Narrowing your Pro/Con Topic to a Thesis (McMahon)

Answering the following questions will help you discover ideas about your topic. The questions are arranged within four general categories:

  • Definition (How is your topic defined?)
  • Comparison (What is it similar to or different from?)
  • Relationship (What causes your topic to occur?)
  • Circumstances (What circumstances make your topic possible?)

Begin by writing out your topic (X) and then answer as many of the following questions as possible.


  • How does the dictionary define X?
  • Did X mean something in the past that it does not mean now? If so, what?
  • What does this former meaning tell us about how the idea has changed?
  • What do I mean by X?
  • What other words mean approximately the same as X?
  • What are some concrete examples of X?
  • When is the meaning of X misunderstood?
  • Do I know any statistics about X? If so, what?
  • Have I talked with anyone about X?
  • Are there any laws concerning X?


  • What is X similar to? In what ways?
  • What is X different from? In what ways?
  • X is superior to what? In what ways?
  • X is inferior to what? In what ways?
  • X is most unlike what? (What is its opposite?)
  • X is most like what? In what ways?


  • What causes X?
  • What is the purpose of X?
  • Why does X happen?
  • What is the consequence of X?
  • What comes before X?
  • What comes after X?
  • Circumstance

  • Is X possible or impossible?

What qualities, conditions, or circumstances make X possible or impossible?

  • Supposing X is possible, is it also desirable? Why?
  • When did X happen previously?
  • Who has done or experienced X?
  • Who can do X?
  • If X starts, what makes it end?
  • What would it take for X to happen now?
  • What would prevent X from happening?