Friday, June 15, 2012

The Argumentative Edge: Sheridan Baker on Finding a Thesis

How does one arrive at an idea for a thesis? Let's follow a feline to find a fine one since there's nothing like a good catty catfight!

Suppose, suggests Mr. Sheridan Baker, you want to write about cats. Well, what about cats? That's the argumentative edge, or rather a gesture in its direction. Here's what Mr. Baker says about argumentation in The Complete Stylist and Handbook (New York: Harper and Row, 1980):
The about-ness put an argumentative edge on the subject. When you have something to say about cats, you have found your underlying idea. You have something to defend, something to fight about: not just "Cats," but "The cat is really a person's best friend." Now the hackles on all dog people are rising, and you have an argument on your hands. You have something to prove. You have a thesis. (Baker, Complete Stylist, 6-7)

There's more, as in an impudent challenge:
"What's the big idea, Mac?" Let the impudence in that time-honored demand remind you that the most dynamic thesis is a kind of affront to somebody. No one will be very much interested in listening to you deplete the thesis "The dog is a person's best friend." Everyone knows that already. Even the dog lovers will be uninterested, convinced they know better than you. But the cat . . . . (Baker, Complete Stylist, 7)

Why is this? Again, Baker explains:
So it is with any unpopular idea. The more unpopular the viewpoint and the stronger the push against convention, the stronger the thesis and the more energetic the essay. (Baker, Complete Stylist, 7)

How does this apply to academic writing? How? Why entirely. A decent academic paper argues against some other academic's strongly held opinion and tries to demonstrate the writer's own opinion as decidedly better.

It is an argument . . .

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