Philip Nel > Courses > English 440: The Graphic Novel (Fall 2012) > Paper Assignments > Thesis vs. Topic

Thesis vs. Topic

As you begin to formulate a thesis for your essay, think about the following distinction between topic and thesis. A topic is a general area of inquiry; derived from the Greek topos (place), "topic" designates the general subject of your essay. For instance, "Osamu Tezuka's Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu plays with genres, panel shapes, and styles of representation" would be a weak thesis but a good a topic for an essay. From a topic, many specific theses can be extracted and developed. A thesis is more specific and delimited; it exists "within" your topic. In your essay, you need to use an argumentative thesis.

        In argumentative writing, the writer takes a stance and offers reasons in support of it. Crucial to any piece of argumentative writing is its thesis. The thesis arises from the topic, or subject, on which the writing focuses, and may be defined as follows:

A thesis is an idea, stated as an assertion, which represents a reasoned response to a question at issue and which will serve as the central idea of a unified composition.

        If we've selected as a topic the notion that these characters are on quests, we need to figure out why this play might be significant. What function does it serve? Take a look at some examples in the book. How do they work? Once we're able to answer these questions, we can probably answer just why this play seems so significant. One possible thesis is:

In Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu, Tezuka's form embodies its central idea: conveying the interconnectedness of all life, the book brings together a range of genres, panel shapes, and styles of representation.

        When you compose a thesis statement, think about how it satisfies the following tests:

1. Is it an idea? Does it state, in a complete sentence, an assertion?

2. Does it make a claim that is truly contestable and therefore engaging?

(Yes, because one could also argue that Tezuka's play with genre, panel shape, and styles of representation serve another purpose.)

3. Are the terms you are using precise and clear?

(Key terms here seem to be: "form," "central idea," and the range of "genres," "panel shapes," "styles of representation.")

4. Has the thesis developed out of a process of reasoning?

        Once these questions have been satisfactorily answered, use the resulting thesis to organize your evidence and begin the actual writing. As you do so, bear in mind the following questions:

1. What is my purpose in writing? What do I want to prove?

(Notice the explicit purpose in the thesis statement: it does not merely point out Tezuka's playfulness; instead, the thesis takes a position on this subject, and then answers the question "So what?")

2. What question(s) does my writing answer?

3. Why do I think this question is important? Will other people think it equally important?

4. What are my specific reasons, my pieces of evidence? Does each piece of evidence support the claim I make in my thesis?

5. Where does my reasoning weaken or even stop? Am I merely offering opinions without reasoned evidence?

6. How can I best persuade my reader?

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