Rail yard background, from the Library of Congress

Connections

A Hypertext Resource for Literature

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Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis
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2. A thesis creates an argument that builds from one point to the next, giving the paper a direction that your reader can follow as the paper develops.

A: The Rules and Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey both tell women how to act.

B: By looking at The Rules, a modern conduct book for women, we can see how Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is itself like a conduct book, questioning the rules for social success in her society and offering a new model.

This point often separates the best theses from the pack. A good thesis can prevent the two weakest ways of organizing a critical paper: the pile of information and the plot summary with comments. A paper that presents a pile of information will frequently introduce new paragraphs with transitions that simply indicate the addition of more stuff. ("Another character who exhibits these traits is X," for example.) Example A above would almost inevitably lead to a paper organized as a pile of information. A plot summary with comments follows the chronological development of a text while picking out the same element of every segment; a transition in such a paper might read, "In the next scene, the color blue also figures prominently." Both of these approaches constitute too much of a good thing. Papers must compile evidence, of course, and following the chronology of a text can sometimes help a reader keep track of a paper's argument. The best papers, however, will develop according to a more complex logic articulated in a strong thesis. Example B above would lead a paper to organize its evidence according to the paper's own logic.

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