(Don’t) Put a Ring On It: The Danger of Getting Married to Your Thesis

by Kristi R. Johnson


From The Simpsons episode S04E15: “I Love Lisa”

Thesis: A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.

No, the WNW, also known as Word Nerd Wednesdays, has not quite returned for the Spring 2017 semester. But I did feel the need to address the issue of students jumping head-long into a commitment with a thesis that is just not worthy of them.

And if I am now responsible for possibly getting a certain Beyoncé song stuck in your head, I apologize for nothing. It is a great song (and an even better music video) and there are certainly songs that are much more annoying, though just as catchy, that I could have referenced.

While in school, I often told myself that finding a topic to write about, along with knowing the general argument I wanted to make, was half the battle of writing a paper. And for me, that was true, but it is not true for everybody. For most people, the actual writing is at least 80% of the battle, if not more. Of course, the topic is always important, and a thesis can make or break a paper.

If you are fortunate, you are able to go to your college library, or search the myriad of article databases out there, and come away with a sufficient amount of articles that will support your thesis. But the chances of the thesis you originally came up with being the exact one to make it into the final paper are small, for most people.

So what do you do when it isn’t working out with your thesis? Do you break up? Or do you try to make it work?

Hopefully you aren’t so far along in your paper that letting go of your thesis will require a lot of backtracking. And if it does require some backtracking, fingers crossed that you have allowed yourself enough time before the deadline to do so. If at most I had an outline, and maybe an introduction paragraph, but my research was leading me in a different direction, I was still in a position where I could go back and change things without feeling like I had wasted too much time.

But what if nine pages of a 15 page paper have been drafted, and the thesis gets weaker with every new word that is put down? Oh, and the assignment is due in the instructor’s inbox by noon tomorrow. This is when many people just try to make it work. Even if the deadline isn’t coming up within the next 24 hours, having already written a good chunk of the paper will make almost any student avoid considering a rewrite.

Or even worse, what if the paper is completed, and then you do something silly like go to the writing center at your school, and all of the feedback points to your thesis not holding up?

Full disclosure: I don’t have a real answer. I personally try not to marry my thesis in the first place. Only after I have done the research and made sure it is a point I can make in the required amount of pages do I start to become attached to it. And even then, things can still get altered slightly.

It happens all of the time that students realize, too late it seems, that it just isn’t working out with their thesis. And as a writing consultant, I am not sure if I could ever tell a student that an entire paper should be scrapped…not unless it was clear that they were missing the mark completely. However, instructors have asked that students do a complete rewrite, which is preferable to simply being given a poor grade.

Honestly, putting together a solid thesis that you can stick with can often come down to allowing yourself enough time to do the research, as well as outline the points you want to make before actually sitting down to write the paper. When I allowed myself time to plan ahead, there was a smaller chance that my thesis would end up being scrapped for a different one. When students rush and do not have enough time to edit and revise, the urge to stay married to a flimsy thesis is strong, if only because it feels like there is not enough time to find a new one, much less rework a paper for it.

But this is college. With four or more classes and at least three of them requiring various papers and essays and reports of different lengths, who has time to plan and outline? Even so, it may save you some heartache if you do.

In the meantime, don’t put a ring on it. Even if you like it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s