Monday, August 29, 2011

A Question of Thesis

It's the beginning of the semester, which means a fresh batch of writing assignments threateningly leering over our shoulders and breathing down our necks like paper trolls. As unpleasant of an image as it might appear, this is the common view after sitting down and taking a second glance at the instructor's syllabus, regardless of whether a student is just beginning his or her college experience or eagerly inching towards graduation day.

The first thought the student may have is how am I going to finish all of this? The harder question comes when the student actually begins his or her essay: Where to begin? Often, just starting an essay becomes the most strenuous part, regardless of the writer's level of preparedness. The thesis is a writer's argument, the genesis of his entire paper. Without it, the paper lacks focus and even purpose.

In the essay "What Tutoring Is: Models and Strategies" from Donald A. McAndrew and Thomas J. Reigstad's book Tutoring Writing: A Practical Guide for Conferences, the authors identify a few strategies for responding to "high-order concerns," or HOCs (42). Thesis development is considered a high-order concern particularly because of how much of the paper depends on the thesis. Without a thesis, a paper buckles and collapses.

One suggestion that McAndrew and Reigstad makes for combating the no-thesis blues is to "create a headline or bumper sticker." The authors argue that "either of these requires that the writer find one thing that is central to the piece and say something about it." Suggestions include a subject like "Causes of the Civil War" or even a bumper sticker-like phrase like "_______ Is Not a Family Value" (44).

One of the reasons why the headline/bumper sticker tactic would work is that it's such an "out-of-the-box" idea that the uniqueness itself might spark the critical thinking necessary for building a clear and concise thesis. Another reason (and why I find it so appealing) is that its background in journalism and creativity might lead those of other disciplines to feel more comfortable in crafting an essay that depends so much on a thesis.

McAndrew and Reigstad list numerous other thesis-generating strategies, but the headline/bumper sticker one seems so out there that students could benefit from discovering less-orthodox methods of combating the paper trolls that await writers from the beginning of the semester until the end of finals week.

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