Narrowing from a Topic to a Thesis

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Once you have a topic selected, don't think that your thesis is already done! A good thesis has one main job to do:

It states the overall point you want to make, the argument that you want your reader to find persuasive, the position that you want to take on an issue.

  1. Use your Brainstorming Ideas. The thesis is the main point, the central organizing backbone of your paper. Look at your brainstorming paper and determine what connections you made among your ideas. Group ideas together and then brainstorm a little more on those subgroups. See what major points start to appear or recur in your ideas. See what questions you have about these subtopics.

    Do you see

    For instance, you may be interested in writing a paper about computers. Your brainstorming has hit on two ideas: the importance of computers in everyday life and the Year 2000 problem (which, if you are using a computer to read this, you should know about). For the first idea, you might argue that, despite ideas to the contrary, computers are very important in the lives of senior citizens and not just young people. Or you might show how computers are important to different people for different reasons. These don't sound like very exciting topics though, and that is because the main idea is overly large, vague, and doesn't hold a lot of possibilities for taking a position.

    The second idea, that of the Year 2000 problem, has greater possibilities. You might be able to argue that Year 2000 problems were created by a lack of understanding several decades ago of the potential importance of computer usage in our society. Or you might want to persuade your reader that the problem is much more serious than even a daily computer user might realize. Or you might want to explain the problem and survey some possible solutions. All of these potential theses take a position and show that you hold a supportable opinion.

  2. Make a Rough Outline to Determine the Scope of the Paper. Look at the ideas grouped around your thesis idea. In what order might you need to discuss them? How extensive is the argument going to be? Do you seem to have too many points to make for the length of paper you are writing? This is a good time to determine the focus of the thesis so you don't find yourself later drifting off into uncharted territory in the paper.

  3. Find the Argument! Remember that your paper should make a point, explain your opinion, put forth an argument. Check yourself periodically as you decide on a thesis so you are writing about something that is more than just a stated fact but is not merely a matter of opinion.

    Once you have found a specific thesis idea that you want to write about, you are ready to move on to Sharpening and Clarifying Your Thesis.

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    Copyright 1998 Margaret Oakes
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