Forming a Tentative Thesis - What are You Starting to Believe?
you have read widely on a topic, posed a research question, and
taken some notes on your research, you probably will begin to form
an opinion on the issue. Don't struggle to assert a perfect thesis
yet; instead just ask yourself: what am I starting to believe and
what opinion do I want to convince others to at least consider?
Remember your thesis later will serve as the guiding idea, the
persuasive point of your research paper. Your thesis develops
from a well-phrased research question, such as
To what degree are disadvantaged people of color, who
often live in urban areas, victims of environmental racism, and
if such discrimination exists, what should be done?
Your tentative thesis offers a specific answer to a debatable
question. For example, on the topic of environmental racism, you
may start to believe that there is an undeniable pattern environmentally
harmful buildings like trash incinerators being located near or
even within the neighborhoods of disadvantaged people of color
in many cities, including Hartford. To test your provisional belief,
you review your notes, and you become convinced that environmental
racism must be confronted and corrected. As you try to assert
your now more informed opinion, you might try to put this problem
in a historical context. For example, thinking about the overt
segregation until the 1960's, you might want to argue:
Although less obvious than the "Whites Only" signs
of Jim Crow segregation, environmental racism is creating two
zones in many U.S. cities so that disadvantaged people of color
are restricted to living in city neighborhoods that unfairly diminish
the health of the inhabitants, as shown by an excessive rate of
childhood asthma caused by nearby incinerators in Hartford, CT.
Asserting a tentative thesis makes it much easier to continue
your research; for example, you would want to learn more about
zoning laws and cleanup costs if you were researching environmental
Note that a thesis, even when it is still tentative, must be
debatable. Others must disagree on whether a problem exists, how
significant it is, and what solutions, if any, are most desirable.
There's no point is writing a lengthy research paper to prove
a point with which almost every reader agrees as soon as he or
she reads the first page. By considering the different views,
the multiple perspectives on your research question, you also
will be more able to identify the possible objections that many
professors will want you to address in the final draft. For example,
is it possible that what appears to be environmental racism is
caused not by the evil intentions of some businesspeople and politicians
but due to the plain fact that only economically limited people
must compromise and live near pre-existing industries that spew
pollution? Later, you may want to revise your thesis; remember
it's only tentative at this point!