Chapter 5: Responding to a Text

5.2. Finding the Thesis

Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood

You have plucked one idea (or closely related group of ideas) out of all of your possible ideas to focus on. Congratulations! Now what? Well, now you might write about that topic to explore what you want to say about it. Or, you might already have some idea about what point you want to make about it. If you are in the latter position, you may want to develop a working thesis to guide your drafting process.

What Is a Working Thesis?

A thesis is the controlling idea of a text (often an arguable idea—you will learn more about this in a bit). Depending on the type of text you are creating, all of the discussion in that text will serve to develop, explore multiple angles of, and/or support that thesis.

But how can we know, before getting any of the paper written, exactly what thesis the sources we find and the conversations we have will support? Often, we can’t. The closest we can get in these cases is a working thesis, which is a best guess at what the thesis is likely to be based on the information we are working with at this time. The main idea of it may not change, but the specifics are probably going to be tweaked a bit as you complete a draft and do research.

So, let’s look at one of the examples from “Strategies for Getting Started” from the “Prewriting—Generating Ideas” section of this book: the cluster about the broad central idea of danger. If the main idea is “danger,” maybe the conversation you decide you want to have about it after clustering is that sometimes people step into danger intentionally in order to prove ourselves in some way. Next, you might make a list of possible thesis statements. For the sake of example, let’s say this is for an assignment in response to the film The Hunger Games. Some thesis statements that fit this situation might look like this:

  • Ultimately, The Hunger Games is a film about facing fears.
  • In the 2012 film The Hunger Games, the main character’s fear of losing her sister drives her to face a different set of dangers.
  • Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games, creates as much danger for herself as she faces from others over the course of the film.

If you were writing a summary, the first example in that list might be a good thesis to work with. If you were writing a review, the second one might be the better option. Let’s say, though, that you’ve been assigned to write a more traditional college essay, something a little more focused on analysis. In that case, the final example in this list looks like a good working thesis. It might not be quite the same as the thesis you end up with in later drafts, but it looks like a strong idea to focus your ideas around while you’re first getting them on the page.


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5.2. Finding the Thesis by Monique Babin, Carol Burnell, Susan Pesznecker, Nicole Rosevear, Jaime Wood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.