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Classics Department

Classics Papers—Thesis

Research papers demand that the writer take a position, which is supported with documented evidence. You should therefore begin your paper by articulating your position, or thesis, in order to prepare the reader for discussion and the evidence to follow.

Arriving at the thesis of a research paper is perhaps the most critical and most difficult portion of the entire task. Sometimes your instructor might provide some direction for your thesis. At other times, however, you must construct the thesis enitrely on your own. Here are some guidelines for the latter case.

Purpose. Begin by asking yourself what the purpose of the paper is. The purpose is not to satisfy a requirement; rather, the purpose is to convey vital and valuable information to an audience whose attention you are trying to capture.

L'Arringatore, 1st c. BCE

Focus. What do you wish to convey? What issues are you asking your reader to focus upon? Assume that he or she knows very little about the subject, how it is defined, what its limits are, what its potential influence could be on broader issues, and why it is important to consider it in a broader context.

Context. Build context in your paper. Important developments do not emerge from nothing. There was a history that preceded the development and consideration of the issue you are addressing. What is that history? Who are the vital players in that history? Do these players exhibit capacities, interests, agendas that explain why they are engaged in the issues under consideration?

Clarity. Think of your reader as reasonably intelligent and eager to understand what you're writing about. Don't leave obvious holes in the narrative, omissions that leave the reader skeptical of the bases for your assertions.

Research. Read some articles in journals or book chapters from works in the library, from the Internet, or via interlibrary loan and explore the presentation and analyses you find there. Note how the writers inform you of events, provide context, and conduct in-depth analyses. Note how scholars do much more than just report the events; they explore the conditions that lead to events and the underlying factors that help the reader build a sense of cause and effect.

Time. There is no easy road to the perfect paper. Planning, study, assembly of information, and finally clear expression are all necessary. But the practice of this work builds skills, insight, and abilities that are of lifelong value.