English 102 (Roth)

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English 102 (Roth)

Thesis Statements

You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.

Let's look at some examples. Imagine you're writing about John Hughes's film Sixteen Candles (1984).

You take a first pass at writing a thesis:

       Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.

Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it's a good start. You've focused on a topic - high school cliques - which is a smart move because you've settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it's not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement - so there's no real "news" for your reader. You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable. If your thesis doesn't go beyond summarizing your source, it's descriptive and not yet argumentative.

The key words in the thesis statement are "romantic comedy" and "high school cliques." One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions.

For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way? How does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does the film challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you'll have a strong thesis.

Tip: Asking "how" or "why" questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.

Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?

       Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.

You're getting closer. You're starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies "divisiveness" as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it's important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland - not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.

Tip: Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the "so what" question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?

Take 3. Let's try again. How about this version? 

       Although the film Sixteen Candles appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important          ways, questioning its viewers' assumptions about what's normal. 

Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film's larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy. 


What's a Strong Thesis?

As we've just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, it's arguable

This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that's not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It's also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued, or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument. 

Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis 

A good thesis will be focused on your object of study (as opposed to making a big claim about the world) and will introduce the key words guiding your analysis. To get started, you might experiment with some of these "mad libs." They're thinking exercises that will help propel you toward an arguable thesis. 

By examining ___________________[topic/approach], we can see ____________________[thesis- the claim that's surprising, which is important because _____________________.[1]

Example:

"By examining Sixteen Candles through the lens of Georg Simmel's writing on fashion, we can see that the protagonist's interest in fashion as an expression of her conflicted desire to be seen as both unique and accepted by the group. This is important because the film offers its viewers a glimpse into the ambivalent yearnings of middle class youth in the 1980s. 

Although readers might assume __________ [the commonplace idea you're challenging], I argue that _____________[your surprising claim]. 

Example: 

Although viewers might assume the romantic comedy Sixteen Candles is merely entertaining, I believe its message is political. The film uses the romance between Samantha, a middle class sophomore and Jake, an affluent senior, to reinforce the fantasy that anyone can become wealthy and successful with enough cunning and persistence. 

Still Having Trouble? Let's Back Up... 

It helps to understand why readers value the arguable thesis. What larger purpose does it serve? Your readers will bring a set of expectations to your essay. The better you can anticipate the expectations of your readers, the better you'll be able to persuade them to entertain seeing things your way. 

Academic readers (and readers more generally) read to learn something new. They want to see the writer challenge commonplaces - either everyday assumptions about your object of study or truisms in the scholarly literature. In other words, academic readers want to be surprised so that their thinking shifts or at least becomes more complex by the time they finish reading your essay. Good essays problematize what we think we know and offer an alternative explanation in its place. They leave their reader with a fresh perspective on a problem. 

We all bring important past experiences and beliefs to our interpretations of texts, objects, and problems. You can harness these observational powers to engage critically with what you are studying. The key is to be alert to what strikes you as strange, problematic, paradoxical, or puzzling about your object of study. If you can articulate this and a claim in response, you're well on your way to formulating an arguable thesis in your introduction. 

How do I set up a "problem" and an arguable thesis in response? 

All good writing has a purpose or motive for existing. Your thesis is your surprising response to this problem or motive. This is why it seldom makes sense to start a writing project by articulating the thesis. The first step is to articulate the question or problem your paper addresses. 


Here are some possible ways to introduce a conceptual problem in your paper's introduction. 

1. Challenge a commonplace interpretation (or your own first impressions). 

How are readers likely to interpret this source or issue? What might intelligent readers think at first glance? (Or, if you've been given secondary sources or have been asked to conduct research to locate secondary sources, what do other writers or scholars assume is true or important about your primary source or issue?). 

What does this commonplace interpretation leave out, overlook, or under-emphasize? 

2. Help your reader see the complexity of your topic.

 Identify and describe for your reader a paradox, puzzle, or contradiction in your primary source(s). 

What larger questions does this paradox or contradiction raise for you and your readers? 

3. If your assignment asks you to do research, piggyback off another scholar's research. 

Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting. 

Now, explain how you will extend this scholar's argument to explore an issue or case study that the scholar doesn't address fully. 

4. If your assignment asks you to do research, identify a gap in another scholar's or a group of scholars' research. 

Summarize for your reader another scholar's argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and tell your reader why this claim is interesting. Or, summarize how scholars in the field tend to approach your topic. 

Next, explain what important aspect this scholarly representation misses or distorts. Introduce your particular approach to your topic and its value. 

5. If your assignment asks you to do research, bring in a new lens for investigating your case study or problem. 

Summarize for your reader how a scholar or group of scholars has approached your topic. 

Introduce a theoretical source (possibly from another discipline) and explain how it helps you address this issue from a new and productive angle. 


Testing Your Thesis 

You can test your thesis statement's arguability by asking the following questions:

          Does my thesis only or mostly summarize my source? 

                 If so, try some of the exercises above to articulate your paper's conceptual problem or question. 

          Is my thesis arguable - can it be supported by evidence in my source, and is it surprising and contentious? 

                If not, return to your sources and practice the exercises above. 

           Is my thesis about my primary source or case study, or is it about the world? 

                If it's about the world, revise it so that it focuses on your primary source or case study. Remember you need solid evidence to support your                         thesis. 

"Formulating a Thesis" was written by Andrea Scott, Princeton University. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

[1] Adapted from Erik Simpson’s “Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis” at http://www.math.grinnell.edu/~simpsone/Teaching/fiveways.html


DATABASES FOR LITERARY CRITICISM

Use the following databases to locate literary criticism to support your thesis for model 1 on page 206 or model 3 on page 221 of Making Literature Matter. Use the full title of the literary work and the author's last name in your search to avoid results for works with similar titles and/or authors.


DATABASES FOR CONTEXTUAL ARTICLES

Use the following databases to locate articles to support your thesis for model 2 on page 217 of Making Literature Matter. Try Credo Reference, Global History in Context, U.S. History in Context and Newspaper Source for historical context. Try Credo Reference, CQ Researcher, Global Issues in Context and Newspaper Source for current affairs.

EBSCO & Gale

WHAT IS AN ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY?

An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by a brief (usually about 150 words) descriptive and evaluative paragraph, the annotation. The purpose of the annotation is to inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.


ANNOTATIONS VS. ABSTRACTS

Abstracts are the purely descriptive summaries often found at the beginning of scholarly journal articles or in periodical indexes. Annotations are descriptive and critical; they may describe the author's point of view, authority, or clarity and appropriateness of expression.


THE PROCESS

Creating an annotated bibliography calls for the application of a variety of intellectual skills: concise exposition, succinct analysis, and informed library research.

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items. Then choose those works that provide a variety of perspectives on your topic.

Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style.

Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme and scope of the book or article. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author, (b) comment on the intended audience, (c) compare or contrast this work with another you have cited, or (d) explain how this work illuminates your bibliography topic.


CRITICALLY APPRAISING THE BOOK, ARTICLE, OR DOCUMENT

For guidance in critically appraising and analyzing the sources for your bibliography, see How to Critically Analyze Information Sources. For information on the author's background and views, ask at the reference desk for help finding appropriate biographical reference materials and book review sources.


CHOOSING THE CORRECT FORMAT FOR THE CITATIONS

Check with your instructor to find out which style is preferred for your class. Online citation guides for both the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) styles are linked from the Library's Citation Management page.


SAMPLE ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY ENTRY FOR A JOURNAL ARTICLE

The following example uses APA style (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, 2010) for the journal citation:

Waite, L. J., Goldschneider, F. K., & Witsberger, C. (1986). Nonfamily living and the erosion of traditional family orientations among young adults. American Sociological Review, 51, 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.

This example uses MLA style (MLA Handbook, 8th edition, 2016) for the journal citation:

Waite, Linda J., et al. "Nonfamily Living and the Erosion of Traditional Family Orientations Among Young Adults." American Sociological Review, vol. 51, no. 4, 1986, pp. 541-554.

The authors, researchers at the Rand Corporation and Brown University, use data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Young Women and Young Men to test their hypothesis that nonfamily living by young adults alters their attitudes, values, plans, and expectations, moving them away from their belief in traditional sex roles. They find their hypothesis strongly supported in young females, while the effects were fewer in studies of young males. Increasing the time away from parents before marrying increased individualism, self-sufficiency, and changes in attitudes about families. In contrast, an earlier study by Williams cited below shows no significant gender differences in sex role attitudes as a result of nonfamily living.


From Olin Library Reference Research & Learning Services Cornell University Library Ithaca, NY, USA and used with permission.

Permission to use this work is based on the conditions of the Creative Commons Commons Deed, version 2.0 regarding attribution, noncommercial use, and "Share Alike" reuse. See the Commons Deed for further details.

Watch this short video for a straightforward description of first, second and third person point of view in writing.

First Page

 

Body of Paper

 

 

Body of Paper with Image

 

Body of Paper with Graph

 

Works Cited Page

MLA Eighth Edition

The latest edition of the MLA Handbook focuses on the elements common to most publications through the use of one standard citation format. There are no special instructions for a particular media type (e.g., book, magazine, journal, or tweet) and there may be more than one way to document a publication depending on how you used the source. The ultimate goal is to provide enough information for the reader to locate your source.


MLA’s Universal Citation Format

Author. "Title of Source." Title of Container, Other Contributors, Version, Number, Publisher,

Publication Date, Location. [Title of Container 2, Other Contributors, Version, Number,

Publisher, Publication Date, Location.]


What is a “container?”

MLA uses the word “container” to refer to the larger body of work from which the documented source originates.

For example, Melissa uses information from a chapter in a psychology textbook for her research paper. The title of the chapter is the source and the title of the book is the container:

A source may have more than one container depending on how it is accessed.

For example, Tom uses an episode of a TV series that is available on Netflix for his research paper. The series title is the first container and Netflix is the second container.

As another example, Kim uses an article he finds in an online database for his research paper. The journal title is the first container and EBSCO is the second container.


What are “other contributors?”

Other contributors are individuals other than the author that are important to include in a citation. In the above example, Tom may be discussing particular performances in the Gossip Girl episode and would include the actors in his citation:

Common descriptions for contributions include: adapted by, directed by, edited by, illustrated by, introduction by, narrated by, performance by, and translated by.


What is a “version?”

A version can be an edition, revision, abridged/unabridged or other special format of the source. Some examples:


What does "location" mean?

The location may be page numbers, a web address or a DOI. It is not the publisher's city.


What about the date of access?

It is important to include the date an item was accessed if there is potential for change to or removal of the item, such as websites or social media posts. This is also important to include if there is no date of publication. Including the date of access will help the reader further understand which version of the item you are using. 

For example, Tom may want to include the date of access for his TV show since Netflix frequently adds and removes content:


A few more examples

For a website with no author and no publication date, start the citation with the title of the source:

For an organization as an author, place the name of the organization as the author:

For two authors, list the authors as they appear on the work. The first author is listed last name, first name and the second author is listed first name last name:

For three or more authors, list the first author last name, first name followed by et al.:


It may be helpful to use a template to gather necessary information. A downloadable template is available on the last tab in the MLA section of this website.

Core Elements‚Äč

 

 

 

 

 

 


Citation Formatting Tips:

  • Place a period after the Author, Title of Source if it is part of a larger work, and last item in the container.
  • Place a comma after the items that follow the container.
  • A title is placed in quotation marks if the source is part of a larger work. (e.g., essay, story, poem, chapter, song, photograph or scene).
  • A title is placed in italics if the title is self-contained (e.g., book, album, play, movie.).
  • Use a DOI, or digital object identifier, instead of a web address (URL) when possible. The DOI is listed in the article’s information page in an online database.

Works Cited Page Formatting:

  • The works cited page is located at the end of the body of the paper on a new page and must be double spaced.
  • The page must have the title "Works Cited" in the center of the page. It may not be bolded, within quotation marks, italicized, underlined, or in a larger font.
  • The entries must be alphabetized.
  • The first line of each entry must be flush with the left margin. If a citation is more than one line, each line after the first line shall be indented 1/2 inch from the left margin.

 

MLA Handbook. 8th ed., Modern Language Association of America, 2016.

Sevastopoulos, Julie. “Citing Sources.” Grammar-Quizzes, 2016, www.grammar-quizzes.com/writing_citations.html.

Visit the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab) for more writing and MLA help.

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Contact the MCC Library if you need help finding or evaluating sources.

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