Tag Archives: thesis

Spring 2020, Thesis

Thesis

The eternal refrain goes like this: “What’s the thesis?”  It’s as ubiquitous as “Where’s the beef?” But a thesis is not a call to action for a mundane fast-food restaurant. It’s much more important than that. It’s the argument. Or more eloquently, the Writing Lexicon defines the thesis as “an arguable claim—i.e., an assertion someone could reasonably argue against; as such, it provides unexpected insight, goes beyond superficial interpretations, or challenges, corrects, or extends other arguments.”

There’s a reason why a great deal of high school English teachers place an emphasis on the thesis. It functions as the raison d’etre. It lays out the terms of the argument—what the essay is analyzing, with what it is analyzing, and what it all means. Strong theses go above and beyond this, however, by explaining why all of that stuff is important.

The essay excerpts in this section were chosen for their strong theses, though they accomplish these arguments in different ways.

The thesis is tough. There are different kinds—some are tricky, and some are examples of how to make a simple framework sing. And don’t write more than one thesis in an eight-page paper. Read on, true believer—“What’s the thesis?”

For more details, refer to the Thesis Preface from our 2014 issue, available here.

Spring 2020, Thesis

Holding the LINE: The US Role in Combatting Information Warfare in Taiwan’s Electoral System

In a Tortoiseshell: In her politics paper, Maggie Baughman recommends a specific set of policies for the US State Department to follow in order to combat the spread of misinformation by the Chinese government within Taiwanese election cycles. Her thesis is built upon a unique and compelling methodology combining epidemiological theory with politics. By manipulating multiple forms of evidence as well as the framework of her argument, Maggie also renders her thesis both pragmatically and pedagogically manageable.

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Spring 2020, Thesis

Giulia Niccolai’s Abandonment of Photography: An Act of Subaltern Self-Awareness

In a Tortoiseshell: Using various feminist thinkers as a scholarly lens, her own primary source material from an interview she conducted, and a close reading of multiple artistic mediums, Bes puts forward a thesis that is clear, original, and motivated.  In addition to containing all of the key ingredients for a powerful argument, though, Bes’s thesis is an exemplar model due to the way she deepens and refines that thesis as the paper progresses and as she gradually exposes the reader to more key concepts, relevant scholars, and pieces of evidence.  In this excerpt, which appears towards the end of Bes’s paper, we see her thesis in its full complexity and nuance and get a taste of how Bes strategically goes about uncovering that complexity in gradual stages.       Continue reading

Spring 2020, Thesis

The Cute as Uncanny: How Doki Doki Literature Club! Subverts the Dating Sim Genre

In a Tortoiseshell: In her final paper for a class called “’Too Cute!’: Race, Style, and Asiamania,” Megan Pan analyzes a dating simulator video game, Doki Doki Literature Club! The game, accessible by smartphone app, takes a strange and unexpected turn as it is played. The essay uses this twist as its motivation to examine its theoretical and cultural implications. Its claim, that “by very nature of its cute demeanor,” the game “manages to subvert the expectations of its supposed genre and ultimately reveal its true colors as a brilliantly executed metafictional psychological horror” in a strong example of the lexicon term thesis. Continue reading

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Tortoise Tuesday: Spring Air and Bottled Sunshine — From thesis to argument

            I never find it easy to work on the first days of Spring, especially when, as in the Pacific Northwest, Spring comes only after months of drizzly gloom. When the pale, wet sun comes out for the first time, all I really want to do is go outside, smell the still-wet pines and salt-breeze, and bask in the young Spring sunshine. In the midst of that over-bright euphoria, it feels impossible to do anything useful. On the rare occasions when I have been able to overcome the urge to shut my books, the results have been remarkable, but just as often, I have found myself unable to think straight, meandering from thing to thing and always ending by staring out the window. When I am able to make something of that Spring-day euphoria, it feels like bottled sunshine poured still-glowing on the page. When I am not — well, it doesn’t bear describing.

            There is a similar sensation when a thesis crystalizes in your mind. First, there is that golden moment when you finally say, “I have it! It makes sense!” You might even get to the point of writing it down, before you begin to ask yourself what “it” really is, how you got to “it”, and how you are possibly going to explain “it” to anyone else. The jump between “thesis” and “paper” is just as large as that between spring-day euphoria and warm bottled sunshine.

            How does one get from the first to the second? I am sure the precise answer varies by person, and by mood, and by day of the week. The closest I can come is that it requires both concentration and patience. A thesis, however brilliant, can only be a starting point. What seems natural to us must necessarily seem arcane to anyone else, unless we explain it to them first. Before we can make anyone understand why “it” makes sense, we have to state all our underlying assumptions, leading the reader through the leg-work we have already done. This is tedious, or it can seem so when you yourself are already basking in the bright sunshine of a sharp, clearly defined thesis, but when we cannot bring ourselves to walk backwards through our sources, that bright sunshine fades all too quickly into a sticky afterglow of indecision.

            Much as we would like to believe the paper is all but done as soon as we find a thesis, it is rarely so quick or so easy. The more difficult hours are usually still ahead of us, when we already have the warm sense of discovery and completion, and yet still have to get through the fussy business of making everything clear to someone else. But when we can translate that bright, euphoric moment when everything clicks into a cogent explanation, the results are extraordinary and lasting. Though the dripping trees and the spring air beckon, staying indoors is not always the worst thing in the world — after all, who would say no to bottled sunshine?

— Isabella Khan ’21

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Tortoise Tuesday: Significant and Scientific — What science and mathematics can teach us about thesis

As a Writing Center Fellow, I believe that good writing is necessary in all fields. However, it can be easy to conceive of writing (as I’m sure most people do) as an inherently humanistic act or practice. Writing in STEM fields is only a necessary way of communicating ideas, not intrinsically part of the discipline.

However, as I read G.H. Hardy’s essay “A Mathematician’s Apology” and Karl Popper’s lecture “Science: Conjectures and Refutations” for ENG 401 Literature and Science, I discovered that both Hardy and Popper describe “good” mathematical and scientific ideas in ways strikingly similar to how we at the Writing Center describe good theses. The foundation of a good argument, it seems, is consistent across disciplines, and we can use the standards provided by Hardy and Popper to inform our writing as much as our scientific or mathematical research.

In “A Mathematician’s Apology,” Hardy discusses what makes a mathematical idea “significant.” Hardy writes: “We can say, roughly, that a mathematical idea is ‘significant’ if it can be connected, in a natural and illuminating way, with a large complex of other mathematical ideas” (89). While we can quibble with exactly what Hardy finds significant or not in his essay, this basic definition of significant — “connected, in a natural and illuminating way, with a large complex of other mathematical ideas” — can be useful when thinking about a motivated thesis. Ask yourself: Does your thesis connect to a larger conversation of ideas? What exactly does it illuminate in that conversation? 

In “Science: Conjectures and Refutations,” Popper articulates what makes a theory or idea “scientific” (versus “pseudo-scientific”) and, like Hardy, describes a good thesis statement in the process. Popper summarzies his conclusions in one line: “the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability” (37). Here, Popper describes an essential element to a strong thesis: arguability. For a thesis to be good, someone must be able to argue against it; it cannot describe a factual state of being. Theses which rely heavily on plot summary or observable facts tend to veer into inarguable territory. Check yourself by asking: is there a counterargument to my thesis? If I had to write another paper disagreeing with myself, what might I say?

    Hardy’s definition of a “significant” mathematical idea and Popper’s conception of a “scientific” theory can be used to understand what makes a good thesis. These criteria relate to Keith Shaw’s four-step thesis test:

  1. Is the thesis arguable? Can a reasonable person argue against it? Popper uses this standard for determining whether a theory is scientific.
  2. Is the thesis manageable? Is it responsive to the evidence at hand and suitable for the size/length of the paper?
  3. Is the thesis interesting? Does it address a question/puzzle/contradiction and go beyond the obvious?
  4. Is the thesis important? How is the claim significant in the context of the field? Hardy uses the term “significant” to describe an important mathematical idea.

The questions we ask at the Writing Center about what makes a good thesis statement are the same questions mathematicians and scientists ask about what makes a good argument in their fields. Rather than simply a form of communication, argumentative writing is in the same category as scientific hypotheses and mathematical theories, another form of the effort to argue and prove a new way of thinking about the world.

— Paige Allen ’21

Sources

Hardy, G. H.. A Mathematician’s Apology, Cambridge University Press, 2012. ProQuest 

Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/princeton/detail.action?docID=1864707.

Popper, Karl R. “Science: Conjectures and Refutations.” Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge, Routledge, 2002, pp. 33–41.

News

Constructing a Scholarly Narrative with Incomplete Information

It sometimes happens during the research process that I come to a point where I think I know what I should propose or argue, but I can’t see how to prove or disprove it. This happens fairly often when I’m writing papers in the humanities, but even more so when I am trying to solve a problem in mathematics. In fact, I ran into this issue while trying to prove one of the claims on my most recent math assignment. The goal was to prove the following claim:

(I include the claim for completeness, but it’s not terribly important.) My first step was to reduce the claim to a statement that seemed easier:

which I was able to do just by using the information given in the problem. After that, I was able to get nearly three-quarters of the way through the proof just using the given information.  Then I ran into something I knew should work, but wasn’t able to verify:

A screenshot of a cell phone

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Because I already knew what I was trying to prove, I was able to use the assumptions I described above to complete the problem (more or less). There was still a hole in my argument, but I was able to construct a solid “scholarly narrative” for the problem (that is, finish the proof) by carefully delineating what I understood and where my understanding went off a cliff. Writing out exactly what I thought was wrong also told me what I needed to learn the next time I worked on the topic — effectively, it told me what further research I needed to do. So, even though I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, I was still able to decide what I would need before I made a second pass over the problem.

There are, of course, several caveats to what I have said thus far. First, in this case, I knew that my overall claim was correct, so I was confident I should be able to jump over the hole in my reasoning and complete my argument. In general scholarly writing, we don’t know with certainty that our thesis is correct, so a question like the one above could throw the entire premise of the argument into doubt. The second caveat is that clearly, my argument couldn’t have been called “complete” while containing the excerpt above. Since there was a hole in my argument, I hadn’t really proved anything yet. Indeed, the kind of serious gap in understanding displayed above was only permissible because the homework assignment was the equivalent of an early draft.

But despite these two cautionary notes, annotating incomplete arguments as I do above has often proved helpful (and necessary) for me in both mathematics and the humanities. By whittling down the “unknown” part of the problem to a single nugget that we are not equipped to attack with our current tools, we mark the bounds of our own knowledge, and in doing so, lay the groundwork needed to push those bounds even further than before.

–Isabella Khan ’21

Spring 2019

Thesis

The eternal refrain goes like this: “What’s the thesis?”  It’s as ubiquitous as “Where’s the beef?” But a thesis is not a call to action for a mundane fast-food restaurant. It’s much more important than that. It’s the argument. Or more eloquently, the Writing Lexicon defines the thesis as “an arguable claim—i.e., an assertion someone could reasonably argue against; as such, it provides unexpected insight, goes beyond superficial interpretations, or challenges, corrects, or extends other arguments.”

There’s a reason why a great deal of high school English teachers place an emphasis on the thesis. It functions as the raison d’etre. It lays out the terms of the argument—what the essay is analyzing, with what it is analyzing, and what it all means. Strong theses go above and beyond this, however, by explaining why all of that stuff is important.

The essay excerpts in this section were chosen for their strong theses, though they accomplish these arguments in different ways.

The thesis is tough. There are different kinds—some are tricky, and some are examples of how to make a simple framework sing. And don’t write more than one thesis in an eight-page paper. Read on, true believer—“What’s the thesis?”

For more details, refer to the Thesis Preface from our 2014 issue, available here

Spring 2019, Thesis

Japanese Citizens Becoming Masked Heroes to Serve Society

In a Tortoiseshell: In her R3, Nanako Shirai argues that surgical masks in Japan have transformed from individually-oriented devices meant to protect against the spread of the H1N1 virus into symbols of Japanese collective identity and social duty.  Her thesis extends from a clear research question and motive, as well as from a strong set of evidence, which help make it feel new and interesting.

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Spring 2019, Thesis

The Cyborg Aesthetic of Dress: Examining Reactions to the Corporeal Evolution of the Cyborg from 1960 to 2018

In a Tortoiseshell: In her paper, Sarah Perkins contrasts two fashion designers who have incorporated cyborg aesthetics in their designs. Comparing both their fashion and its reception, Sarah examines the interaction between the cyborg and the human in both designers’ work. In this excerpt, her succinct introduction of the artists and the defining features of their work paves the way for a clear and well-supported thesis.

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