Choosing and Refining Topics

Arriving at a Possible Thesis for an Essay Requiring You to Take a Position

One of the greatest challenges in written argument is determining what it is that you would like to (and are able to) say about your topic.

Narrowing from Topic to Thesis in Argument

Before you begin drafting an argument paper, you need to decide (tentatively, at least) what it is that you will be arguing about the topic you have chosen. The following prompts should help you focus your argument from a topic to a position on that topic.

What is your topic? (e.g.--Rising property taxes in small towns in the Rocky Mountain region)

What are three controversies associated with this topic? (e.g.--Rising property taxes make the town affordable only to the wealthy. This changes the flavor the flavor of the town. It forces long-time land owners to sell their land.)

What are three questions people might ask about these controversies? (e.g.--Are these rising property taxes, which are the results of development in small towns in the Rocky Mountain region, forcing long-time land owners out of their home towns? Are rising taxes and land values changing the whole cultural and economic foundation of the towns? Given the effects of rising property taxes on impoverished land owners in small towns, is development in this area a good idea?)

Decide which of these questions you are most interesting in exploring. (e.g.--Given the effects of rising property taxes on impoverished land owners in small towns, is development in this area a good idea?)

Now list several ways people might respond if you asked them your question. (e.g.--No, because impoverished land owners are unable to maintain the new standard of living. Yes, because development is always a good idea. Yes, because development is inevitable, and we can do nothing about it. Perhaps, but city planners and local government must find ways to protect the interests of impoverished land owners when they determine property taxes.)

Finally, decide where you stand in this range of responses. Think of a thesis that expresses your view. Write out your thesis and revise it throughout your research process until it is specific and takes a single arguable position. (e.g.--Because impoverished land owners in small towns in the Rocky Mountain region are often badly hurt by the rising property taxes resulting from development, city planners and local government must find ways to protect the interests of these land owners when they determine property taxes.)

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Introduction