Chapter 5 Hamnes

Chapter 5: Where Can We Find a Compelling Thesis

How do we find a question worth pursuing?

  • Keep reading. Once you find a good source, scour its bibliography for related readings that will take you deeper or in new directions.
  • Apply your perspective. You have knowledge or life experiences that your professor does not. Use that expertise to bring fresh perspective to a subject. Realize, too, that ignorance can be a strength. Knowing little about something may help you to ask questions or see things that are invisible to experts.
  • Make your own luck. Just like seasoned scholars, apprentices sometimes stumble accidentally on a research topic, a piece of evidence, or an insight that others have overlooked. Discovery often happens by mistake.
  • Challenge yourself. Arguments demonstrate evidence of thinking. Discovering something for yourself can lead to a good thesis, even if it's not news to experts.
  • Talk with others. Conversation often sparks great ideas. Talking with trusted friends and mentors helps us refine fuzzy ideas and discover more original angles from which to approach a topic.

What are the right questions to ask?

  • Controversies about existence or fact: (Is it true? Did it happen?)
  • Controversies about definition or interpretation: (Does this case fit the definition? How do we interpret this information?)
  • Controversies about cause, consequences, or circumstance: (Was it intentional? Are there extenuating circumstances?)
  • Controversies about evaluation: (Is it right or wrong? Is it serious enough to warrant our attention?)
  • Controversies about jurisdiction, procedure, policy, or action to be taken: (What, if anything, should we do about it?)
  • Challenging. Scholars don't ask questions when they already know the answers. They pursue questions that require some kind of proof, scientific data, or investigation. These questions push scholars and their readers intellectually because they inspire careful, critical, and creative thinking.
  • Compelling. Good questions have significant consequences or implications for real people or real situations, even if the effects are mostly theoretical. The issues are important to the intended audience, and scholars are invested in finding reliable answers.
  • Controversial. Great questions don't need to be scandalous, but they usually inspire some degree of disagreement among readers concerning the best solution to a problem or answer to a question. Selecting a question that has a spark of tension can lead to a more provocative argument.

Can-and why would-you change your thesis?

  • Scholars typically have a tentative thesis or hypothesis in mind when they begin researching and writing, but they refine and change their views as they encounter better evidence and other scholars' findings. Their thesis ultimately evolves.
  • Settling on a thesis before writing closes off opportunities to learn.

Does the thesis have to appear at the end of the first paragraph?

  • On the one hand, showing your cards at the beginning of an argument can be more ethical because it's less sneaky. Because the audience already knows where the argument is going, they can evaluate evidence within that context, according to that purpose, as they go along.
  • On the other hand, the deferred or evolving thesis can also treat the audience as a partner investigator. If you present evidence without telling readers how to interpret it, they're free to draw conclusions for themselves.

What thesis statements should you avoid?

  • Cliched arguments. Cliches don't work in scholarly writing because their life has already been sucked dry; there's nothing left to discover or add to the discussion. Also, cliched arguments don't answer the So what? question. They may be interesting, but they don't solve an important problem or get to the heart of the matter.
  • "Interesting" arguments. This kind of argument can't be supported for an audience because it relies solely on personal opinion. Whether something's interesting is a matter of personal taste; it's not an argument that you can support with evidence.

How can you jazz up your style?

  • One concrete way to engage readers is to use an "although" clause in your thesis statement, which positions your idea against an opposing idea.
  • Try something unexpected.
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