Positing a Thesis Statement and Composing a Title

Positing a Thesis Statement[1]

We posit the thesis statement as part of a scholarly discussion. To posit is to put something in place, to take a position. A thesis statement still in development is called a . Once a hypothesis has been sufficiently framed and tested, we can call it a thesis statement.

You can start work on developing your thesis by making a guess at the answer to your research question. Any hypothesis can work as a starting point because you will be rejecting or revising those that don’t work. A good strategy is to write down a number of possible answers to your research question, even ones that seem absurd, and then start testing them by gathering more evidence and testing each one. If the thesis statement is contradicted by the evidence, then we should reject it. For instance, if you are wondering whether an author had drawn from a work by second author, you can logically reject the idea if the second author’s work was published after the first author’s work. You might investigate further, however. Maybe the two authors knew each other and discussed their work together; it then might be possible for the first author to know about the second author’s work before it was published. We need research to answer our questions with more certitude.

Note that a degree of certitude is a feature of any claim. Some claims can be stated with near certainty, or even absolute certainty. Other claims may be less certain and can be qualified in various ways. Such qualifications might include the limits of the available information or the openness to interpretation of a given text or source. It is fine to posit a thesis statements that cannot be defended with absolute certainty. Because we are contributing to a scholarly conversation, we can posit thesis statements that are speculative, conditional, provisional, limited, and open to revision. Many valuable works of literary criticism posit such claims.

State your thesis clearly and place it in your paper before you state your overview of the supporting arguments that follow. A thesis statement effectively identifies your position and situates your ideas in the context of existing discourse. An effective thesis statement has the following features:

  • It answers a research question
  • It is arguable, meaning other answers are possible, but they are not as strong as the thesis you are stating
  • It takes a side in an argument (and gives your readers a choice to agree or disagree)
  • It is clearly stated
  • It is specific
  • It is relevant
  • It is compelling
  • It organizes all the points made in the rest of the paper

[2]

For more advice on How to Write a Thesis Statement, consider the following from The Purdue Online Writing Lab:[3]

Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement

  • Determine what kind of paper you are writing.
  • Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
  • The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.
  • Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

For more advice on Developing a Thesis, consider the following from The Harvard College Writing Center:[4]

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.

  • Anticipate the counterarguments.
  • A thesis is never a question.
  • A thesis is never a list.
  • A thesis should never be vague.
  • An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim.
  • A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible.

For more advice on The Thesis, consider the following from WritingCommons.Org:[5]

The thesis. It’s a tricky thing to define “thesis” because a thesis come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. A thesis can be a sentence, two sentences, perhaps even an entire paragraph. Every thesis, though, does important things. There are lots of ways to create a successful thesis because a good thesis come in all sorts of varieties.

  • A thesis acts as a unifying idea for every piece of evidence in an essay.
  • A thesis results from research in addition to the writer’s own beliefs or opinions.
  • A thesis answers a specific question (the research question).
  • A good thesis statement encourages discussion.
  • A good thesis statement is supported by relevant evidence. (Every paragraph should contribute to proving the thesis to be valid.)
  • For additional information on A Weak Thesis and Revising a Weak Thesis, click on the following link from WritingCommings.Org: When is a Thesis Considered Weak?

Positing a Thesis Statement Refresher

Composing a Title[6]

Once you formulate your thesis statement, you will be prepared to create a title for your research project. Think of your title as a tool that helps other scholars select materials that best fit their needs. For example, if your title does not include the name of the literary work you are discussing, the author’s name, the theory, or method that you are using, your title may not be clear enough to help another researcher make a choice. Your paper may fit their needs perfectly, but if you do not include enough information in your title, that researcher is likely to skip over your work.

Your title can include a reference to your thesis statement. The title can thus function as an additional way of stating an argument, and help your reader know what to expect from your paper.

Examples from a Scholarly Journal

  • “The Figure of the Couple: Enabling Supplementarity in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape (1958)” Michelle Charalambous
  • “An EcoGothic Reading of Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ and ‘Roger Malvin’s Burial’” Narmin Talebpour Sheshvan & Farah Ghaderi
  • “Prosthetic Performatives: Reading Disability’s Discomfort Through Emotives and Affect Patterns in Jane Eyre” Andries Hiskes[7]

A common technique, seen in two of the titles above, is to break the title into two parts separated by a colon. One part indicates the topic or thesis and the other indicates the literary work, theory, or method.

For more advice on Crafting Effective Titles, consider the following from WritingCommons.org:[8]

  • The title can help you establish credibility (ethos).
  • Consider the type of essay– There’s a big difference in titles depending on what type of paper you’re writing.
  • Grab the audience’s attention.
  • Match your title with the conversation you’re entering.
  • Keep it scholarly.
  • Parallel the research question.
  • Consider longer, more descriptive titles.

Composing a Title Refresher


Exercise

  1. What is your thesis statement?
  2. Does it meet all the criteria for a good thesis statement listed in the page?
  3. What is your title?
  4. Does your title indicate the literary work, theory and/or method, and hint at the thesis?
  5. What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?
  6. Using the criteria above, assess what is wrong with these thesis statements and suggest ways to improve them:
    • “Some people say that ‘Sonny’s Blues’ will help us solve the problem of racism today, but some people say it won’t.”
    • “Most people support the idea of teaching ‘Sonny’s Blues’ in the classroom.”
    • “Does ‘Sonny’s Blues’ encourage people to appreciate Black culture?”
    • “There are numerous types of effects that result from reading ‘Sonny’s Blues.’”
    • “I am angry about the way ‘Sonny’s Blues’ has been neglected.”
    • “Maybe ‘Sonny’s Blues’ is not the best text for understanding Black culture.”
    • “Teaching ‘Sonny’s Blues’ is inappropriate.”
    • “The real reason why ‘Sonny’s Blues’ became famous is a mystery.”

Exercise

Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis From WritingCommons.org:[9]

A good thesis will be focused on your object of study (as opposed to making a big claim about the world) and will introduce the key words guiding your analysis.

To get started, you might experiment with some of these “mad libs.” They’re thinking exercises that will help propel you toward an arguable thesis.

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By examining __________________ [topic/approach], we can see _____________________[thesis—the claim that’s surprising], which is important because ___________________________.

Example:

“By examining Sixteen Candles through the lens of Georg Simmel’s writings on fashion, we can see that the protagonist’s interest in fashion as an expression of her conflicted desire to be seen as both unique and accepted by the group. This is important because the film offers its viewers a glimpse into the ambivalent yearnings of middle class youth in the 1980s.

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Although readers might assume _________________ [the commonplace idea you’re challenging], I argue that _________________________ [your surprising claim].

Example:

Although viewers might assume the romantic comedy Sixteen Candles is merely entertaining, I believe its message is political. The film uses the romance between Samantha, a middle-class sophomore, and Jake, an affluent senior, to reinforce the fantasy that anyone can become wealthy and successful with enough cunning and persistence.

  • Now it’s your turn to try with your own research topic!

 

Write your answers in a webcourse discussion page.

Go to the Discussions area and find the Positing a Thesis Statement and Composing a Title as well as the Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis From WritingCommons.org discussions. Participate in the discussions.


  1. In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” On that page, we provide a rubric for Positing a Thesis Statement.
  2. Taylor, David and PeakWriting, directors. How to Write an Effective Thesis Statement for Your Essay. YouTube, YouTube, 27 Nov. 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-e2EthZC0aU. Accessed 10 Apr. 2022.
  3. Purdue Writing Lab. “Creating a Thesis Statement & Thesis Statement Tips.” Purdue Writing Lab, 2021, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/the_writing_process/thesis_statement_tips.html.
  4. Rodburg, Maxine, and The Tutors of the Writing Center. “Developing a Thesis.” Writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu, 1999, https://writingcenter.fas.harvard.edu/pages/developing-thesis.
  5. McIntyre, Megan. “The Thesis.” Writing Commons, 3 Aug. 2021, https://writingcommons.org/article/the-thesis/.
  6. In the “Back Matter” of this book, you will find a page titled “Rubrics.” On that page, we provide a rubric for Composing a Title.
  7. Textual Practice, Volume 35, Issue 12 (2021) Volume 35, 2021
  8. Lamothe, John. “How to Win Papers and Influence Professors: Creating Positive First Impressions Through Effective Titles.” Writing Commons, 17 Sept. 2021, https://writingcommons.org/article/how-to-win-papers-and-influence-professors-creating-positive-first-impressions-through-effective-titles/.
  9. Scott, Andrea. “Formulating a Thesis.” Writing Commons, 17 Sept. 2021, https://writingcommons.org/article/formulating-a-thesis/.

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