10 Steps to a Decent Thesis (Steps 8 - 10)

Once the majority of students can write a decent (or better) thesis most of the time, then and only then should you consider Steps 8-10. They are NOT for the faint of mind.

Warning About Steps 8-10

So, let's assume we have a solid basic thesis statement. It should clearly and completely address the prompt. It should take a position if required. Finally, it should lay out the supporting categories with which the remainder of the essay will support this position and answer the prompt. These supporting categories should be specific enough that the reader has a good idea where the essay is going, but without trying to write the entire essay in the thesis statement. (There are samples in the 10 Steps attachment to this page.) 

There is no perfect balance, and not everyone likes the same level of detail. In other words, you really can't win. That's how I like it. 

Sample Thesis Minus Concession

This is a good thesis. It's clear, sufficiently detailed, and clearly answers the prompt. You have a pretty good idea where the rest of the essay is going if it stays true to this thesis.

But... .there ARE those who would argue that the American colonists were NOT, in fact, justified in waging war and breaking away from Great Britain. Crazy, I know - but arguable. What case might these unpleasant folks make for a stand opposite to yours?

Choose the most likely argument against your position, and acknowledge it up front. The most common way to do this is the 'Although' statement...

Sample Thesis With Concession

Done well, this has the effect of both acknowledging and dismissing the most likely potential opposing argument.

Students (and many adults) do this naturally when they're not in 'academic mode'. 

"Hey, Mom - look, I know it's WAY past my curfew, and that you're pretty pissed. I know I'm in big trouble, and that you didn't want to let me go to this party tonight anyway, and I know the only reason I even HAVE a cell phone is so you can reach me at times like this and you weren't able to. It must look pretty bad, me without the car, reeking of cheap gin, and looking like I've just lost a naked wrestling match. You can and should absolutely KILL me for this...


And that's when the case is made. The story told. The argument presented. All possible argument has been anticipated and addressed, making it at least theoretically difficult for the other party to jump in and thwart your case immediately.

It's like rhetorical tai sabaki. 

It's also an imperfect science. Weak writers may make a stronger case in their brief concession against their thesis than they make FOR their stand. Others will phrase their 'although' statement as if they're making a concession up front, then essentially add a fourth supporting point - only awkwardly.

And sometimes they make no damn sense at all.

That's why, although we should practice and model them, when it's time for them to write their own thesis for real evaluation, if the concession isn't working, they should just leave it out. Better to cut it than to muck it up.

Sometimes there's no clear 'yes' / 'no' stand being taken, no clear 'greater' / 'lesser' dynamic offering an obvious route to acknowledge complexity. That's when the 'concession' attempts to add depth and pith by demonstrating a grasp of the complexities inherent in any historical situation. It doesn't have to be fancy, but 2-dimensional is generally richer than 1-dimensional. 

For example...

Sample Thesis Before Concession

Sample Thesis, Concession #1

Sample Thesis, Concession #2

Sample Thesis, Concession #3

Finally, it is important that the concession be added LAST, although it is placed FIRST. In that sense, it is like the icing on the brownies we discussed earlier - you see it first, but it's added last. It can add greatly to the final product, but better to leave it off than to slather on something crappy. 

Please understand, if you can crank out a masterful thesis and defend it without any pre-writing or following any steps, then good for you. Live it up. But for most new writers, young writers, not-the-best-of-the-best writers, having some structure to the process is essential. It only works, though, if they do the steps more or less in order. Writing the concession, then figuring out some categories, brainstorming a bit, and finally trying to figure out what the prompt means is not generally a great system. It's commensurate to putting some eggs and icing in a bowl, dumping them in the oven, the throwing in some flour. Wait 20 minutes, take everything out (if you can), then preheat. 

It's a mess. 

Step 9: Revisit the Prompt

One last time. Come on - it won't hurt you. Make sure you're as on track as you think, and that your response - your thesis - addresses the prompt clearly and specifically, laying out the general categories with which it will support that response.

Step 10

I'm so proud of you. Now let's talk about topic sentences and outlining your essay...

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