By Will Forde-Mazrui, Writing Studio Consultant
As writers, many of us believe that a piece of writing must be written in chronological order: from start to finish. Not only do we struggle to put the first word onto a blank page (for help with this specific issue, see the advice from Lesley Brooks on January 23rd, 2017), many students think they have to choose a thesis at the end of that first paragraph and stick with it. Many years into my academic career, I was given this piece of advice:
Why change your paper to fit one sentence? Change one sentence to fit your paper.
This was the best piece of writing advice I ever received; however, while writing a paper, it IS important to have a thesis in mind, as this will give the paper a central argument that makes each part work together. I call this preliminary argument the working thesis, as it helps keep each section of a paper working together, without the pressure of THE thesis. Accomplishing the change from a “working thesis” to a final “thesis” can be managed in a few “simple” steps.
Step 1: Create a “working thesis,” or, what you expect your paper will argue.
Step 2: Write the rest of the paper, essay, or assignment. (If only it were this simple!)
Step 3: Read through each section of the essay, except for the introduction.
Step 4: Ask yourself, what does this paper argue, prove, show?
Step 5: Re-write your introduction and thesis to ask THIS question. Often, the “working thesis” is similar to THE thesis, but this may not be the case.
By following these steps, students can prevent receiving feedback like “This essay claims to answer _____; however, it answers _____.” Or, “This essay is well organized and argues ______; however, the introduction and thesis claim to investigate _____.”
A working thesis is something that many Writing Studios believe can be an invaluable addition to the writing process for students, regardless of their level. For additional advice on how a “working thesis” can help throughout the research process, visit East Tennessee State University’s Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Writing Center’s great tips about “Arriving at a Working Thesis.”