Writing About Literature Laboratory
Assignment | Topic | Thesis | Planning | Outlining | back to Organizing
Working Thesis

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.



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This page last modified on June 27, 2001
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