Yea or naysayer

by Laura Tibbetts

I used to think that the process of writing a research paper was essentially the following:

  1. Gather information.
  2. Come up with a thesis.
  3. Write about the information in order to prove the thesis.

However, a couple years ago, I read a book by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein called They Say / I Say, which changed my perspective a bit.

One of the topics of the book is the importance of including a “naysayer” in thesis papers. The term “naysayer” refers to someone who disagrees with a point that you are trying to prove. It may seem counterintuitive to include contradictory ideas in your paper, but when used correctly, the contradictory ideas can make your thesis even stronger.


Because they provide an opportunity to respectfully explain that while the naysayer’s opinions are valuable, your thesis should be considered correct for whatever reasons you present in your paper.

This allows you to show that you are aware of the different perspectives on your topic and that you have thought through them and chosen your thesis for a reason.

The point of the naysayer is to create a conversation that allows you to prove your thesis, or argument. Without a naysayer, your thesis paper would be purposeless, because you would basically be trying to prove a point that no one was even questioning in the first place.

The naysayer does not necessarily have to be a specific scholar; it could be the opinion of a group of people, or it could simply be a common perception about your topic that you would like to debate (e.g. “It may seem that…” or “It is generally believed that…”).

Whatever form it takes, a naysayer is a valuable tool for making research papers more meaningful, interesting, and convincing.

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

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