Evaluating Your Thesis Statement Study Guide (page 3)
Evaluating Your Thesis Statement
Things aren't magically better, if that's what you're hoping for. It's not that simple. - RANDAL K. MILHOLLAND (1975– ) INTERNET COMIC AUTHOR
Once you've written a first draft, it's time to begin the all-important process of evaluation and revision. It is essential at this point to understand exactly what is meant by revision. The word revision most often refers to the process of reworking, or even completely rewriting, major portions of your work. This may mean rewriting a paragraph, adding new examples, strengthening your argument, or even modifying your conclusion. (The process of improving individual words or sentences is usually referred to as editing.) This lesson focuses on and provides advice on evaluating your thesis statement. Subsequent chapters will discuss the evaluation and revision of the other parts of your essay.
This lesson explores the second important stage in the writing process: the evaluation and revision of your work. (The first and most important stage is the planning and outlining of your work.) While every writer wishes a first draft could magically be transformed into a final draft, that's an impossible dream. It never happens. The most skilled of writers revise, again and again. Some writers tell stories of having written five or six drafts of even a short essay before they feel satisfied that the work is done and ready to be read by others.
You may not need six drafts, but you certainly should assume that, at the very least, anything you write will require a minimum of two drafts, and that those two drafts will be followed by a last polish; at that point, you will have created, at last, a final draft. That means three drafts at a minimum. Remember, by its very definition, to draft means to create a preliminary version of your work. Successive versions will be smoother and more polished, but your first drafts will always be rough. And that's as it should be.
To help you understand what you should be doing in all those drafts, we'll look first at two common drafting techniques. Depending on the requirements of your writing project, you may find that different kinds of drafts are appropriate. For example, if you are writing a research paper, you'll need to have done all (or most) of your research before you can begin to put any words down on paper. If you're writing a short story, you may feel ready to dive right in. Think about which of these drafts you're most likely to use.
Two Types of Drafts
1. A First Rough Draft
A first rough draft is a document that approximates the assigned length you are working toward; it includes, more or less fully, all the major points you intend to make. If you have prepared adequately, by writing either a rough informal outline or a more formal outline, you'll write a first rough draft from your prepared outline. Most professional writers work from this kind of standard rough draft.
This type of draft reflects all the work you've done in advance of writing it. Before you begin writing your rough draft, you'll have already decided on and written a fine-tuned thesis statement; you'll have in mind several supporting paragraphs you plan to write to illustrate your thesis statement; and you'll have sketched out, however briefly, the conclusion you plan to draw. Your rough draft will utilize all your preplanning, and it will include all the required essay parts: a thesis, a body, and a conclusion. If writing were magic, you'd be almost finished, or at least you'd be hoping so. In fact, once you've gotten this much written, the work of evaluating the first rough draft can begin.
2. The Discover-as-You-Go Draft
Some professional writers insist they cannot stand to write outlines, and they can't wait to get started, so they plunge right in. Most often, these writers are actually practicing a lengthened version of the prewriting technique that you learned about in Lesson 10. These writers can't wait to write an outline first; instead, they write as quickly as they can, discovering, even as they write, the thesis and the supporting details of the argument that they will eventually rework and revise.
This type of drafting can be rather chaotic, and usually results in extended rewrites and extensive editing in subsequent drafts. Another disadvantage to this plunge-right-in approach is that it frequently leads the writer down deadend alleys far away from the original destination. Writer Anne Lamott calls this kind of draft a down draft, the draft in which you just get it down. She names the next draft the up draft, the draft in which you fix it up.
You will make your writing work much easier if you use the first drafting technique. Don't be tempted to start right in on good writing. It requires advance planning. If you spend the effort and take the time to do this advance planning, your actual writing time will be shorter and less filled with frustration and false starts.
Beginning The Evaluation Process
Before you apply yourself to the evaluation of your draft, you may want to subject it to a peer review. That's a fancy way of saying that you consult with a trusted friend to get an objective opinion about your work. This is not an obligatory step, but it's a very popular one that you may want to try.
There's hardly a professional writer alive who doesn't have a back-up team of other writers who read early drafts and provide feedback, no matter how rough the drafts are. In many cities, writers rent office space together where they can sit side by side and easily compare early drafts. Next time you go past a coffee shop, take a look around; you're likely to spot writers hunched over a small table together comparing rough drafts.
How To Conduct A Peer Review
If you choose to have a peer review, select your reviewer carefully. You're asking a big favor: a serious reading of your work that results in thoughtful input. You need a friend you can trust to take on this assignment seriously. Give your friend a deadline (the next day is usually good) and set a time when the two of you can sit together quietly and go over the essay draft together. The job of the reviewer is not to correct your grammar and spelling. The reviewer's assignment is to get an overview of your essay, its thesis and conclusion, its strengths and its weaknesses, and in so doing help you figure out how to start improving it.
Write out for your reviewer a short list of questions about your essay draft to help guide the review process:
- What is your overall impression of the essay? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
- Did it interest you or bore you? (Be honest.)
- Were there places in which you wished for more explanation?
- Did you get confused anywhere?
- Were you convinced by my thesis and conclusion?
During the peer review session with your friend, take careful notes on the feedback you get. (And remember to say thank you.)
Becoming Your Own Best Critic
Every writer knows, deep down inside, that it is essential to learn how to be a demanding self-critic. In the end, it's you alone with the page that needs revision, and it's your job to make that page better. After taking a break from your essay (preferably overnight) to give your mind time to clear, you must begin the process of evaluating your own work.
Ask yourself the set of questions offered above for use in the peer review. Be strict. Here are some additional questions to ask yourself:
- When I look back at the original assignment, can I honestly say that I have met its requirements?
- Is my thesis statement clearly stated? When I read that thesis statement aloud, does it make sense and does it make a valid argument?
- Have I provided sufficient support in the way of details, examples, anecdotes, and so on?
If you answered no to any of these three questions, you need to begin major revisions.
Common Revisions Needed In First Drafts
In most cases, the initial evaluation of a rough draft discovers one of three common weaknesses:
- The thesis statement isn't clearly supported by your draft. It's common for writers to establish a thesis, write the essay, and, in the writing, stray away from the original thesis and provide supporting detail and examples that don't quite fit. The most common revision needed is to tighten or narrow the thesis statement.
- Your rough draft includes more than one idea. A fairly common failure of rough drafts is that the essay includes more than one main idea. Often writers get warmed up, and take on more topics than they originally planned. Usually this problem can be solved by narrowing the focus of the thesis statement or by deleting the irrelevant ideas you've included that don't really match up with the thesis statement.
- Your essay completely lacks a thesis. If you've planned and outlined carefully, the least likely and most serious problem that writers encounter at this stage is that they have failed to include a thesis at all. Be demanding in your critique of this draft. If it doesn't seem to make one clear point, or if there is no argument being proved by the essay as a whole, then you will need to do extensive revisions.
If you decide you've failed to fulfill the assignment, you probably don't need to rewrite the whole essay. It's more likely that you can fix the problem by some minor revisions to your thesis statement.
The necessity of evaluating your thesis statement cannot be overemphasized. The thesis statement is the linchpin of your entire essay, and therefore deserves the most thorough examination. In the next lesson, we will explore the evaluation of other parts of the rough draft.
Practice: Evaluating Thesis Statements
Examine the following thesis statements and evaluate them on a scale of 1 to 5 for their strength and clarity (5 is a very strong thesis; 1 is either very weak or not a real thesis at all). Write a brief explanation of the score you have assigned to each.
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