by Sarah Johnson
Imagine this: it’s 12:35 a.m. on a cool autumn night and you’ve got your windows open so wide in your room that you can sense every shift in the chilly breeze. All of the lights are off except for the glow bursting from your laptop screen. You just finished typing the last sentence of your midterm essay for a writing class, and if you have to stare at your word document any longer you think your eyes will suffer a chemical burn. Your thesis goes something like this: “Although recycling initiatives across college campuses along the East Coast are reducing the overall amount of waste in landfills, colleges in the Midwest who have attempted to introduce recycling initiatives into their policies have actually added to the amount of waste in landfills.”
Your thesis, as it stands, is decent. But here’s the thing: your argument doesn’t answer the question “so what?” Sure, you’ve crafted a claim that is interesting and fairly arguable, and most of your readers would be interested in how you would prove your argument. If Midwest colleges are actually adding to the landfill and East Coast colleges aren’t, though, then why does that matter? By telling your reader why your argument matters, you not only give your readers a reason to be invested in your paper but you also qualify your argument. Your “so what” answer might explain to your readers how this counterproductive recycling is happening and then use that adverb “actually” in your thesis to expand on the way in which the actions of colleges in the Midwest could affect colleges on the East Coast.
Although you will have to stare at your laptop screen a little longer, you’ll be glad you answered that “so what” question in your introduction. Even if you think your thesis’s relevance is crystal clear, remember that it usually isn’t to your reader. When in doubt, ask and answer “so what?”