myriad of causal factors, adult illiteracy manifests itself throughout contemporary American society.

We can eliminate adult illiteracy in America now!

Exercise 4: Choose the Best Research Thesis

Below are five exercises designed to improve your ability to select a good research thesis. Click on any letter to start the exercise. Next Step

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