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How to Teach Research Papers - Developing a Thesis

Updated on January 17, 2013

When to Develop a Thesis

As discussed previously during the discussion on selecting a topic for a research paper, the time to develop a thesis is not when a topic is chosen. Before developing a thesis, one must conduct preliminary research on the topic in order to get a better idea of what a good thesis may be. Working in this order and letting the research guide the writer is important because it opens the doors to opportunities in the paper that may be closed if it is done in another order. Boxing oneself into a thesis and trying to find research to support it could cause problems for writers as the research may not support the thesis they are trying to prove.

Give students the chance to take their topics and do some research on it. As they find resources that they think might be worthwhile later on, they should document them in the ways discussed in Research Papers - Creating Bibliography (Source) Cards. At this point in time, students shouldn't be taking notes, but instead taking in the information to help them figure out the direction the research paper can take. Once they see what information is available on their given topic, they can begin to develop a thesis statement.

How to Develop a Good Thesis Statement

The entire success of the paper weighs heavily on the thesis. If the thesis is not specific enough, the paper won't be strong. If it's too narrow, the paper won't be able to go anywhere. If it's something that is a general statement of truth, there is no reason to write a research paper. Below are some tips to help students make a good, strong and successful thesis statement.

  • The thesis statement should be developed after looking at the information from the initial search for resources. This information should be evaluated to determine what the focus of the paper should be. Is it a judgement? A point to prove? A criticism? Cause and effect? Is it a comparison? A solution? A thesis should set out to prove something. A statement of a fact is not something that an entire paper worth of information can back up.
  • The thesis statement should be clear and concise. It should focus on the point of the paper so that the reader is aware of what the paper is about.
  • The thesis should tell the reader that the writer has something worth saying. It should be interesting, but it should address a point worth making and supporting.

Thesis Re-Evaluation

The thesis at this point in the writing process of a research paper is a work in progress. It can be altered and changed and it is not set in stone. Once a student moves onto the actual note-taking process, they may find some research that moves their thesis into a slightly different direction. This is OK and it's important to tell students that the thesis can be adjusted later on.

Once the thesis is developed, one can move onto Creating an Outline.


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