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Getting Inside an Idea

It isn't unusual to hear people say they can't write any more because they've run out of ideas, as though every sentence had to present a new thought. Most experienced writers understand, though, that a whole essay, a whole book, can be built from a single idea that is fully explored and developed.

The writer's job is not simply to list ideas, which could be seen as mere personal opinions, but to probe and test a single worthwhile thought, to take the reader inside that idea rather than pass quickly over its surface.

To begin doing this, look carefully at your thesis. Try asking:

Why do I believe this statement is true?

What have I seen or done or read or heard that caused me to make this statement?

At this point, look less for specific details than for "good reasons." Maybe you've heard the expression, "Give me three good reasons why I should believe you." If you can do that, give at least three good reasons why a reasonable person should believe your thesis, you're well on your way. For example, the thesis, "Drug education deserves a more prominent place in this university's Physical Education program," could be supported as follows:

... a whole essay, a whole book, can be built from a single idea that is fully explored and developed.

Original Subject: an important issue in my major field Focused Topic: drug education for college physical education majors

Thesis: Drug education deserves a more prominent place in this university's Physical Education program.

Reason 1: Athletes are especially likely to be victims of drug abuse.

Reason 2: The university presently offers very little instruction in this area.

Reason 3: As coaches and health education teachers our graduates will be in a good position to pass the knowl edge along to their team members and students.


6.6 For each thesis statement you wrote in Activity 7.3, list at least three good reasons you can offer in support. Be sure each reason is stated as a complete sentence. Next write out each Thesis/Support group in the format shown above and exchange with a partner. Discuss them. Which Thesis/Support groups are most promising? Which are least promising? Why?

6.7 Of the four groups of sentences (two for you and two for your partner) select one group to share and discuss with the whole class. This need not be your best group. It could be one that puzzles you, one you and your partner disagree about, or one you just can't get straightened out.

6.8 Study the following groups of sentences. Which ones offer promise for further development? Which don't? Pay special attention to the quality of the thesis sentence. Also note whether the supporting reasons really do support the main idea.

a. Thesis: Boa Constrictors can be very educational pets.

Reason one: They teach responsibility.

Reason two: They come from South America.

Reason three: Their owners will learn many facts about reptiles.

b. Thesis: Taco Pronto restaurants sacrifice individuality for efficiency.

Reason one: Different restaurants within the chain are almost identical in layout and design.

Reason two: Individuality is valued very highly by most Americans.

Reason three: Menus are planned with an eye toward standardization and uniformity.

c. Thesis: Elementary school is very important.

Reason one: Almost every neighborhood in the United States has an elementary school.

Reason two: Without an elementary school education you would have trouble in junior high.

Reason three: Elementary school teaches children many important social lessons.

d. Thesis: Spring is the greatest season of the year.

Reason one: Baseball season starts.

Reason two: Everything turns green.

Reason three: The whole world is in love.