Problematization Essay Outline

 

You need a good thesis statement for your essay but are having trouble getting started. You may have heard that your thesis needs to be specific and arguable, but still wonder what this really means.

Let’s look at some examples. Imagine you’re writing about John Hughes’s film Sixteen Candles (1984).

You take a first pass at writing a thesis:

Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy about high school cliques.

Is this a strong thesis statement? Not yet, but it’s a good start. You’ve focused on a topic--high school cliques--which is a smart move because you’ve settled on one of many possible angles. But the claim is weak because it’s not yet arguable. Intelligent people would generally agree with this statement—so there’s no real “news” for your reader.  You want your thesis to say something surprising and debatable.   If your thesis doesn’t go beyond summarizing your source, it’s not arguable.

The key words in the thesis statement are “romantic comedy” and “high school cliques.” One way to sharpen the claim is to start asking questions.

For example, how does the film represent high school cliques in a surprising or complex way?  How does the film reinforce stereotypes about high school groups and how does it undermine them? Or why does the film challenge our expectations about romantic comedies by focusing on high school cliques? If you can answer one of those questions (or others of your own), you’ll have a strong thesis.

 

Tip : Asking “how” or “why” questions will help you refine your thesis, making it more arguable and interesting to your readers.

 

 

Take 2. You revise the thesis. Is it strong now?

Sixteen Candles is a romantic comedy criticizing the divisiveness created by high school cliques.

You’re getting closer. You’re starting to take a stance by arguing that the film identifies “divisiveness” as a problem and criticizes it, but your readers will want to know how this plays out and why it’s important. Right now, the thesis still sounds bland – not risky enough to be genuinely contentious.

 

Tip: Keep raising questions that test your ideas. And ask yourself the “so what” question. Why is your thesis interesting or important?

 

Take 3. Let’s try again. How about this version?

Although the film Sixteen Candles appears to reinforce stereotypes about high school cliques, it undermines them in important ways, questioning its viewers’ assumptions about what’s normal.

Bingo! This thesis statement is pretty strong. It challenges an obvious interpretation of the movie (that it just reinforces stereotypes), offering a new and more complex reading in its place. We also have a sense of why this argument is important. The film’s larger goal, we learn, is to question what we think we understand about normalcy.

 

What’s a Strong Thesis?

As we’ve just seen, a strong thesis statement crystallizes your paper's argument and, most importantly, argues a debatable point.

This means two things. It goes beyond merely summarizing or describing to stake out an interpretation or position that’s not obvious, and others could challenge for good reasons. It’s also arguable in the literal sense that it can be argued, or supported through a thoughtful analysis of your sources. If your argument lacks evidence, readers will think your thesis statement is an opinion or belief as opposed to an argument.

Exercises for Drafting an Arguable Thesis

A good thesis will be focused

                                                       

                                                                              Printable version

What is an argument?

An argument states a clear position and presents evidence to support this position.

Your thesis statement or claim is a clear statement of position . It should be clear and focused enough for you to prove your position in your essay. The rest of the essay should be devoted to proving your position. Logical cohesion in your essay is very important because you should start from one premise, prove it, move from one argument to the next. All your arguments should serve to prove your main point. Moving away from the main point is not allowed, and if an idea does not support your main idea it should not be included in your essay.

Let's proceed step by step in writing an argumentative essay. Imagine you are given this task by your instructor:

"We should open a university in every town. Discuss."

1. Analyze the task

  • What are the two sides of the issue? Is it debatable?

        Yes, it is debatable. Some may argue for it and some may argue against the idea.

        Do I agree?

        Do I disagree?

2. Develop your arguments

  • Why am I for/against it?
  • What is the context of the issue?
  • So what?
  • Who cares?
  • Why should/shouldn't we open a university in every town?

Let's try to answer some of these questions because they will help us formulate our arguments as well as provide our introduction to the issue by setting up the context.

Who cares?

  • government
  • parents
  • students
  • local businesses
  • local organizations
  • other universities
  • faculty / academicians

What is the context?

  • government wishes to open universities
  • local people pressure legislators and politicians
  • universities are against the proposal
  • students/parents' reaction?

Two sides of the issue: Why do people want it?

  • practical /convenient
  • sociocultural development of host town
  • economic development of  host town

Why am I against it?

The quality of education in those universities will be substandard.

Why will the quality of education be below the desirable standards?

  • staffing problems
  • financial problems
  • sociocultural development of the students

Now you fill in the boxes as you develop an argument against  the government plan to open a university in every town.

Argument: We should open a university in every town.

FOR

AGAINST

  •  practical/convenient

   support 1:

   support 2:

   support 1:

   support 2:

  •  economic development of the host town

   support 1:

   support 2:

   support 1:

   support 2:

  •  sociocultural development of the host town

   support 1:

   support 2:

  • sociocultural development of the students

   support 1:

   support 2:

See answers

3. Writing an outline

Now we  have decided on our position, we have developed our arguments, and we have shown an awareness of both sides of the issue. We are ready to start writing our essay. Our outline looks like this:

Thesis: It is not a good idea to open a university in every town.

Argument 1: staffing problems

            support 1: not enough qualified teachers

            support 2: not willing to go

Argument 2: financial difficulties

            support 1: building facilities

            support 2: providing services

Refutation:

Counter argument : a university will contribute to economic and sociocultural development of host town

Refutation of counter argument:  a university wrestling with its own economic  and sociocultural problems cannot contribute to development of  host town

4. Writing the introduction

The purpose of the argumentative essay is

  • to persuade your readers: you usually write for people who disagree with you. Therefore, your arguments should be strong enough to persuade them.

The purpose of the introduction is

  • to make your readers read on: in other words, your introduction should attract the readers' attention and want them to read your essay
  • to set the scene for the issue
  • to state your thesis clearly

How to develop an introduction:

Ask yourself the questions:

  1. What is the context?
  2. Who cares?
  3. So what?
  4. Why should people care about this topic?

Answer the questions:

1. What is the context?

  • government plans to open 15 new universities
  • local people pressure legislators and politicians
  • there are already 85 universities
  • already existing ones have problems
  • universities are against the proposal
  • students/parents' reaction?

2. So what?

  • old and new universities alike will suffer/ quality of education will deteriorate

3. Who cares?

  • everybody
  • I do
  • parents/students
  • academicians
  • other universities
  • government
  • local businesses
  • local organizations
  • nongovernmental organizations?

4. Why should people care about this issue?

  • it will influence the quality of education/therefore people's lives will be affected

5. Writing the essay: further developing your arguments

While writing your essay, make sure that your arguments are developed sufficiently.

Let's go back to the outline and provide adequate formal reasoning and proof for our arguments..

Argument 1:staffing problems

            support 1: not enough qualified teachers

     why? rate of education low in our country/not enough university              

     graduates/not enough people with master's and PhD degrees

            support 2: not willing to go

            why? living conditions not good/academic conditions not good

            so what? low quality teaching staff==>low quality education

Argument 2: financial difficulties

            support 1: building facilities

            what kind? labs, libraries, dorms, sports and social facilities, cafeterias needed

            support 2: providing services academic and non-academic

services==>food, transportation, accommodation, how water, computers, lab equipment, bookstore, library services

so what ? quality of education will deteriorate

Refutation:In your refutation you want to show

  • why the opposition is wrong
  • your opinion/position is better
  • where the opposition's argument falls short

Summarize the opposite opinion in a sentence or two and provide the context. Then,

1. problematize the opposing arguments

2. shift from opposing arguments to supporting arguments

1. Problematizing the opposing arguments:It is important that the reader knows that when you write opposing arguments you do not agree with them. You have to make it clear that you are presenting these arguments only to show that you understand the issue from both sides, that you have anticipated the opposing arguments and wish to criticize them. In order to signal this you have to use special phrases. To problematize something means you make it seem like a problem, to make it seem untrue.

However, you should avoid an aggressive approach when you are problematizing your opponent's arguments. For example, do not use expressions like, "This is silly/foolish/rubbish" or "It/This is not true."

Example:

Counter argument: "The establishment of a university in a small or developing town will contribute to the development of local culture, community and economy."

Problematized argument: "It is argued that the establishment of a university in a small  or developing town will contribute to the development of  local culture, community and economy."

See the language summary for Problematizing Arguments

2. Shifting  from opposing arguments to supporting arguments:You should clearly mark the point  where you shift from opposing arguments to supporting arguments. The most common of the contrast markers is "However".

Example:
It is argued that the establishment of a university in a small  or developing town will contribute to the development of  local culture, community and economy. However, if a university is wrestling with staff recruitment problems and cannot solve its financial funding problems,  it cannot be of any help to the local community or the economy.

6. Writing the conclusion

You can try one or several of the strategies below:

  • summarize the key points you have discussed
  • reflect back to your introduction: especially if you asked questions in the introduction it is a good idea to conclude by providing answers
  • provide a solution if you have started out to find a solution
  • call for action: suggest what action should be taken

See the sample argumentative essay written using the arguments and strategies we have discussed in this handout.


Copyright @ 2006 SFL, Bogazici University

 

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