The Evolving Thesis

Based on Writing Analytically, Ch. 6

What is a thesis?

A working thesis develops by your

Thus, a working thesis is “only relatively adequate”—it won’t account for all relevant evidence equally well. This means that your job, then, is to refine that working thesis by seeking out and analyzing both the corroborating and the conflicting evidence, and making sure that your claim adequately accounts for both.

As a thesis evolves, it might result in an expansion or a restriction of the original claim as you move through the process of revision and development:

WORKING                                                                                                   REVISED

THESIS         corrroborating evidence       conflicting evidence               THESIS

Then lather, rinse, repeat until you’ve developed your thesis as far as you can.

OR, to describe the same process verbally,

  1. Formulate an idea (working thesis) about your subject.
  2. See how far this thesis can go in accounting for the evidence you’ve gathered.
  3. Evaluate the evidence it does not account for, or locate other evidence that now seems important but that your thesis does not encompass (“yeah, but what about…?”)
  4. Ask “So What?” about the apparent mismatch between the thesis and the evidence.
  5. Reshape the thesis to accommodate what doesn’t fit.
  6. Repeat several times or more as necessary.

Remember that the dialectic (or the tension) between the thesis and the subject is reciprocal; the thesis guides your analysis of the evidence, but the analysis also shapes the thesis itself. This push-and-pull is what helps us move forward our understanding.

Notice that this method is very inductive; it moves from examination of specific evidence to the formulation of a claim. Notice, too, though, that it also involves deduction; once that claim is formulated, your job is to search for evidence that would confirm or contradict it. It’s a circular process that, again, helps move forward our understanding with each successive pass.