The thesis is the central idea that you'll develop and argue in your
essay. The term working is important, since at this early stage
in the writing process, you should expect to revise your thesis as you
learn more about the literary text and your own argument. Rather than
just picking a working thesis out of thin air (which tends to lead to
an ineffective central idea for your discovery draft), you should use
an analytical process to arrive at the idea that will serve as the starting
point for your writing. This thinking process, described below, utilizes
information you've already uncovered in the Reading and Exploring stages.
Step 1: Select an Investigative Question. Look for something
in the literary text that you don't understand: for instance, why
a character has done something, why a particular setting is used,
why an author uses a particular literary device, and so on. More
specifically, you might ask questions like: Why does Mrs. Peters,
the sheriff's wife, protect Minnie Wright?, Why is time so
important in 'The Story of An Hour'?, or Why does Hughes
ask questions in his poem 'Harlem'?
Step 2: Gather Evidence. With the investigative question
in mind, identify as many passages related to the question as possible.
For a short work like "Harlem," you may only find three
or four passages, but for a longer work like Trifles, you
may be able to locate fifteen or twenty passages. The more evidence
you can locate at this stage, the better. Don't judge the evidence
yet--just make a note of anything that seems even remotely associated
with your investigative question. Record the evidence, either in
your text or on a separate sheet of paper.
Step 3: Analyze the Evidence. Think about the evidence you've
collected with the investigative question in mind, looking for patterns,
anomalies, and thinking about why certain things are happening in
the evidence you've collected. Again, don't judge your ideas just
yet. Just jot these notes downBthe more thinking you do at this
point, the better.
Step 4: Construct Working Thesis. Now that you've thought
about the evidence related to your investigative question, answer
the question. Turning the question into a statement will give you
a working thesisBan important thing to recognize here is that your
analysis leads to the working thesis (rather than the thesis just
being plucked out of thin air). Remember that you're striving for
a compelling working thesis/argumentB something that is not immediately
obvious to your audience. You want to stand out from the rest of
the class, and an intelligent, thought-provoking thesis will help
you to accomplish this goal. Take a chance at this early stage and
challenge yourself with a thesis that requires you to think.
In general, a thesis consists of a claim (your position) and a reason
(the major primary rationale for your position). To link these two components,
you can use a because clause. Let's look at some examples: In
'Trifles,' Mrs. Peters, the sheriff's wife, protects Minnie Wright because
she identifies with her loss of subjectivity; Hughes relies on
the question mark in "Harlem' because the consequences of lost dreams
are unknown; and Time is important in 'Story of an Hour' because
time is the only concrete, logical element in Mrs. Mallard's otherwise
chaotic, sad life. You don't have to write your working thesis in
the claim/reason joined by a because clause format--in fact, some students
find it awkward. Remember, though, you're more concerned with the idea
than with the style at this point. If you're not sure what information
to include in a working thesis, the format may be helpful.
--Dialogue boxes for the investigative question, gathering evidence, and
constructing the working thesis.
I have student examples showing them working through this process that
we can scan.
-Good, better, best examples of working thesis.