Generating a Thesis

There are two ways to get to a thesis.  They are NOT mutually exclusive; in fact, they are often recursive.  This means that you may go back and forth between the methods in order to develop your ideas!

The key to developing a thesis is to start by taking good notes.  You may want to use the double-entry notebook format, but other note-taking styles work as well.

Method 1: From thesis to supports
Many times, you already know what you want or need to say.  An assignment may have a particular point you need to argue, for or against.  In this case, instead of grouping the supports to derive an argument, you need to break the main thesis into at least three arguable points, then group the supports under each point of your thesis.  It may be helpful to read or reread the text with these points in mind and make more entries in a double-entry notebook.


Main Thesis:
First point: Second point: Third point:
Evidence from your double entry note book that supports each point should be entered in each respective column.


Method Two: Extracting a thesis from the text.
Start with the notes you took on the sources for this essay. What are the main points made by the sources? How can you group them together? The way in which the points “hang” together indicate an argument the text seems to make, which you can then argue for using the supports you’ve identified. These arguments need not be the stated thesis of a given text, if in fact, that text has a thesis.


Support Grouping 1 Support Grouping 2 Support Grouping 3
Into each of these boxes, sort your quotes from your double-entry notebook.
What point does this group make? What point does this group make? What point does this group make?
What point do these points make?

One strategy for grouping may be to put each quote onto an index card and sort the cards into piles of related quotes. This is called a “card sort.” A modern adaptation of this is to put each support into a cell in an Excel spreadsheet and move the cells around.

For each grouping of supports, you should be able to answer the following questions:
1. What argument, point, or theme holds these supports together?
2. How does this group relate to the other groups? Is there a larger argument to be made?
The answers to these questions are the beginnings of your thesis!

NEXT: Thesis Statements – Working Backwards

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