Resources for Writers:  The Thesis 
The thesis in college-level writing
Most papers you write  in college will require a thesis because the purpose of college level writing is not simply to report on what you have read, but to interpret it and begin to add your own contribution to the field of knowledge.  For some students this can be a little intimidating at first, but ultimately it is rewarding to know that you are writing papers in order to add to our overall knowledge  rather than simply to report that you've done your homework!  A thesis is not simply "an opinion,"  though.  It is an informed opinion.
What is a thesis anyway? What is a Thesis Enthymeme?
How does a thesis differ from a topic? Why Should I make one?
How Do I Develop a Thesis? How do I make one?
Peer Editing for the Perfect Thesis Now what?

What is a thesis anyway?
Basically, a thesis is an assertion that a paper or argument is designed to prove/support.  At the research stage, a thesis is the reasonable assumption (based on what is already known) that an experiment or observation will seek to prove or disprove.  To avoid confusion, composition teachers tend to call this the working thesis.  The final thesis is the conclusion that is reached at the end of the research:  a reasonable interpretation of the available evidence.  A thesis is not a statement of fact.  A thesis is not an assertion that no reasonable person would accept based on the evidence at hand.  Nor is a thesis something that most reasonable people would conclude based on the evidence at hand.  A thesis is an interpretation that explains the data but that could be reasonably disputed by others who have also studied the data.

How does a thesis differ from a topic?
The topic of your paper is the subject you are exploring.  Your topic might be "Wicca."  You might introduce your topic by saying "I am exploring Wicca in this paper."  But that isn't a thesis.  Nor is "This paper will explore Wicca, an increasingly popular religion."  Even though some might debate Wicca's increasing popularity and others might argue that it isn't a religion, the previous statement isn't a thesis, it is a promise (about what the paper will do).  A thesis on the topic might be "Although some refuse to acknowledge that Wicca is a religion, it is one because it meets what we generally accept to be the major characteristics of a religion."  The thesis does not need to be written out as one sentence, but by the time readers have reached the end of the introduction, they should be able to write out the thesis in pretty much the same way as the author did [see reviewing papers for thesis].   The introduction to the paper described here should list the characteristics that the writer believes characterize a religion, and the paper would address each one to show how the writer came to the conclusion that Wicca is a religion.

How does one develop a thesis?
In order to write an effective thesis, a writer must consider several features of what we call the rhetorical situation.  According to John T. Gage, the rhetorical situation consists of the following:
1) a question at issue
2) a stance
3) a strategy
4) assumptions
Gage argues that (1) and (4) are determined by the audience, and (2) and (3) are determined by the writer ("A General Theory of the Enthymeme" 168-69). Notice that in the description below these features are written in this order rather than in the order listed above:
What is a Thesis Enthymeme?

An enthymeme is a form of syllogism known as a truncated syllogism.  Syllogisms are used in logic in structures like "(a) virtues are praiseworthy; (b) kindness is a virtue; (c) therefore, kindness is
praiseworthy."  As long as (a) and (b) are true, then (c) must be true as well.  This kind of certainty might be reassuring, but it doesn't help you write a thesis-driven paper because there is nothing to dispute. A truncated syllogism is a syllogism in which one of the premises (a) or (b) is implied ("kindness is a virtue; therefore kindness is praiseworthy," for example, assumes that virtues are praiseworthy, but doesn't say so).  But enthymemes are much more than just logical structures.  Indeed, rhetorician John Gage argues that we should think of syllogisms as just a kind of enthymeme, and perceive enthymemes to be at the heart of rhetoric.

Why should I make one (how will it help me)?

The value of using enthymemes as you think about writing papers is that they help you to explore all the parts of the rhetorical situation before you start writing.  In order to make a thesis enthymeme, you must think about your question, your thesis, your audience, and your assumptions.  Once you have considered all of these things you are well on the way to writing a good paper.

How do I make one?

An enthymeme has four parts:
1)  An implied question (this is your basic research question, but it is implied
      because you don't write it out in the paper)
2)  An Assertion (i.e.: a thesis)
3)  A "because" clause (like the strategy discussed before, a list of the reasons
      you will cite to support your thesis)
4)  An implied premise  (i.e.: an assumption that readers will share with the writer)

You make one by writing out what your implied question, assertion, "because" clause, and implied premise are.  For example,

1)  An implied question:  Why do some people think that Wicca is a religion?
2)  An Assertion:  Wicca is a religion
3)  A "because" clause:  Wicca meets the definition of "religion" offered by other
    major religions that I have studied because it is a group of people who join together
    to serve or worship a god or supernatural force, it has shared practices and
    observances relating to this deity, it demands a commitment to its deities from those
    who follow it, etc.
4)  An implied premise:  Religion can be defined as a group of people who
    join together to serve, etc., etc. (I assume that the audience will share
    my definition of religion, especially if I show them that others share it too)

Now What?

Once you have made a thesis enthymeme, you are ready to develop an outline of some sort (formal or not) based on the items listed in your "'because' clause."  [Check out "Not Your Usual Outline" for a discussion of this.]  

Peer Editing for the Perfect Thesis

I am indebted in this discussion to the argument proposed by John T. Gage in "A General Theory of the Enthymeme" (Teaching Advanced Composition, ed. Katherine H. Adams and John L. Adams, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 1991. 161-178).

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 C.  Sandra Jamieson, Drew University. 1999
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