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Subsection 3.4.1 The Six-Step Process

This diagram illustrates the thesis development process. A text box at the top, labeled "question," reads "Why should I be able to own as many cats as I want?" A second box, labeled "evidence," contains the following list: "1. Rampant cat homelessness, 2. Cats=consumer goods, 3. Americans value a right to consumer goods." This box is connected to the question box with a double-ended arrow, representing the iterative relationship between question and evidence. I final bubble at the bottom of the diagram is labeled "claim" and contains the text, "I should be able to own as many cats as I want BECAUSE I have the American right to consumer goods, and there are millions of stray cats that need homes." Arrows coming from both the "question" box and the "evidence" box point to the claim box, indicating that the question and evidence combine to build a strong thesis claim.
List 3.4.2. The Six-Step Process
  1. Articulate your idea.

    Your idea will most likely be guided by your class, professor, or assignment. You may have a range of topics or prompts to choose from, so think through each option carefully and determine which idea interests you most.

    Let's say that you choose a prompt directing you to argue for or against this statement: “I should be able to own as many cats as I want.” You're interested in learning more about why cat ownership shouldn't be regulated, so your idea is to argue in favor of the statement.

  2. Gather knowledge.

    In order to make any kind of claim about your idea, you must first gather information on your topic. This knowledge can come in a variety of forms, including textual analysis, data gathering, or scholarly research (see Chapter 1). Your discipline or assignment will probably dictate what type of knowledge you need to gather. If in doubt, ask your professor.

    For your cat assignment, let's say that the knowledge you need to gather will come from scholarly journals. After scouring all of the top academic cat journals, you compile a number of sources that describe the woes of rampant cat homelessness. You find other sources that argue that cats should be bought and sold like consumer goods. As you learn from more reading, the ability to purchase consumer goods is something Americans value as a right.

  3. Identify a pattern.

    Patterns in your research can come in many forms. You might find a topic or argument that is repeatedly in conflict with another topic or argument, a source that provides an unexpected argument, or a new way to combine arguments or ideas.

    In your cat-journal research, you find that cat homelessness is a major problem throughout the world. You also realize that you can combine the first argument, that cats should be bought like consumer goods, and the second argument, that Americans value purchasing consumer goods as a right.

  4. Formulate a question that responds to the prompt.

    Now you must think about your research and idea in the context of your assignment. Your question will vary depending on the format of the prompt. If the prompt itself is a question, your question might be a more specific version of the prompt. If the prompt offers up ideas or guidelines, then your question will need to adhere to those ideas or guidelines. Regardless of the format, your question will most likely ask for explanations about why, what about, or how your evidence relates to your claim (see Section 1.2).

    Recall the prompt: Argue for or against the statement “I should be able to own as many cats as I want.”

    You come up with the question: “Why should I be able to purchase as many cats as I want?”

  5. Listen to the evidence.

    The evidence will guide you to your claim—let it! While it may be tempting to pick and choose evidence that supports the claim that you want to make, strong academic argumentation requires researchers to make claims validated and substantiated by a fair and thorough examination of the available evidence. By listening to the evidence, you ensure that your claim answers your question honestly and opens a dialogue with which other researchers can engage.

  6. Develop a working thesis.

    The claim you devised in Step 5 will become your working thesis. A working thesis is the initial thesis you come up with, and it will guide your subsequent research. That research will, in turn, help you reformulate your working thesis as your research changes and your understanding of your topic, evidence, and main claim shifts. Your research isn't done when you formulate your working thesis, so keep researching and rewriting!

A bubble with the text "Working thesis" and a bubble with the text "research" are connected with two arrows in a neverending circular cycle.

If my working thesis and my research form an unending cycle, then how do I know when my thesis is ready? You can ask yourself if your thesis is doing MORE.

List 3.4.3. MORE

a clear assertion of your main claim


the kinds of evidence you will be using


the general organization of your argument/paper


how you will use your evidence to support your claim

A loaf of bread with the word "thesis" on it sits in a microwave oven. A speech bubble above the image reads, "Is it ready yet?"

Sometimes, one sentence isn't enough space to contain all of these things. If your thesis has depth and complexity, you likely will find yourself needing two or three sentences, or even a small paragraph, to fully explicate your thesis. Take this space and make it yours! However, if you find your thesis is taking up paragraphs, this may be an indication that you need to pare it down to make it more manageable. If you have more questions about thesis development and whether or not yours is “ready,” make an appointment at the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching (CWLT)!

Consider the following example theses from student papers. In what ways do they or do they not do MORE?

Example 3.4.4. Thesis: Women in the Odyssey.

While women do have a substantial presence in the Odyssey, the characters of Helen, Penelope, and Athena reify patriarchal norms regarding the role of the feminine in society by positing themselves below the authority and sovereignty of male characters. Coupled with the epic's clear celebration of warfare, the Odyssey primarily reinforces the chauvinist framework through which we view the world.

Example 3.4.5. Thesis: Male Suffrage.

The relationship between the two debates was forged by the underlying theme concerning access to the government; universal male suffrage was a microcosm of the tension between the principle of majoritarianism and the preservation of minority rights concerning their places within the government. This question would significantly shape the political discourse in the United States for much of the nineteenth century.

Example 3.4.6. Thesis: Immigration Act.

The Immigration Act of 1965 effectively restructured the United States' immigration policies in such a way that no group, minority or majority, was singled out by being discriminated against or given preferential treatment in terms of its ability to immigrate to America.

Example 3.4.7. Thesis: Belief without Evidence.

In an excerpt from his book The Will to Believe, James successfully disproves Clifford's argument, explained in his article “The Ethics of Belief,” revealing that, under certain circumstances, it's moral and rational to believe something without evidence.