Anglistisches Seminar Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
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Provisional Stages: Finding a 'Working Thesis'

Once you have a sense of your paper topic, you need to think about the kind of thesis/argument you will be defending in your paper. A thesis is the main argument you plan to make, based on the evidence you gather and analyze. Your thesis may be a simple statement, or it may be complex and multi-part; it may propose an argument of your own, or it may be developed alongside or in opposition to what others (critics) have written. Your thesis is the central statement of your paper and should be identifiable as such.


Initially, your thesis will simply be a short statement—a provisional or working thesis—which you can refine, modify, reverse, or discard later on in the paper-writing process. The point in having a provisional thesis when you start working is so that you can return to your source materials, such as novels, poems, short stories, films, TV shows, musicals, etc., and assess those sources with reference to (a) the focused topic you have decided on for your paper and (b) the working thesis you are trying to prove.


You can then look for evidence that demonstrates or proves your argument, and also make a note of evidence that disproves or contradicts what you want to say. As you develop a provisional thesis and begin evaluating evidence, try to define a set of points you want to make and a set of possible counter-arguments. When you write your paper, your job will be to link those points and counter-arguments together in a logical and meaningful way, so thinking about potential connections during the evidence-gathering phase will make it easier to structure your argument later on.  Although you do not need to explain every link at this stage, considering the shape your argument might take will help you bring coherence, complexity, and a sense of direction to your work.


A strong thesis has certain qualities:

Complexity. Avoid abstractions or vacuous subjects (e.g., "religion," "justice," "early modern English," etc.) and refocus your working thesis so that you have something easily recognizable and detailed when you are doing research and taking notes (e.g., "the representation of marriage in films x, y, and z," "capital punishment in contemporary American novels a, b and c," "metaphor in beer advertisements," etc.)


Specificity. Start using research to make the working thesis more specific, allowing it to head towards “argument”: “representations of marriage in Italian neo-realist films x, y, and z give a negative portrayal of religion,” “portrayals of capital punishment in the novels a, b and c combine moral condemnation with an understanding of pragmatic considerations,” "metaphors in beer advertisements tend to avoid the ad is a mirror metaphor though they rely heavily on the metaphor beer is a person.”


Relevance. In addition, a good thesis will have some prevailing purpose, motive, or intention that sets it apart from claims that are obvious, trivial, or too widely accepted to be arguable. A good way to think about what your own motive or purpose might be is to ask some basic questions:


Why am I interested in this question? Will anyone else be interested in or care about it? Will my reader find this argument striking and original, or merely a restatement of trivial and accepted facts or information?


As you move to the research stage you can ask yourself further, more developed questions about your argument:


Is this statement sufficiently complex and sophisticated, or is it still too simple and basic? Is this statement well-developed as a way to think about this source, or would it be taken as obvious to almost any reader/viewer? Is this a statement about which I could have a reasonably interesting discussion, debate, or argument with a teacher or friend, or is it not really worth debating or arguing? For example, "There are many similarities between the film version of Jane Eyre and the original novel, but also some important differences" is obvious and not particularly controversial.  By contrast, the following working thesis statement is much more compelling: "Although the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre appears to have simply replaced the book's narrative description with flashbacks, the flashbacks cast Jane's childhood experiences in a much more negative light, rendering her character more troubled and less independent than Brontë's original."


Essentially, your thesis should pose a demonstrably interesting question and take a stand on it.  Once you have that in place, you can begin to develop an argument.  Your questions and your stand may very well change as you write the paper, as you discover new connections or get new ideas, but it helps to start out with a definite goal in mind.

Letzte Änderung: Föhr am 09.August 2015
Verantwortlich: Lusin, Föhr