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What to do When There’s No Thesis

  • Try to find sources or common threads in the paper and then get the student to talk about what’s contentious. Steer her towards those areas of contention or controversy: “Let’s take sides.” You can then develop a structure from that.
  • Be clear up front if there’s no thesis. You can ask, “Would anyone disagree with this?”
  • If a student seems confused about thesis, get him to write a brief outline, condensing each paragraph to a single sentence, for example, can help him figure out where things don’t sense. (For example, when you do this with a compare-and-contrast essay, it becomes possible for the student to almost see the problem.)
  • Draw pictures of the student’s ideas or logic. You can phrase it as though you’re doing it for yourself, to help you keep track. Use phrases and arrows to show connections as you go. (This also works with brainstorming exercises like making a conceptual web.)
    • Be sure to help her be selective, once the brainstorming is complete. Give her a list or something like that to help her focus her thinking.
  • But be sure that you are aware of how delicate the thesis is as a subject. The thesis is arguably the core of a piece of academic writing. Finding fault with the thesis of a student’s paper makes a fellow vulnerable to intimidating the student. This isn’t to say that a weak thesis should never be addressed, just that a fellow should be mindful of how crucial a part of the paper the thesis is.