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Forming a Tentative Thesis - What are You Starting to Believe?

After 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 racism.

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!