- Today and tomorrow we are talking about building your drafts by understanding the relationship between synthesis and developing a central idea or thesis.
- Thursday we have our final conferences, we will focus on a complete draft of your final project. On Friday you’ll share your final project with everyone.
From synthesis to thesis
By now you have read and annotated enough sources about your selected strategy of intervention that you have a pile of ideas and data. If the process of synthesis brings together these sources and your ideas to create new meaning, a thesis guides the order of those ideas for your readers, bringing them together in a way that helps those readers make sense of your larger purpose. It is sometimes called the argument, the though-line, or main/central/unifying idea. This process presents a particular way of reading; as such, a thesis selects and organizes texts in ways that can be challenged by alternative approaches to the same readings or different readings related to the subject at hand.
In this way, a thesis:
…crystallizes your paper’s argument and, most importantly, argues a debatable point. 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.“Formulating a Thesis” from Writing Commons
What does this look like?
Weak thesis: To combat problematic content on social media, companies like Facebook moderate this content using a mix of strategies, from writing algorithms to to hiring workers.
Stronger thesis: Although the nature and scope of problematic content on social media requires some kind of moderation, experts disagree on how to approach it.
Stronger still: Although the material and psychological costs of human-moderated online content is becoming better known among scholars and journalists, corporate legal mechanisms like nondisclosure-agreements make challenging those costs especially difficult. Therefore, if content moderators are going to challenge their working conditions, they will have to do so through the legal system.
Your (evolving) thesis
Your research so far should have led you to at least one important idea that challenges or extends a commonplace one (something your readers assume or already know) as well as some disagreements. Challenges to or extensions of commonplace ideas or disagreements could be about:
- the problem or definition of a fake news or post-truth phenomenon.
- responses to this problem (i.e. one of the four strategies of intervention), including the specific counter-technology your essay will engage.
- the degree or nature of the challenges to implementing, enforcing, or defining these strategies.
I’ve mentioned before that a thesis should evolve, that it takes time for a complex idea to develop through the course of an analytical paper. That said, you also have to give readers a sense of where you’re going through a working thesis. As you start, you can think of a working thesis looking something like the templates shared from the “Formulating a Thesis” page from Writing Commons:
Although we might assume _________________ [the commonplace idea you’re challenging], I want to suggest that _________________________ [your more surprising claim].
Activity: Take a moment to extend or challenge one of the commonplace ideas from your research using these thesis template. Here you might synthesize a few sources from your research so far who disagree about something or you might use one to extend or complicate the other. Be ready to share this with us on this doc.
Organizing your draft
As you encounter or dig into complications and disagreements that challenge your ideas or your sources, you’ll want to consider how they can help your thesis evolve and build your draft. That is, as you encounter evidence that challenges a working thesis, you should redirect your writing, transforming a simple working thesis into an evolving one. However, this won’t generally happen until you present less contentious source material first. In other words, in an evolving thesis, you begin by summarizing an uncomplicated consensus about the topic or subject, but then as you get further into the paper — in the third or fourth ¶ — you begin to present a more complicated picture of the situation. One way you might organize it could look like this:
- Introduction [1-2 ¶s]. This would introduce the context and problem and then the general strategy of intervention. Here you might summarize portions of “Dead Reckoning.” Your working thesis will come at the end of this intro so readers know your purpose.
- Commonplaces [1-3 ¶s]— sources that agree on the problem, more specific strategy, and/or challenges to the strategy.
- Problems with the commonplace understandings in #2, according to you and/or especially other sources (often these are scholarly in nature) [1-3 ¶s].
- An emergent solution/counter-technology (from other sources) and your assessment of this counter-technology [1-3 ¶s].
- Conclusion [1 ¶ that could be blended with #4.] This might present readers with your final, evolved thesis.
Activity: Map out the rest of your paper. Or, if you’re feeling like you need to write, continue plotting your sources until you start seeing moments of synthesis.
Homework for Wednesday
Remember that the Writing Center is open all week! They welcome drop-ins, or you can schedule an appointment here. Go to Klarman Hall, KG42 & 44, 7:00-10:00 p.m.