Teaching Resources

Integrating Writing: Developing a Thesis



Developing a tentative thesis is one of the most important stages in the process of researching. In this stage, students will learn to move toward a position or an answer to their question and support it with arguments and counter-arguments.



The exercises included in this stage can be conducted in class. Give students time to begin to articulate their tentative theses, map out their arguments, and receive feedback from their peers. By the end of this phase students will have a tentative thesis; that is, they will have proposed an answer to their question, based on research to date, that they will support or defend. Remind your students to relax and to be creative during this stage. Tentative means they may decide to modify or refine their theses as their research progresses. The following sections provide sample in-class and overnight exercises:

I. Articulating your thesis through arguments and counterarguments:

Your tentative thesis is not a recap of evidence you have encountered in your research; rather, it is a statement of your position based on your synthesis of the ideas and perspectives you have encountered thus far. Your next task is to isolate the most powerful arguments surrounding your question (both those that support your position and those that oppose it).

One way to think about your supporting arguments is that they provide the "because" to the question "why is your thesis so?" You will generally need a minimum of three arguments (or "becauses") to adequately support your thesis.

When we are choosing among a variety of possible answers (theses) to a question, we not only find what is most compelling in support of our position, but we determine what is lacking in other positions. Writers are sometimes tempted to attend only to the arguments that make their case, and to hope readers will be persuaded by those. But a powerful argument also anticipates the alternative perspectives that readers are most likely to entertain and responds to them, identifying their inadequacies. Some of the most common inadequacies of alternative perspectives are that:

  • They don't take into account some important variable(s)/consideration(s)
  • They are based on unreliable research
  • They are not appropriate to the population or setting you are examining
  • Sometimes you may acknowledge that they are reasonable but that yours is better for some reason that you can explain to readers

II. Mapping out your argument:

A good way to see where your thesis fits in relation to arguments in support of and in opposition to your own is to represent your research and thinking visually and spatially as follows:

  • Using a large sheet of paper, place your research question and tentative thesis somewhere in the blank space (keeping in mind that the placement of this question and answer may be important in representing your argument). Use a web-like design, or concentric circles, or a roadmap, etc. to represent the arguments for and against your thesis. Whatever design or schema you select, be sure to represent the connections you are making between your thesis and the arguments/counterarguments. Your map may look something like the following example:



III. Articulating your thesis:

All of us have biases formed through experience, study, etc., that we don't articulate. These biases lead us to expect certain outcomes. The process of anticipating the answer you expect to find at this early stage provides you with an opportunity to explore your assumptions about your subject. When you identify the outcome you expect (your tentative thesis), you can begin interrogating your biases, assumptions and values. Why do you expect the outcome you expect?

For this assignment, review your research to identify the most compelling argument in support of your tentative thesis and the most significant alternative perspective to your thesis. In 4-5 paragraphs:

  • Restate your research question and tentative thesis
  • Provide the argument you find most compelling
  • Support the argument with evidence from three sources you've read
  • Provide a significant alternative perspective on your research question
  • Identify the limits of this position in relation to your tentative thesis, using evidence from three sources you've read
  • Use APA format for in-text citations

Exchange these paragraphs with those of a peer. For more information, see Writing Peer Critiques.

Did You Know?

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