Criteria for a Good Hypothesis for a Proposal Argument
1. It is written as a statement--a grammatically complete sentence.
2. It is RESTRICTED: To be restricted, a thesis must limit the scope of an essay to what can be discussed in detail in the space available. A carefully worded thesis indicates the specific subject you are writing about, not merely your general subject. Avoid a thesis that could lead off in different directions and might result in no more than a list of miscellaneous deceptions.
3. It is UNIFIED: A good thesis expresses only one idea. The lack of unity is most likely to occur in a thesis that contains two or more coordinate parts, each of which could be developed separately. This possible fault can be avoided by embedding one part in the other.
4. It is PRECISE: Finally, a thesis should be precise. It should be so stated that it can have only one interpretation. Many words are vague and can carry a variety of meanings. The statement of thesis in the introduction does not help readers who have to read the entire paper to find out what the thesis meant. Moreover, a vague thesis does not help the writer control the direction and development of the paper.
Words such as interesting, colorful, exciting, inspiring, and unusual are too vague for a thesis. So are metaphors. The precise meaning of a thesis should be immediately clear. Metaphors may be effective in the body of a paper, but they can be troublesome in a thesis.
5. It is in enthymemic form for a proposal argument: It takes the form of a "X should/should not do Y" followed by at least three "because" clauses, one category/principle, one consequence, one resemblance.
RESTRICTED: To be restricted, a claim must limit the scope of a paper to what can be discussed in detail in the space available.
A claim such as "The United States has serious pollution problems" might be suitable for a long article or book, but you could not treat it in adequate detail in a ten‑page paper. You would be forced to make statements so broad that they would seem hackneyed to your readers, a mere summary of what everyone already knows.
A better claim about pollution might be phrased in one of the following ways:
The government has not been sufficiently aggressive in enforcing the regulations that control chemical waste disposal.
In many American cities, industrial expansion has resulted in severe damage to air and water purity.
Widespread use of pesticides in agriculture is threatening the survival of certain species of wildlife.
A carefully worded claim indicates the specific subject you are writing about, not merely your general subject. Neither writer nor reader acts a clear focus from the claim
"Manufacturers often deceive their customers."
That claim could lead off in all sorts of directions and might result in no more than a list of miscellaneous deceptions. This revision is a more restricted claim:
"Some automobile manufacturers and dealers have withheld information about structural defects that a customer has a right to know"
The revision makes the real subject of the essay much clearer.
UNIFIED: A good claim expresses only one idea.
The following claim contains not one idea but three:
"The use of drugs has increased significantly in the last fifteen years. Hard drugs are admittedly dangerous, but there is considerable disagreement about marijuana."
This claim commits a writer to deal with three topics:
(1) the increase in the use of drugs,
(2) the dangerous effects of hard drugs, and
(3) the disagreement about marijuana.
Each of these topics could easily be made the claim of a separate paper. To try to deal with all three in a short paper would invite the kind of superficial treatment that is common with unrestricted theses and would almost surely result in an essay consisting of three unrelated parts and lacking focus.
"Compared with other languages, English has a relatively simple grammar, but its spelling is confusing"
Even such a claim as this could lead to separate treatments of grammar and spelling. If these two topics are to be related in some way, that relationship has to be implied in the thesis, perhaps by such a statement as
"In learning English, foreigners usually have less trouble with grammar than with spelling."
In this form the thesis commits you to contrasting the case of learning grammar with the difficulty of learning, spelling and thus tends to prevent separate development of the two topics. If your chief interest is spelling. it would be still safer to ignore grammar and confine the claim to spelling:
"Foreigners have a hard time with English spelling."
As the previous examples show, lack of unity is most likely to occur in a thesis that contains two or more coordinate parts, each of which could be developed separately. For example, the claim
"The amateur ideal of the Olympic Games is being threatened; professionalism is on the increase"
might trap you into treating each part separately and producing a paper that develops two ideas, not one. This possible fault can be avoided by embedding one part in the other:
"Increasing professionalism is creating a serious threat to the amateur ideal of the Olympic Games."
In the following contrasted claim the possible lack of unity at the left is minimized by the rewording at the right:
Many of the silent letters in English were once pronounced. The pronunciation changed, but the old spelling was standardized.
Many of the silent letters in English words are a result of standardizing the spelling while the pronunciation was still changing.
The nuclear bomb has immense destructive power, and no country has an adequate defense against it.
No country has an adequate defense against the immense destructive power of the nuclear bomb.
Baseball players have achieved a new independence, and the owners can do nothing about the situation.
The owners can do nothing about the new independence of baseball players.
PRECISE: Finally, a claim should be so stated that it can have only one interpretation.
"My home town is one of the most interesting in the state."
This claim does not indicate the content of your paper, because interesting is vague and can mean many things. Readers will want to know in what way the town is interesting. If they have to read the whole essay to find out, the claim does not help them. Moreover, because of its vagueness, it does not help you see what you need to do to develop your essay.
Words such as interesting, colorful, exciting, inspiring, and unusual are too vague for a claim. So are worn metaphoric phrases. The cliche
"Where instructors are concerned, all that glitters is not gold"
may seem clever, but what does it mean? That the best scholars are not always the best teachers? That instructors who put on a good show in the classroom do not always help students to master the subject? Or something else? The precise meaning of a claim should be immediately clear. Fresh metaphors may be effective in the text of an essay, but they can be troublesome in a claim.