Preparing for Research — Knowing Your Thesis
If we truly are engaging writing and research as a process, then finding the thesis or purpose statement that will ground and drive your analysis essay will not be instant. Drafting different versions of what will be your thesis is advisable. The term ‘thesis’ has linguistic origins in the Greek word tithenai , which means to place, as in to place a proposition before an audience. Consider the preparation that would occur for other things you would place before an audience, like a business proposal or an invitation to a party; some refinement would be required.
For example, if your goal was to write an analysis of Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn , it is likely that several ideas for a thesis statement would come to mind.
The friendship between Huck and Jim reveals Twain’s commentary on the moral dilemma of slavery.
This is a fair enough focus. It is analytical; it does more than summarize. It places a proposition before the reader and upon consideration of that proposition would lead to a richer understanding of the novel. However, slight alterations in this thesis statement may offer improvements or interesting variations. For instance, an emphasis on form could add to the analysis of the content of the novel.
The friendship of Huck and Jim reveals Twain’s commentary on the moral dilemma of slavery as revealed through the use of dialogue and interior monologue.
Further refinement might manage to incorporate form, content AND context. Notice that a fully developed thesis — a fully developed analytical proposition — may well require more than one long, run-on sentence.
Mark Twain encourages the reading audience of his day to question the moral dilemma of slavery through his portrayal of the friendship between Huck and Jim. By revealing differing social perspectives and moral positions through the dialogue between the characters and the interior monologues of Huck, Twain allows his readers to have multiple opinions while nudging their sympathies toward a critique of slavery.
The advantage of establishing your thesis before embarking upon outside research is that you are more likely to be focused on the kinds of sources that will be most useful and less likely to be overwhelmed or sidetracked by tangential information. You may want to look up general information, such as confirming historical dates or clarifying the use of certain vocabulary, but entering the process of looking for quality sources without a clear sense of the thesis you intend to place at the center of your analysis may muddle your thinking. Certainly, as you continue your research and draft and revise your essay, your thesis and/or your supporting ideas may shift somewhat. That is a natural part of the writing process, but that kind of adjustment in thinking deepens or refines your analysis. (1)