I'm having major issues with this. I'm working on papers for some literature classes I'm taking at Uni, and my professors are...less than helpful (it has been a wild two years, I can't blame them. They all have way too many students this semester). The tutoring center is at limited capacity due to pandemic restrictions in my area, so I instead turn to you wonderful people.

While working on my papers, I find that I am very good at making observations about a text (for example, the characters of Raymond Carver's fiction often go out of their way to avoid any and all epiphany or positive insight that could help better their situation), but that only gets me halfway. My issue is answering the, in my professor's words, "so what" question. As in, Carver's characters go out of their way to avoid epiphany, so what?

When I try to answer that question, it just makes my observation larger, but it does not make it into an arguable thesis. For example: The lengths to which Carver's characters go to avoid epiphany and positive insight suggest that they've found comfort in the disarray of their own lives. Again, that is an observation; I have to again ask so what?

How do you turn an observation into a thesis? Are there any examples online of the process?

Let me be clear, I do not expect (or even want) anyone to hand me a thesis to use in my paper. The example above is just something I spitballed together to illustrate my problem. I simply want to see how this process works so I can adapt to it and actually write these dang papers.

Much thanks <3

2 Answers 2


The 'So What?' question is meant to get you thinking about why anyone, including yourself, would find the observation useful. For a silly example, I could walk down practically any street and 'observe' that there are lights hanging in the road that continuously cycle from green to yellow to red. That is (perhaps) an interesting observation, but as a naïve observer it is puzzling: Are they aesthetic devices? Some kind of coded messaging? Mosquito repellants? A diagnostic for some other (unseen) mechanism? What am I supposed to do with that observation?

So, you've observed some pattern in Carver's characterization; great. Now you have to focus in on the 'why' of it:

  • What it means: Does this observation imply something about Carver, or this particular type of character, or this particular genre of writing, or about writing characters in the abstract?
  • Who it's for: Are you trying to help writers write better, or to help readers get more out of reading, or to draw out a social critique, or to clarify a style for other academics?
  • Where it goes: What's the upshot? How does this apply to other works (Carver's or otherwise)? How will this change anything for anybody?

'Observing' is the easy part. Everybody observes things, all the time; social media is absolutely gorged with people making random, trivial, interesting observations. The hard part is making sense of observations and crafting understandings from it. But that's also the rewarding part.


Always aspiring writers believe that they can write something without being familiar with what it is that they want to write. This is especially true in academia. Students in the first semesters usually haven't read any or have read only a handful of papers in their field when they attempt to write their own first paper. And they come here (or to their professors) expecting to be given a simple formula that will turn them into scholars. That's not how writing works.

If you want to write anything, you must first read lots of examples for the kind of text you want to write. If you want to become a novelist, read lots of novels. If you want to write poetry, movie scripts, journalism, read lots of poems, move scripts, and newspapers. And if you want to write scholarly works on literature, begin by reading lots and lots of scholarly works on literature.

After reading a lot, you will intuitively understand how your genre works. Then, and only then, will the answers you get from us or your professor make sense.

  • 1
    Imitate other people who seem to know what they are doing and someday you will have gotten smart through osmosis is just bad advice and doesn't even attempt to answer the question.
    – wetcircuit
    Nov 1, 2021 at 12:04

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