If you take a look at the course description in Brookdale’s course listing booklet you will find ENGL 122 described this way: “This course teaches students to write and revise convincing papers using data to support an assertion or position.”
With this course objective in mind you will not be expected to write informational research papers, in which you simply find out as much about your topic as you can, and present it in an interesting fashion. Instead, you will be encouraged and required to “support an assertion“ or take a stand on a topic using your research to study the evidence on both sides of an issue that influences your topic. The conclusions you draw are opinions, but much of your paper will be supported by research that supports your opinions.
Information, of course, is vital to the effectiveness of your paper. But your aim for the paper or the stand you take, expressed somewhere early on in the form of your thesis statement, must pervade the entire essay, and everything in the paper needs to be relevant to it. As intimidating as this may sound, the expression of your thesis statement can, and most likely will, influence the success (or ineffectiveness) of your paper.
This is not to say that your thesis needs to be “perfect” before you’ve even begun to write.
In some cases, the thesis statement may be the last item you polish or clarify in the essay. The sooner, however, that you can grab hold of what it is you want to argue, the more you can focus your thoughts on what it is you want to say about your topic and how you will work towards persuading others of your position.
In managing the concept of an argumentative research paper, you may want to imagine yourself as both paralegal and attorney, especially if you perceive a paralegal as one who gathers information and an attorney who argues a position. Let’s just say that you, the “full of energy,” spunky, “can’t wait to impress the law firm” paralegal has been asked to research anything you can get your hands on about the topic of “balding.” (You admit to yourself that you were puzzled with this research request, but not wanting to make any waves you go ahead and research.) So you hit the reference works and found out the juicy history of balding, got books on it, interviewed people with every kind of head imaginable, from those with balding pates to “Samson- like” golden locks, created surveys, used a general index likeAcademic Search Premier and a specific index like the Social Sciences Index, to gather article upon article, and you come in the next day and plop this huge pile of stuff on an attorney’s desk. As the paralegal, you are relieved – the informational part of the project seems done – but in reality you are both paralegal and attorney, and now you must use this information to persuade a jury.
Persuasion includes any methods by which you get people to do what you want them to do. Persuasion depends on argumentation. An argument is a carefully reasoned conclusion drawn from evidence.
As a research writer you must use the skills of persuasion and argumentation to make your paper a success. Your topic, “balding,” needs a slant; it needs attitude.
Let’s consider some possibilities. At a very basic level you can ask yourself whether or not you are for or against something. With some topics like cloning, the death penalty, euthanasia, etc., your answer to, “Am I for or against?” will make sense, and reasons why you are “for or against” are at your fingertips. Try this with a topic like “balding” and your simple for-or-against response is awkward, even amusing. “I’m against balding; people should not go bald.” Or, “I’m for it; people should go bald.”
Unlike most hotly contested and publicly debated topics whose sides are clearly defined, many researchable topics take some figuring out in terms of sides and opposition. In addition, the “heavy” topics have so much written about them it’s tough to find a unique opinion, and difficult to manage all that has been written already. Most of us find ourselves with topics that, like “balding,” require a struggle to identify a stance or thesis.
Let’s try some strategies.
(You can use your topic now… “balding” will still be our example here.)
As a first step towards your thesis, write down something that seems to be true about your topic – not something factual (“Balding means you’re losing hair”), but something arguable that you believe is true because something you’ve come across makes you believe it probably is true. (“Balding men are victimized.”). Again, you want to word this so it asserts something – preferably something you would defend if called upon to prove it.
Now with an argumentative statement under your belt, try listing some reasons why this assertion seems true. Shoot for three or four good solid reasons, for example:
(“All men on Dancing with the Stars have hair.”)
(“Men with hair have more employment opportunities.”)
(“Balding men must protect their scalps from too much sun exposure.”)
(“No bald man has ever been elected president of the United States.”)
Now write your thesis statement again, but this time, as part of the sentence, mention your main reasons for believing whatever you’re saying is true.
(“Bald men are victimized by society from the way they are depicted in film, treated in the work force, and unaccepted in political arenas.”)
Now be sure what you’ve expressed in writing is what you want to say; if not, play with it, tinker around with it until you feel you’ve expressed yourself with more exactness and with more confidence that you will be able to support it.
You may want to rephrase the statement of your thesis in the form of a question to see how it might look in question form. (“How are bald men treated by society?”) By doing so you may gain more insight into the focus of your paper. (“Bald men are mistreated, so my paper will focus on how and why, and offer ways that such mistreatment can be prevented.”). However, never let a question serve as your thesis statement.
Remember that your goal is to convince a reader that your opinion on your topic – your point of view on your issue – is reasonable, because there is plenty of evidence to support it. Your argument will hinge on this evidence as you draw conclusions from the evidence you present.
(“Pushed by society’s privileging of men with full heads of hair, balding men are seeking remedies that leave them financially and emotionally insecure and increasingly victimized.”)