ERIC Number: EJ891928
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Jul
Reference Count: 2
Going beyond the Thesis
Smith, Andrew C.
English Journal, v99 n6 p97-99 Jul 2010
Most every writing teacher can relate to the curse of reading yet another incoherent essay, the contents of which resemble an unorganized junk drawer of thoughts. Such essays cry out for a main idea. The remedy is a thesis, and teachers rightly take pains to help students discover this. Yet in spite of this, writing teachers ought to bear in mind the limitations of an approach that focuses intensely on the thesis statement. This essay attempts to make an argument--a type of writing largely confined to writing courses and opinion pieces. Students are taught that one pithy, sharp thesis statement answers the all-important question--"What's the big idea?" or "What's it all about?"--and that having a thesis statement makes arguments "sharp." The danger, however, is that overemphasizing the importance of a thesis to students can make plausible to them an idea that often turns out to be false: that it is sufficient to consider answers to difficult questions in terms of a single idea or a single sentence. While there are lots of interesting answers to lots of interesting questions, they often can't be captured by a single assertion. And when one is put to the task, stating the thesis of a great piece of writing is rarely a simple matter. Even stating the thesis of a classic piece of persuasive rhetoric, such as Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, is not as simple as it would seem. In this essay, the author takes a look at King's speech in some detail to examine this. The author also contends that teachers need to spend less time and emphasis on the thesis and more time on the "process" that creates such statements, and they should foster the intellectual tools and critical inquiry necessary for evaluating them.
Descriptors: Writing Teachers, Writing Instruction, Essays, Speeches, Rhetorical Criticism, Writing Processes, Persuasive Discourse, Rhetorical Invention, Public Speaking, Rhetoric
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Opinion Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A