Writing Thesis Statements
To be effective, all support in an essay must work together to convey a central point; otherwise, an essay can fall into the same trap of being out of order and confusing.
Just as a topic sentence focuses and unifies a single paragraph, the thesis statement focuses and unifies an entire essay. This statement is like a signpost that signals the essay's destination; it tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point.
Because writing is not a linear process, you may find that the best thesis statement develops near the end of your first draft; however, creating a draft or working thesis early in the writing project helps give the drafting process clear direction. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.
A thesis is not just a topic, but rather the writer's comment or interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic you select (for example, school uniforms, social networking), you must ask yourself, "What do I want to say about it?"
Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful and confident.
In the majority of essays, a thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of the introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea--points you are able to demonstrate in the body. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.
In sum, a good thesis statement will focus, forecast, and express: It will focus your content, forecast your approach, and express an idea.
Working Thesis Statements
A strong thesis statement must have the following qualities:
- It must be arguable: A thesis statement must state a point of view or judgment about a topic. An established fact is not considered arguable.
- It must be supportable: The thesis statement must contain a point of view that can be supported with evidence (reasons, facts, examples).
- It must be specific: A thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and remain focused on the topic.
Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements
- Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
- Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
- Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
- In today's crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.
- Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
- J. D. Salinger's character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet acts like a phony on many occasions.
- The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxon in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
Pitfalls to Avoid:
A thesis is weak when it is simply a declaration of your subject or a description of what you will discuss in your essay.
Weak Thesis Statement: My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.
A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable or outrageous claim or insults the opposing side.
Weak Thesis Statement: Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.
A thesis is weak when it contains an obvious fact or something that no one can disagree with or provides a dead end.
Weak Thesis Statement: Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.
A thesis is weak when the statement is too broad.
Weak Thesis Statement: The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.
Exercise: Thesis Statements, Weak or Strong?
Read the following thesis statements. On a separate piece of paper, identify each as weak or strong.
For those that are weak, list the reasons why.
- The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
- The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
- Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
- In this essay, I will give you lots of reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
- Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
- Because many children's toys have potential safety hazards that could lead to injury, it is clear that not all children's toys are safe.
- My experience with young children has taught me that I want to be a disciplinary parent because I believe that a child without discipline can be a parent's worst nightmare.
Thesis Statement Revision
Your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.
Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.
Ways to Revise Your Thesis
You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:
Pinpoint and replace all nonspecific words, such as "people," "everything," " society," or "life," with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.
Working Thesis: Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.
Revised Thesis: Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.
Explanation: The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like "people" and "work hard," the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing. The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard.
Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.
Working Thesis: The welfare system is a joke.
Revised Thesis: The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.
Explanation: A "joke" means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for "joke" and more accurately define his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.
Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb "to be," a verb that simply states that a situation exists.
Working Thesis: Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.
Revised Thesis: The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.
Explanation: The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are. Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, "Why are they not paid enough?" But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. Asking questions will help you replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:
- Who is not paying the teachers enough?
- What is considered "enough?"
- What is the problem?
- What are the results?
Omit any general claims that are hard to support.
Working Thesis: Today's teenage girls are too sexualized.
Revised Thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman's worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.
Explanation: It is true that some young women in today's society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:
- Which teenage girls?
- What constitutes "too" sexualized?
- Why are they behaving that way?
- Where does this behavior show up?
- What are the repercussions?
Exercise: Practice Thesis Statements
On a separate sheet of paper, write a thesis statement for each of the following topics. Remember to make each statement
- forceful, and
- Texting while driving
- The legal drinking age in the United States
- Legalizing Marijuana for recreational use
- Proper essays require a thesis statement to provide a specific focus and suggest how the essay will be organized.
- A thesis statement is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself.
- A strong thesis is specific, precise, forceful, confident, and is able to be demonstrated.
- A strong thesis challenges readers with a point of view that can be debated and can be supported with evidence.
- A weak thesis is simply a declaration of your topic or contains an obvious fact that cannot be argued.
- Depending on your topic, it may or may not be appropriate to use first person point of view.
- Revise your thesis by ensuring all words are specific, all ideas are exact, and all verbs express action.