Once you have determined the detail or problem or element in a text that you want to draw your reader's attention to and argue about, your opposition will likely consist of those who would focus elsewhere because they don't grasp the importance of your focus, or who would draw different conclusions than you do from your own focus.
The thesis names your paper's task, its project, its object, its focus. As you write your papers, it is a very good idea to ask yourself these questions from time to time: Does this quotation, does this argument, does this paragraph directly support my thesis in some way? If it doesn't you should probably delete it, because this likely means you have gotten off track. If you are drawn repeatedly away from what you have chosen as your thesis, ask yourself whether or not this signals that you really want to argue for some different thesis.
THESIS WORKSHOP EXERCISE ONE:
A. Brainstorm. Take fifteen minutes or so and write down fifteen to twenty claims you can make about your chosen text. Don't worry about whether these claims are "deep" or whether they are "interesting," just write down claims that you think are true about the text and be as clear and specific as you can manage.
B. In small groups of two to three peers:
1. Once the time is up, take ten to fifteen minutes to share your claims with one another. Determine together which, if any, of your claims are not really about the text at all. For example, eliminate claims that say the text is "good," or "correct," or "effective" -- since these are really claims about the way you react to the text rather than claims about the text demanding argumentative support. Also eliminate claims that say the text is "wrong," or "incorrect," or "ineffective" since, again, these are really claims about you, or they are claims that will lead you to discuss some more general or tangential topic rather than remaining focused on the text itself. Might some of these statements be redirected or rephrased into claims about the text -- for example, might you focus on some characteristic feature or particular textual moment that is an especially strong occasion for your approval or disapproval and think about it in relation to your sense of the more general gist of the work you are reading or with another key moment of illustration or support for the work's project as you see it? How many claims are you left with?
2. Now, take twenty minutes or so to discuss the claims that remain. Do some of the claims seem conspicuously more interesting or more important than the others? Do some of the claims really say the same thing in different ways? Do these comparisons suggest ways to re-phrase claims to capture your intentions more forcefully? Do some of the claims make or rely on observations that might function well as support for other claims? Have other, more forceful, claims occurred to you as you have engaged in this process? Do some of the claims suggest lines of argument and support that seem more promising to you than others? This process of elimination, honing, ordering should leave each of you with three or so strong claims.
THESIS WORKSHOP EXERCISE TWO:
A. You should now each have two or three candidate claims for a thesis remaining (some of you may have similar claims by now). Now, for each of these possible thesis claims come up with the strongest or most obvious opposition to each thesis. For example, what would the opposite claim be to the one you are making? Or, might there be an element or detail in the text that initially seems to contradict the thrust of your claim? Devote fifteen minutes or so to this.
B. Read over these oppositions. Of course, you are likely to disagree with these claims since they are opposed to the ones you want to make yourself -- but can you imagine anyone actually making these oppositional claims about the text you have read? Be honest with each other about this, it is important. Take twenty minutes or so to make these determinations and discuss them.
If the opposition you have come up with seems vague or unintelligent or highly implausible this probably indicates that you need to sharpen up your own initial thesis. Is there a version of your thesis that is more focused and specific that retains the spirit of your claim but which provokes a more interesting opposition? What is it? What is its opposition?
If, on the contrary, the opposition you have written suddenly seems more compelling than the thesis itself this probably indicates that the stakes of your project, or possibly your whole take on the text itself, is different than you initially thought it was. Perhaps what you thought of as opposition to your thesis actually provides you with a stronger thesis and a new direction for your own paper. What is the strongest or most opposition to the new thesis you have adopted?
C. Now, quickly identify the best, strongest, most argumentatively promising thesis that results from this process for you personally, as well as what you take to be its most provocative opposition. Then in your groups, help one another identify two key details or elements in the text to which you could direct a reader's attention in an effort to support your individual theses, and also one detail or element you might use to circumvent its opposition (include page numbers). Take twenty minutes or so to do this.
These discussion provide you with a rudimentary first outline for your argumentative close reading.
(Introduction, contextualization, illustrative anecdote, sketch of initial stakes, culminating or at any rate containing a clear statement of your) Thesis:
1. textual support
2. textual support
3. circumvention of opposition/qualification of thesis in light of opposition
Depending on the length of your paper -- there may be more space for textual support, in a 4-5pp. probably there will not be.
[4... textual support]
Conclusion (Recapitulation of preceding case, and/or opening onto new questions.)