Marine Corps University Communications Style Guide
CHAPTER SEVEN: DEVELOPING A WORKING THESIS STATEMENT
This chapter focuses specifically on how to draft a working thesis for a research paper. For more general guidance on writing thesis statements, consult chapter 3.
What is the difference between a thesis statement and a working thesis statement? As discussed in chapter 3, the thesis statement establishes the author’s position on the topic at hand. It presents the paper’s central argument and gives the reader a sense of how the writer will support that argument. A working thesis fulfills this same function; however, this thesis is a work in progress and will likely shift as you progress through the research process.
Note: the working thesis is sometimes referred to as a hypothesis because it can be seen as a prediction about how the research will conclude. Just as scientists’ hypotheses about their research shift as they collect data, your hypothesis may also change as you collect more information about your topic.
The working thesis statement should tell readers what you are trying to argue through your research. It should articulate your main idea as well as your plan for writing about this idea. This statement can and will shift as you progress through the research process; however, you must have a clear vision of the point you wish to make as you conduct your research. The purpose of the working thesis statement is to keep your research focused. This chapter includes the characteristics of effective thesis statements and how to begin constructing a working thesis statement.
CSG 7.1 Characteristics of Effective Thesis Statements
As discussed in chapter 3, the thesis statement is often only one sentence long in short papers; however, it is acceptable to have a two-sentence thesis statement for longer papers, such as your MMS paper, future war paper, or independent research project. In terms of placement, the thesis statement usually appears near the end of the introduction. Check with the faculty advisor grading your written project to determine their preference for the placement of your thesis statement.
In its most basic terms, a thesis-driven research paper presents a specific argument or claim that is substantiated by evidence gathered during the research process. While not all research papers will present an entirely new argument, they should contribute to the existing body of knowledge in a particular discipline. An effective thesis statement should answer three questions:
1. What is my argument?
2. How will I develop my argument (i.e., what factors will I consider)?
3. What is my argument’s significance (i.e., why is it important to the existing body of research and to my readers)?
To be arguable, a thesis statement must make a claim with a level of controversy. Therefore, you will want to avoid writing about something that has already been accepted as a fact. Whether or not a thesis is considered arguable may depend on its social context. For example, the thesis statement, “Women should be permitted to join the military,” is not a valid argument in the United States, since American women can currently serve in the military. However, the statement, “Women in the United States between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five should be required to register with the Selective Service System for the draft alongside eligible men,” could be considered a thesis statement because it is a controversial topic debated today in the United States.
Although another writer or researcher has likely covered your topic at some point in time, your unique analysis will help you to avoid recycling old arguments and will instead allow you to contribute to the body of knowledge in your particular field. Ask yourself: What new insight can I bring to this topic or event? Are there any research gaps? Does this event provide any lessons learned that my Service or agency might apply on the modern or future battlefield? If you find you have something new to add to the debate, then the paper is likely a great use of your time and energy. Below are additional issues to consider when building an argument:
1. Audience: your audience will determine your process for providing an argument.
Questions for consideration: What type of evidence will the audience find convincing? What biases and beliefs do the readers already hold? How will you counter these beliefs? For more information about how your audience may shape your approach to writing, consult chapter 2.
2. Critical reading: think of writing as a conversation with other scholars in the field. To participate in this conversation, you need to familiarize yourself with the common points of view in the field. You need to learn about the main arguments and perspectives.
Questions for consideration: What are the main disagreements in this field? Who are some of the most credible people in this field of study? What stances do these people take on your topic? For more information about critical reading strategies, consult chapters 3 and 5.
3. Evidence: the type of evidence you supply will depend on your topic and your approach.
Questions for consideration: What types of evidence will you provide to support your ideas? Will you use secondary sources (e.g., journal articles and books)? Will you use archival information (e.g., correspondence, diaries, and original documents)? Will you conduct interviews and surveys? For more information about source types, consult chapter 6.
CSG 7.2 How to begin Constructing a Working Thesis Statement
Keeping in mind the main critical perspectives in the field, the research that has already been conducted, and the data you have collected, you will need to go back and revisit your research question. Ask yourself: Is the question still relevant? Has another researcher already answered the question? Is the question too broad? Specifically, what aspect(s) of the question still need to be examined?
While many different strategies exist for narrowing and developing thesis statements, most students prefer to use the research question as a jumping-off point. A research question tells the reader what the focus of the paper is; however, effective thesis statements include not only an answer to the question “what” but also answers to the questions “how” and “why.” The section below provides some examples of how you might use research questions to form working thesis statements. You may further revise these working thesis statements to form final, polished thesis statements.
Research questions: How should the United States address Hugo Chavez’s growing influence in Latin America? Is this growing influence dangerous to the United States’ national and regional Latin American interests?
Working thesis statement: The United States must counter Hugo Chavez’s influence in Latin America to maintain its credibility in the region.
Critique of the working thesis statement: this thesis is vague and incomplete because it does not answer “how” the United States must counter Hugo Chavez’s influence.
Final thesis statement: In an effort to maintain its regional credibility in Latin America and to preserve its national interests, the United States must become less dependent on Latin American oil and must reach out diplomatically to other nations in the region to counter Hugo Chavez’s influence.
Research questions: With the Pentagon’s recent lifting of the ban on women in direct combat jobs, should the Marine Corps open all infantry positions to women? If so, how should the Marine Corps integrate women into these positions?
Working thesis statement: The Marine Corps should open all infantry positions to women but should keep the physical fitness standards for all infantry in place, regardless of gender.
Critique of the working thesis statement: as the researcher collects data, he/she may want to further refine this thesis statement to tell the reader why women should occupy these roles.
Research question: What was the effect of the troop surge in Iraq?
Working thesis statement: The surge of American troops, coupled with local and militia uprisings, was successful in improving personnel recruitment and retention and administration of pay.
Critique of the working thesis statement: this working thesis begins to answer the question the researcher posed, but the researcher may want to state the ultimate effect of these changes. That is, how did personnel recruitment, retention, and administration of pay help to improve operations in Iraq?
The working thesis helps you to focus and direct the course of your research. For instance, instead of researching the history of women in the military, the working thesis might limit you to researching specifically how the lifting of the ban on women in direct combat jobs will affect the Marine Corps and some possible approaches to this new organizational structure. Remember to keep compiling a working bibliography as you research; this approach will help you to keep your sources organized as you progress through the research process.
Once you have a working thesis, you may begin thinking about the specific examples and arguments you will use to support this thesis statement. You may even want to construct an outline or mind map to begin thinking about the direction the paper might take and to organize some of the research you have already done on your topic. Refer to chapter 2 for more information about outlining and mind mapping. As stated in the introduction to this section, research is a recursive process, and you may continue to mine sources as you narrow your topic and further define your argument.