Workshop Exercise Week 5: Developing a Thesis Stat Essay

ement in Response to An
Essay Topic
For the mid-term essay, you have been given a list of topics to write about
in relation to either Great Expectations or Jane Eyre. In university essays
(unlike Leaving Cert essays, which are more like summaries or checklists of
everything you know about a text or subject), you are expected to to
formulate an argument in response to your chosen topic which is
articulated in a thesis statement in your introductory paragraph.

Furthermore, you are expected to analyze both the “content” and the “form”
of the text and base your argument on evidence (citation and analysis) from
the primary text and from secondary sources of scholarly criticism.

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Complete the exercise on pages 3-5 (section II of this handout) and bring
it to your Workshop in Week 5. This exercise is designed to help you
develop a thesis statement which expresses the argument you will make about
your chosen topic and which includes of analysis of both the “content” and
the “form” of the text. Note: you may decide to change your thesis
statement, topic, or chosen text after this workshop. The exercise is
designed to help start you thinking what you might write about, which might
change as you work through it.

Be prepared to peer-review your thesis statement in class. After the
exercise is a list of peer-review questions (section III), followed by an
appendix of materials (section IV) that can give you further guidance in
developing a thesis statement.

I What is a Thesis Statement?
If your assignment asks you to take a position or
develop a claim about a subject, you need to convey that position or claim
in a thesis statement near the beginning of your draft.

When an assignment asks you to analyze, to interpret, to compare and
contrast, to demonstrate cause and effect, or to take a stand on an issue,
it is likely that you are being asked to develop a thesis and to support it

A thesis statement…

. Tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject
matter under discussion.

. Is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the
reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.

. Directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an
interpretation of a topic or subject, not the subject itself. The
subject, or topic, of an essay might be 19th-century gender roles or
Alice in Wonderland; a thesis must then offer a way to understand
gender roles or the novel.

. Makes a claim-an argument- that others might dispute.

. Is usually a single sentence near the end of your first paragraph that
presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body
of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the
reader of the logic of your interpretation. The conclusion usually
reiterates the thesis statement and summarizes how you have
demonstrated its truth.

Some Caveats and Examples:
. An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” A
thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. “Reasons
for the fall of communism” is a topic. “Communism collapsed in Eastern
Europe” is a fact known by educated people. “The fall of communism is
the best thing that ever happened in Europe” is an opinion.

(Superlatives like “the best” almost always lead to trouble. It’s
impossible to weigh every “thing” that ever happened in Europe. And
what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn’t that be “the best thing”?)
. A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and
it should “telegraph” how you plan to argue-that is, what particular
support for your claim is going where in your essay.

. A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have
questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question (“Why did
communism collapse in Eastern Europe?”) is not an argument, and without
an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

. A thesis is never a list. “For political, economic, social and cultural
reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe” does a good job of
“telegraphing” the reader what to expect in the essay-a section about
political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about
social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However,
political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the
only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks
tension and doesn’t advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics,
economics, and culture are important.

. A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An
ineffective thesis would be, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe
because communism is evil.” This is hard to argue (evil from whose
perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as
moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also
may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism.

If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop

. An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. “While cultural
forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the
disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline”
is an effective thesis sentence that “telegraphs,” so that the reader
expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another
about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite,
arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more
important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern
Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, “Perhaps
what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read
further to see how the author argues this claim.”
. A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused,
general terms and abstractions. For example, “Communism collapsed in
Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite’s inability to address the
economic concerns of the people” is more powerful than “Communism
collapsed due to societal discontent.”
. Anticipate the counter-arguments. Once you have a working thesis, you
should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to
refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments
that you’ll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has
a counter-argument. If yours doesn’t, then it’s not an argument-it may
be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)
|Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential election|
|because he failed to campaign vigorously after the |
|Democratic National Convention. |
. This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy
to imagine possible counter- arguments. For example, a political
observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a
“soft-on-crime” image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating
the counter-argument, you’ll strengthen your argument, as shown in the
sentence below.

|While Dukakis’ “soft-on-crime” image hurt his|
|chances in the 1988 election, his failure to |
|campaign vigorously after the Democratic National |
|Convention bore a greater responsibility for his|
|defeat. |
Write down your chosen topic and any questions you may have about it:
Analyze the role, reliability, and impact of first person narration in
the text.

Write down a) which text you plan to use b) and loosely, how you might
relate it to the topic:
a) Jane Eyre b)Firstly, because it’s a first person narration (obviously)
and secondly because it was published as an actual biography edited by
Bronte (hidden behind her pseudonym).

Research: What other knowledge (context, formal analysis, secondary
criticism etc.) will you need to strengthen your argument? What sort of
scholarly criticism on what themes or areas or texts do you need to look
Consulting Hazarding Confidences by Lisa Stornlieb and/or any other text
concerning narrative (and first persona narration) criticism could be a
good source. Analyzing the text and critically evaluating what Jane says
should be helpful too.

Identify the two parts of the thesis:
1) What do you plan to argue about the text:
Is Jane a reliable narrator or is she omitting something/ altering the
truth? Was this done on purpose or did Bronte realize she put too much of
her own personality into the character?

2) Telegraph how you will argue that in the essay (what evidence, which
chapters etc. will you look at? How will you organize the order of
evidence: represent this in your statement) How does the subject relate to
the form of the novel in what you are arguing?
-The essay will analyze the way Jane tells the story of her life to the
reader , carefully looking at particular sentences and phrases in chapters
1, 14, 38, etc…

-First of all it will question the reliability of Jane as a narrator, then
it will analyse the relationship between Bronte and her character.

-This critical analysis is due to the form the novel was written.

Anticipate Counter-Arguments:
1) What sort of counter-arguments could be raised to your thesis
-The fact Jane is a fictional character, therefore she’s unlikely to hide
fact from the reader
-The fact Jane Eyre is not Bronte’s autobiography
2) How you can rewrite the thesis to make it more complex and anticipate
these counter-arguments?
-Jane directly addresses to the reader so she expects someone to actually
read her autobiography
-It’s not Bronte’s official biography, but she shares many life features
with Jane Eyre.

Revise for Eloquence and Specificity. Rewrite your final thesis statement
here, making sure you have revised to eliminate generalizations,
superlatives, opinions, mere facts, or passive voice and to make it as
specific as possible:
This essay will focus on Jane Eyre’s peculiar narration, question the
reliability of the protagonist herself and evaluate the impact it has on
the reader. It will provide information and at the same time challenge
modern criticism regarding such topic, and finally resolve the conflict
between Jane Eyre as a fictional novel or a partly autobiographic piece of

III Peer Review Thesis Workshop in Class
View each other’s exercises and give constructive feedback on each other’s
thesis statements, covering the following questions:
1) Do you understand the peer’s argument? Can you repeat it back in your
own words?
2) Is it properly an argument (and not a opinion, fact, or question)? If
not, how could you work together to make it more complex?
3) Does it give a clear sense of not just what will be argued but how the
argument will proceed?
4) Does it seem to make sense in light of the text? Does it successfully
anticipate and stand up to counter-arguments?
5) Is it specific enough? Is it forceful enough? Do you need to eliminate
weak words (superlatives or words like “interesting” or “important” or
passive verbs instead of strong ones like “argue” or “demonstrate”)
How could it be made more specific and more eloquent?
6) What further knowledge (of form, aesthetics, literary or historical
context etc.) might strengthen and support the argument? What research
might be useful?
. It is important to show evidence of critical thinking and a depth of
understanding of the key issues when writing an essay or assignment.

. It helps to ask questions about a particular topic to understand the
main points and develop the direction of your arguments and line of

Examples of prompt questions to help you to think critically about a topic
Who is my audience for this essay (e.g. lecturer, fellow students etc)?
Who wrote this book or evidence that I am using to support my arguments and
could there be any bias in their evidence or findings?
Who else cites this source?
What am I aiming for (e.g. the outcome I would like from writing this
What are the key issues and points in relation to this issue?
What is the context for this discussion or issue?
Where are the strengths within this argument?
Where are the flaws within this argument?
Where am I going with my own arguments/opinions? Have I addressed counter-
arguments effectively?
When was the primary text published?
When was the secondary criticism published?(e.g. is it current or relevant
When does the author draw a conclusion?
When do I get to my main arguments/evidence in the essay?
Why is this topic important?
Why does this theory draw these conclusions?
Why does the researcher use this approach?
How does this article differ from other articles on this subject?
How did the researcher/writer come to their conclusions?
How can I apply this information to my topic?
By Karen Gocsik,
“Constructing a good thesis sentence is no easy matter. In creating a
thesis, the writer struggles with her own confusion. She seeks to create
some order out of the morass of observations she has about a text. If you
are willing to endure a little confusion, we’ll show you here how it is
that a thesis sentence is constructed. As the thesis will pass through
several incarnations before it reaches its final form, we advise you to
read this section completely from beginning to end.

When structuring your thesis sentence, it’s helpful to start by
considering how it was that you came to your argument in the first place.

You arrived at your point of view by way of certain observations and a
particular logic. You will expect your reader to arrive at the same
conclusion, via the same observations and logic that you yourself used.

Let’s imagine that you have been assigned a novel for your class.

You’ve noticed when reading the book that the author seems to linger on the
relatively insignificant action of women putting on their lipstick. You’ve
also noticed that lipstick stains abound in the novel, leaving their mark
on glasses, sheets, and so on. Finally, you’ve noticed that the women
characters use lipstick in different ways: Character A puts lipstick on
alone in the bathroom, in front of a mirror; Character B puts lipstick on
in front of others, but only when they seem on the verge of rejecting her;
Character C delights in seeing her incriminating lipstick smears on the
shirts and sheets of her lover; Character D wears lipstick only when she
goes to have lunch with her ex-lover, as a way of exaggerating the grimace
of her pain.

From these observations, you see a pattern at work. Characters A and B
use lipstick to mask themselves and their feelings; Characters C and D use
lipstick to unmask themselves (or others). Moreover, you notice that the
author seems to admire Characters C and D for their insistence that
emotions be revealed. You think that you have a good idea for a thesis
sentence, and so you give it a go: “In X’s novel , the characters’
seemingly insignificant use of lipstick in fact points to one of the
novel’s larger themes: the masking and unmasking of the self.”
This sentence does mirror for the reader your own process of
discovery: it begins with an observation that a seemingly insignificant
event has meaning(s) in the novel, and then it classifies those meanings
into two categories. In other words, some of your logic is indeed present
in the thesis as you’ve written it. You’ll notice that I’ve said “some of
your logic.” It’s important to take a second look at this thesis to see
what it is that’s been left out.

Put yourself in the place of the reader. What does this thesis
sentence tell you about the structure of the argument to come? Well, as a
potential reader I would expect that first, the writer will provide
evidence that lipstick is indeed an important symbol in this novel. Second,
I would expect the writer to argue that lipstick signifies a character’s
desire to mask herself (a common observation). Finally, I would expect the
writer to show me how, exactly, lipstick is used to reveal the self.

Now ask yourself what this thesis doesn’t tell the reader about the
argument to come. We understand as readers that this paper is going to be
about the masking and unmasking of the self. We understand (because it is
common knowledge) that lipstick can be used to create a mask. But how,
precisely, does lipstick unmask the self? Here you seem to be pointing to
some uncommon use of lipstick, but you haven’t even hinted at what that
“uncommon use” is, or why it’s important. Look closely at your thesis and
ask yourself this hard question: Does my thesis give my reader a sense of
the real argument to come?
In this case, it doesn’t. However, this doesn’t mean that the thesis
sentence is useless. In fact, even though this thesis doesn’t provide the
reader with a very good “map” of the essay, it does help you, the writer,
to see the overall structure of your argument. In other words, it’s a
good working thesis sentence for your paper.

Let’s take a minute to define this term. A thesis sentence, as we’ve said,
is a kind of contract between you and your reader. It asserts, controls,
and structures your argument for your reader’s ease. A working thesis
sentence, on the other hand, is a sentence that you compose in order to
make the work of writing easier. It’s a sentence that asserts, controls,
and structures the argument for you.

The working thesis need not be eloquent. In fact, it can be quite
clunky, declaring your argument and then clumsily listing your supporting
points. Not to worry: you’ll be revising your thesis, and often more than

Remember that, as you write, you are bound to come up with new ideas
and observations that you’d like to incorporate into your paper. Every time
you make a new discovery, your thesis sentence will have to be revised.

Sometimes you’ll find that you’re stuck in your writing. You may need to
return to your thesis. Perhaps you haven’t clearly defined an important
term or condition in your thesis? Maybe that’s why you find yourself unable
to progress beyond a certain point in your argument?
Revising your working thesis at this juncture could help you to
clarify for yourself the direction of your argument. Don’t be afraid to
revise! In fact, the most important quality of a working thesis sentence is
its flexibility. A working thesis needs to keep up with your thinking. It
needs to accommodate what you learn as you go along.

Revising the Working Thesis
Let’s return now to our in-progress thesis: “In X’s novel, the characters’
seemingly insignificant use of lipstick in fact points to one of the
novel’s larger themes: the masking and unmasking of the self.” Perhaps this
thesis served you well as you were writing the first couple of pages of
your paper, but now that you are into the meat of the matter, you are
stuck. How, exactly, is the writer using lipstick and masks to reveal
character? And what, precisely, is his point in doing so?
It’s at this juncture that you’ll probably return to your thesis and
discover a) what it doesn’t say, and b) what it needs to say. We’ve already
determined that the sentence doesn’t really address the most arguable – and
interesting – aspect of this argument. Now it’s time to ask yourself why
this hasn’t been addressed. Perhaps you, the writer, haven’t yet
articulated this part of the argument for yourself? Is this why the thesis
(and with it, the paper) seems to trail off?
At this point you should stop drafting the paper and return to the
text. Read a bit. Brainstorm a bit. Write another discovery draft. Read a
bit more. Here is something interesting. You’ve found a passage in which
the writer talks about how the lipstick left behind on a lover’s shirt
“drew a map for his wife into the dark lands of his infidelities.” And
you’ve found another passage in which the jilted lover’s bright orange
lipstick was “like a road sign, guiding her betrayer to the heart of her
pain.” In these two passages you see the writer addressing another function
of lipstick: that women use it to draw a kind of map. You look for other
lipstick examples that might shed more light on the idea of mapping, and
you find them. Even better, you discover that all of these examples have
something to do with betrayal, guilt, and shame. In the end, you conclude
that lipstick is not being used in this novel just to mask and unmask.

Women also use lipstick to map. The two are in fact linked:
1. Lipstick masks by concealing real feelings (most often feelings of
betrayal, guilt, and shame).

2. Lipstick masks, but in the process reveals or creates a new persona, one
who overcomes the feelings of betrayal, guilt, and shame.

3. The author also uses the act of putting on lipstick as a metaphor for
mapping. These maps might conceal – that is, they might serve to detour
the observer from discovering (or arriving at) the woman’s feelings of
betrayal, or
4. They might reveal. First, lipstick might draw a map to the truth about a
betrayal, as they do for the betrayed wife in the novel. And second,
lipstick might be seen as a tool with which a woman maps herself, drawing
new borders, re-imagining her own inner landscapes, and re-routing her
own destiny.

This idea is very complicated. How do you make a thesis out of this?
Your first try is bound to be clumsy. You need to find a way of putting
together all of your important ideas – lipsticks, masks, maps, concealing,
revealing, betrayal – into one sentence.

Let’s try:
While lipstick is used in X’s novel to conceal feelings of betrayal,
it is also used to reveal the betrayal itself, in that lipstick both
masks and maps betrayal, at first allowing women to hide themselves,
but later providing them with the possibility to create new selves,
and to re-route their lives.

Does this sentence work?
Revising Your Thesis For Eloquence
Clearly not. For one thing, it is simply too long. You are putting too much
information into one sentence. Sometimes writers fail to understand that
their argument might best be expressed in a couple of sentences (with one
sentence providing background information and the second serving as the
thesis). Note the difference such a change would make:
While lipstick is used in X’s novel to conceal feelings of betrayal, it is
also used to reveal the betrayal itself. Accordingly, lipstick both masks
and maps betrayal in this novel, initially allowing women to hide
themselves, but later providing them with the possibility to create new
selves, and to re-route their lives.

Better? Sure, but it could be better still. You will, of course, want
to play with your thesis sentence until it is strong enough to present your
complex argument, and clear enough to guide your reader through your paper.

But even more than this, you will want to write a thesis sentence that
evokes something in the reader. You will want to use language that has some
power; you will want to structure the sentence so that it has some “oomph.”
Pay attention to diction, to syntax, to nuance, and to tone. In
short, write a good sentence.

Understand that you can revise the thesis sentence above in a number of
ways. Ask yourself:
. Is my argument clear?
. Does it present the logic and the structure of my paper?
. Does it emphasize the points I want to emphasize?
Perhaps in the end you decide that the previous sentence seems to make
masking and mapping of equal importance to this paper. You’ve decided that
mapping is the more original, stronger idea. So you revise once more, for
emphasis. Consider this, then, our final thesis sentence (note how the
complete argument now relies on the interaction between two introductory
sentences and the thesis statement itself):
While at first it might appear that lipstick is being used merely to hide
the characters’ feelings of betrayal, a closer look reveals that its most
essential use is actually to map the path to the betrayal itself. By
using lipstick as the signposts, betrayal can be discovered and
navigated. As a result, characters are able to re-draw the borders of
their relationships, and to re-route the course of their lives.”


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