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Thesis: Asking what and why

Thesis: Asking what and why

Author: Mackenzie W

Understand how to ask "what" and "why" questions to improve a thesis statement

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Thesis: Asking What and Why

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi everyone. I'm McKenzie, and today we're learning about the thesis, asking what and why. Have you ever listened to someone talk and thought to yourself, so what? Who cares? In this tutorial, we'll learn about the thesis purpose, and we'll discuss using "so what" and "why" to develop a thesis.

We'll begin by discussing the purpose of a thesis. The thesis is one specific statement in a piece of writing that tells the reader what the writing is going to be all about. The thesis helps to support the writing. It tells the author what to say in the piece of writing. Whenever we're deciding what we want to include in the writing, we go back to the thesis to tell us what to include.

Here are some examples. For this first example, imagine that we are writing an informative essay. Specifically, it is a process essay that describes how to do something. The thesis reads "The following steps demonstrate the best approach to preventing identity theft, helping to eliminate the risk of financial and personal consequences of falling victim to this type of crime."

The thesis tells me what I should talk about in my piece of writing. Perhaps while I'm researching my topic, I find a piece of information from the identity guard resource center that tells me that the penalties for identity theft include jail time and up to $100,000 in fines. Although this is interesting information and it is related to my topic of identity theft, it doesn't fit into my thesis. My thesis is not about the idea that someone should not commit the crime of identity theft, and therefore discussing the consequences of identity theft doesn't support my thesis, even though the information is related to my topic of identity theft. In this essay, I need to focus on the steps to prevent identity theft.

For our next example, imagine that we are writing an argumentative essay. The thesis of this essay is, "Because they have proven to be more dangerous than other demographics of drivers, senior citizens should be required to take driving tests to keep their drivers licenses." In this example, I'm focusing on senior citizens as drivers. But perhaps while I'm researching the topic, I find that my statement about senior citizens being dangerous drivers isn't necessarily true.

If I don't have the evidence to back up the claim that I'm making, perhaps I need to change my thesis. Maybe I found information to support the idea that teenage drivers are far more dangerous. I may choose to switch the focus of my thesis. I may decide to discuss teenage drivers instead. And therefore, I would change my thesis, because the thesis is what's guiding what I discuss.

One approach we can use to develop an effective thesis is to ask ourselves "so what?" Remember that a thesis answers a question. It must be meaningful, significant, compelling. It must be interesting. We're trying to actually say something significant when we write our paper, and the thesis "guides" what we're writing.

Think of the thesis as part of a conversation. When you have a conversation with someone, part of your job is to contribute to the discussion. You have to say something, and it's important that whatever you say be interesting so that the other person can comment on it, as if a conversation goes back and forth.

A thesis is exactly the same type of thing. We have to give our readers something to respond to. If you're having a conversation with your friends about animal abuse, and you simply offer animal abuse is bad, they may not have anything to say to that because they already agree that animal abuse is bad. You're not really adding to the conversation. You're not being helpful or giving us anything new to think about.

Think of your thesis in the same type of way. We have to ask ourselves so what? Why does this matter? It helps us to demonstrate the relevance or importance of what we're saying in our thesis.

Here's an example of how to do this. In our example, we have the idea that diet soda is bad and you shouldn't drink it. We cannot use this as our thesis, because it's not giving us significant relevant reasons why we should agree. This thesis isn't saying much. It's likely that many people already agree, or it's possible that readers already have their own ideas about why diet soda might be bad and about why they probably should not drink it.

We need to be more specific. We need to give the readers new thought-provoking information. Instead, I should say something such as, "Due to the troubling and harmful health problems caused by the ingredients in diet soda, it is important that consumers avoid drinking these beverages."

I'm still saying that diet soda is bad and I'm still saying that you shouldn't drink it. But now, I'm giving some extra information for the reader to really think about. I'm saying that the reason they should not drink it is because of the troubling and harmful health problems, and I'm saying that the cause of these problems is the ingredients in the soda itself.

Now I'm being more specific. I'm giving them something more to think about. I'm answering the question of so what.

Another approach to writing an effective thesis is to ask ourselves the question of why. In a meta-sense, we're trying to think about our own thinking. We're trying to figure out what our ideas are based on why we are writing a particular piece of writing.

The first thing to think about is the occasion for writing. This is the reason why you are working on a piece of writing. It may be that you were given a particular assignment.

The parameters of the assignment or the details of the assignment help you to answer the question of why. Or maybe you've simply decided to write a piece of writing. Think about why you've chosen to write that piece of writing.

Another idea for us to consider is the rhetorical situation. Again, in a meta-sense, were thinking about our own thinking. We're thinking about the choices we make with our writing. When we think about the rhetorical situation, we can think about our purpose.

Why are we writing this? Who is our audience? How does culture and history influence what we're writing? How does that influence the topic we've chosen for the writing? And how does our own background even influence what we have decided to write?

When we start to think about the answers to these questions, we come up with answers to the question of why. And that helps us to determine our thesis statement. Here's an example of how this works.

In this example, we have an assignment that's providing us some insight into the occasion for writing, or the reason why we are writing this particular piece. In this case, the occasion for writing is that we are to put together a 400- to 500-word essay that is a process essay, describing how to do something useful. It needs to be at least five steps long, and we have to consider that the audience has no background related to the topic. This gives us a starting point to figure out why.

Now we can use the rhetorical situation to think of additional information to help us to write a thesis. We think about the purpose. We know that our purpose is to write a process essay to inform the audience of how to do something. We know that our audience has no background information or experience with the topic. That guides how we're going to have to write the essay itself.

Now we can think about our own background, what topics do we know, what topics are we interested in, and relate that to a cultural and historical context. How does that influence what we choose to discuss. Based on our culture, our history that we're coming from, what topics might be most appropriate for this audience, this purpose, and this particular occasion for writing? Perhaps I decide that my topic is going to be how to prevent identity theft.

And the reason I've decided this is because my purpose is to explain how to do something. It fits the purpose. My audience doesn't have much background on this topic, and so I know that I will need to explain this in some depth. My own background is that I know that this is something I should be aware of, and I believe others should be aware of it, too.

Now I think about the cultural and historical context. Identity theft is part of our culture. It's a serious concern, I know that this has the potential to affect my audience, and that influences why I chose this particular topic. Thinking about the occasion for writing and the rhetorical situation helps us to answer the question of why, so that we can develop a thesis.

In this tutorial, we learned about the thesis purpose, and we learned how to ask "so what" and "why" to develop a thesis. Don't leave people wondering "so what." I'm Mackenzie. Thanks for listening.

Terms to Know
Occasion for Writing

Circumstances that lead to a writer undertaking a writing task, including the rhetorical situation, assignment requirements, and other elements.