Formulating #liespy

Note: This post is dedicated to addressing the final project for our #liespy course and, at times, is an amalgam of my previous posts from other classes (primarily my #VCUagora posts).

We are almost done with our summer session!? Time is a crazy thing.

In preparation for our final project, here are some elements to think about when polishing it up for submission:

1.) You should have a strong thesis (i.e. main claim) up front that appropriately responds to one of the prompts.  When thinking about the strength of a thesis, I invoke a list of criteria my friend and colleague Dr. Jason Coats uses: it should be debatable, supportable, precise, significant, and interesting.  This is what I mean by these:

  • Debatable: It needs to be something some will find false (i.e. someone will disagree with you).  If a thesis is not debatable, then you are not really doing any work–it’s already understood as true and/or trivial.  This is where ambition comes into play: the more ambitious a claim, the more you can (possibly) satisfy this criterion.
  • Supportable: You can’t just pull a thesis out of the air without evidence to justify why you think you are right, no matter how ambitious a claim may be.  Your thesis needs to be grounded in hard evidence you can point to and you can clearly explain to your audience how such evidence should be understood to help show why your thesis is true.
  • Precise: Theses should not be broad; an audience needs to clearly understand what you’re claiming and the parameters with which it exists.  It’s a common misconception with undergraduate argument formulation that the broader the claim, the easier it will be to support it.  What happens instead is the broader the claim, the less people will care (and the more work you would have to do to make it significant). You want to have your thesis be as concise and precise as possible to establish something that people will actually care about.
  • Significant: It needs to be clear why this thesis is significant to your audience.  What are the stakes here?  Why should others care about the relevant issue the way you see it?
  • Interesting: Your thesis should be something you care about and think is worthwhile of academic pursuit.  Also, it should be interesting to others who care about the same topic/field you are addressing.

In short, think about what you really wish to accomplish with your project and then check your thesis to see whether it encapsulates the same ambition.  A more ambitious thesis will require more legwork to support, though it will also amount to a more sophisticated and robust project.

2.) Make sure you clearly explain the issue at hand (i.e. what people typically think about your topic) and why you think this understanding is wrong. The idea here is that you’re developing an argument that is novel and interesting to others: something they perhaps haven’t thought about in the same way as you, but want to know more given what you are starting to establish.  Building the significance of your view–and why people need to embrace it–will go a long way with support.

3.) Lean on the sources from class you will use for support It’s often the case that sources aren’t being used enough for support.  The idea is to think of the sources you will use (2-3) going beyond direct examples of ideas to include moments where the author’s arguments can be applied for support.  The arguments we have discussed have limits, though you can stretch them and apply the arguments loosely to many other ideas and evidence for analysis. You need to demonstrate to your reader that you know what you’re talking about, and that you can utilize and explain the source material in a way that bolsters your own work. Your sources are your friends, and think of them that way.

4.) Check the suppressed points in your argument.  It’s often the case that we leave out full explanations of the principles we use to guide our reasoning: principles we don’t always share with others.  Look to see where these points may be unpronounced and explain them in enough detail so that someone who may not share your same values can fully understand your view.  (This is also how to consider moments of counterarguments to your on view, as we have done in mini projects past.  It’s always important to consider what others may say to you and rebut them accordingly, providing what others may say about your point(s) and responding to the alternative view you raise.)

5.) Give your conclusion some weight.  Don’t just think of the conclusion as the final ten or so seconds of your project.  Take some time to reiterate the significance of your thesis and explain what the audience needs to know when moving forward in life after your awesome argument.  There are various models for concluding, and I encourage you wholeheartedly to look to Dr. Coats’s post for his students on concluding essays. (Despite this not being a written project, these models are still useful.) Though no matter what, note that all conclusions should restate the purpose of the argument in unique language and drive home the stakes of what you have established.





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