Developing Your Thesis Statement
What is a thesis statement?
Composition classes stress the role of the thesis statement because it is the backbone of collegiate composition. The thesis statement gives the reader insight into the topic, letting him/her know what the essay is about. Without a thesis statement, the essay may lack an argument, focus, clarity, and continuity.
1. There are two major types of thesis statements: explanatory and argumentative. The explanatory thesis announces the subject to the reader; it never declares a stance which needs an argument to defend. These explanatory theses are evident in expository essays and research essays. In an argumentative essay, the thesis statement should be a claim, not a factual statement or a personal response to a topic. It should be an idea that provokes opposition, a claim that readers might choose to refute.
2. The thesis statement is usually found at the end of an introductory paragraph. It's planted early in the essay because it informs the reader of the main important idea that encompasses the entire essay.
3. A thesis statement is not always one sentence; the length of the thesis depends on the depth of the essay. Some essays may require more than a single sentence. However, the statement should be as clear and concise as possible in the final draft of the essay. The shorter and more direct a thesis statement is the more confident and assertive the writer sounds. Being assertive and confident is crucial, especially in argumentative essays.
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Creating a thesis statement:
As a writer, keep your thesis statement in mind. Each proposed or considered topic within the essay should have some relevance to your thesis statement. It is the argument or focus of the essay, as well as a great structuring tool.
Because of the pivotal role a thesis statement plays in a piece of composition, many novice writers put too much emphasis on the thesis statement during the production of an essay. It is important to keep the thesis in mind, but it is also important to avoid hindering the writing process by restricting your writing to a thesis statement. This is where a working thesis comes into play.
A working thesis is exactly what it means: a thesis statement that is "in progress" during the writing process. Normally, a thesis statement will not be fully constructed until the entire essay is written. A working thesis allows for a writer to approach the topic with a thesis in mind, even though that thesis can be revised (and it will be numerous times) during the writing prcess.
Constructing a working thesis should come after brainstorming or deriving a topic. It should be a thesis that can help guide you as a writer through the composition of the essay. A simple way to begin the construction of a working thesis is to write "I believe that ... " and follow it up with a simple claim that includes the key topics to be discussed in the essay. An example would be:
"I believe that America's cultural identity can be defined by art, literature, and film."
The working thesis stated above now gives the writer a structure for the paper. Three main ideas should be discussed in their relation to cultural identity: art, literature, and film.
The best aspect of a working thesis is that it can be revised at any time to meet the needs of the essay or the writer. For instance, when using a working thesis, the writer knows that the thesis can be changed to fit in an extra topic if the essay needs it:
"I believe that America's cultural identity can be defined by art, literature, music, and film."
The role of the working thesis is to lessen the stress of writing a collegiate essay and to incorporate some flexibility into the writing process. Knowing that a working thesis will be subjected to numerous revisions allows the writer more freedom when writing the essay.
Now let's revise our working thesis into a stronger claim.
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Revising the thesis statement
The first step in changing the working thesis into a strong, independent claim is to cut "I believe that" from the beginning of the sentence. Let us use the original working thesis from the previous section as an example:
"I believe that America's cultural identity can be defined by art, literature, and film."
As it stands now, this thesis is a bit weak because the writer is asserting that it is their opinion or what they think. To make it into an argument or claim, the writer must be taken out of the sentence.
"America's cultural identity can be defined by art, literature, and film."
Hmm….Still sounds a little weak. Although the writer is now void from the statement, there is still doubt in this claim. This is where diction becomes important. The key is to use words that make the claim stronger and more assertive. Taking out the passive voice in the statement will add strength to the statement.
"Art, literature, and film define America's cultural identity."
Now an argument can be sparked.
Although this is not the best thesis statement, the aforementioned example is to show how to create and revise a thesis. If this thesis were to be used, it probably would be revised again to make it more specific; the types of art, literature, and film would need clarification.
Key points in revising a thesis statement:
Make sure that your paper reinforces your thesis statement at all times. One way to ensure this is by checking the use of the topic sentences throughout the essay:
- Do they have any relevance to the thesis statement?
- Do they pertain to the topic or argument?
If not, don't change your paper right away; see if you can revise the thesis statement to meet the needs of your essay. If you can't change the thesis, then change the essay.
Using diction in a thesis statement is important. Make sure the words comprising the statement are used correctly and help reinforce the claim.
Be direct, clear and concise. Do not use large, vague words unless they are necessary. Do not fluff the thesis statement. The goal of the thesis statement is to make sure the reader understands the topic on hand. Don't confuse him/her with a big, flowery sentence.
If the essay is argumentative, be assertive!!
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A Check List:
Here is a list of questions to help determine the strength of your thesis statement. After revising the working thesis into a more effective statement, ask yourself the following:
- Does my thesis statement introduce readers to the argument or claim headlining the essay?
- Will this thesis evoke discussions or arguments? Can it be opposed? Or is it merely a factual statement?
- Is my thesis obscure? Is it too general? Would making it more specific be helpful for readers?
- Does my thesis guide the essay? Is it the foundation for the topics discussed in the essay?
- Is it clear that the progression of the essay pertains to the thesis statement?
- Are my word choices in the thesis statement correct? Are all the words used in the right context? Could I make the sentence stronger by cutting unnecessary words?
- If I am writing a research paper, does my thesis place the essay and reader into a larger, contemporary scholastic discourse?
- Overall, do I feel comfortable with and confident about the final revision of the thesis statement? Do I feel that it would pique a reader's interest?
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- by Patrick Williams
A thesis can be found in many places—a debate speech, a lawyer’s closing argument, even an advertisement. But the most common place for a thesis statement (and probably why you’re reading this article) is in an essay.
Whether you’re writing an argumentative paper, an informative essay, or a compare/contrast statement, you need a thesis. Without a thesis, your argument falls flat and your information is unfocused. Since a thesis is so important, it’s probably a good idea to look at some tips on how to put together a strong one.
What is a “thesis statement” anyway?
You may have heard of something called a “thesis.” It’s what seniors commonly refer to as their final paper before graduation. That’s not what we’re talking about here. That type of thesis is a long, well-written paper that takes years to piece together.
Instead, we’re talking about a single sentence that ties together the main idea of any argument. In the context of student essays, it’s a statement that summarizes your topic and declares your position on it. This sentence can tell a reader whether your essay is something they want to read.
2 Categories of Thesis Statements: Informative and Persuasive
Just as there are different types of essays, there are different types of thesis statements. The thesis should match the essay.
For example, with an informative essay, you should compose an informative thesis (rather than argumentative). You want to declare your intentions in this essay and guide the reader to the conclusion that you reach.
To make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you must procure the ingredients, find a knife, and spread the condiments.
This thesis showed the reader the topic (a type of sandwich) and the direction the essay will take (describing how the sandwich is made).
Most other types of essays, whether compare/contrast, argumentative, or narrative, have thesis statements that take a position and argue it. In other words, unless your purpose is simply to inform, your thesis is considered persuasive. A persuasive thesis usually contains an opinion and the reason why your opinion is true.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are the best type of sandwich because they are versatile, easy to make, and taste good.
In this persuasive thesis statement, you see that I state my opinion (the best type of sandwich), which means I have chosen a stance. Next, I explain that my opinion is correct with several key reasons. This persuasive type of thesis can be used in any essay that contains the writer’s opinion, including, as I mentioned above, compare/contrast essays, narrative essays, and so on.
2 Styles of Thesis Statements
Just as there are two different types of thesis statements (informative and persuasive), there are two basic styles you can use.
The first style uses a list of two or more points. This style of thesis is perfect for a brief essay that contains only two or three body paragraphs. This basic five-paragraph essay is typical of middle and high school assignments.
C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series is one of the richest works of the 20th century because it offers an escape from reality, teaches readers to have faith even when they don’t understand, and contains a host of vibrant characters.
In the above persuasive thesis, you can see my opinion about Narnia followed by three clear reasons. This thesis is perfect for setting up a tidy five-paragraph essay.
In college, five paragraph essays become few and far between as essay length gets longer. Can you imagine having only five paragraphs in a six-page paper? For a longer essay, you need a thesis statement that is more versatile. Instead of listing two or three distinct points, a thesis can list one overarching point that all body paragraphs tie into.
Good vs. evil is the main theme of Lewis’s Narnia series, as is made clear through the struggles the main characters face in each book.
In this thesis, I have made a claim about the theme in Narnia followed by my reasoning. The broader scope of this thesis allows me to write about each of the series’ seven novels. I am no longer limited in how many body paragraphs I can logically use.
Formula for a Strong Argumentative Thesis
One thing I find that is helpful for students is having a clear template. While students rarely end up with a thesis that follows this exact wording, the following template creates a good starting point:
___________ is true because of ___________, ___________, and ___________.
Conversely, the formula for a thesis with only one point might follow this template:
___________________ is true because of _____________________.
Students usually end up using different terminology than simply “because,” but having a template is always helpful to get the creative juices flowing.
The Qualities of a Solid Thesis Statement
When composing a thesis, you must consider not only the format, but other qualities like length, position in the essay, and how strong the argument is.
Length: A thesis statement can be short or long, depending on how many points it mentions. Typically, however, it is only one concise sentence. It does contain at least two clauses, usually an independent clause (the opinion) and a dependent clause (the reasons). You probably should aim for a single sentence that is at least two lines, or about 30 to 40 words long.
Position: A thesis statement always belongs at the beginning of an essay. This is because it is a sentence that tells the reader what the writer is going to discuss. Teachers will have different preferences for the precise location of the thesis, but a good rule of thumb is in the introduction paragraph, within the last two or three sentences.
Strength: Finally, for a persuasive thesis to be strong, it needs to be arguable. This means that the statement is not obvious, and it is not something that everyone agrees is true.
Example of weak thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are easy to make because it just takes three ingredients.
Most people would agree that PB&J is one of the easiest sandwiches in the American lunch repertoire.
Example of a stronger thesis:
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are fun to eat because they always slide around.
This is more arguable because there are plenty of folks who might think a PB&J is messy or slimy rather than fun.
Composing a thesis statement does take a bit more thought than many other parts of an essay. However, because a thesis statement can contain an entire argument in just a few words, it is worth taking the extra time to compose this sentence. It can direct your research and your argument so that your essay is tight, focused, and makes readers think.
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