5.2: How to Write a Thesis Statement
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Whether you are writing a short essay or a doctoral dissertation, your thesis statement will arguably be the most difficult sentence to formulate. An effective thesis statement states the purpose of the paper and, therefore, functions to control, assert and structure your entire argument. Without a sound thesis, your argument may sound weak, lacking in direction, and uninteresting to the reader.
Start with a question — then make the answer your thesis
Regardless of how complicated the subject is, almost any thesis can be constructed by answering a question.
- Question: “What are the benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade classroom?”
- Thesis: “Computers allow fourth graders an early advantage in technological and scientific education.”
- Question: “Why is the Mississippi River so important in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn?”
- Thesis: “The river comes to symbolize both division and progress, as it separates our characters and country while still providing the best chance for Huck and Jim to get to know one another.”
- Question: “Why do people seem to get angry at vegans, feminists, and other ‘morally righteous’ subgroups?”
- Thesis: “Through careful sociological study, we’ve found that people naturally assume that “morally righteous” people look down on them as “inferior,” causing anger and conflict where there generally is none.”
Tailor your thesis to the type of paper you’re writing
N ot all essays persuade, and not all essays teach. The goals of your paper will help you find the best thesis.
- Analytical: Breaks down something to better examine and understand it.
- Ex. “This dynamic between different generations sparks much of the play’s tension, as age becomes a motive for the violence and unrest that rocks King Lear.”
- Expository: Teaches or illuminates a point.
- Ex. “The explosion of 1800’s philosophies like Positivism, Marxism, and Darwinism undermined and refuted Christianity to instead focus on the real, tangible world.”
- Argumentative: Makes a claim, or backs up an opinion, to change other peoples’ minds.
- Ex. “Without the steady hand and specific decisions of Barack Obama, America would never have recovered from the hole it entered in the early 2000’s.”
Ensure your thesis is provable
Do not come up with your thesis and then look it up later. The thesis is the end point of your research, not the beginning. You need to use a thesis you can actually back up with evidence.
Good Theses Examples:
- “By owning up to the impossible contradictions, embracing them and questioning them, Blake forges his own faith, and is stronger for it. Ultimately, the only way for his poems to have faith is to temporarily lose it.”
- “According to its well-documented beliefs and philosophies, an existential society with no notion of either past or future cannot help but become stagnant.”
- “By reading “Ode to a Nightingale” through a modern deconstructionist lens, we can see how Keats viewed poetry as shifting and subjective, not some rigid form.”
Bad Theses Examples:
- “The wrong people won the American Revolution.” While striking and unique, who is “right” and who is “wrong” is exceptionally hard to prove, and very subjective.
- “The theory of genetic inheritance is the binding theory of every human interaction.” Too complicated and overzealous. The scope of “every human interaction” is just too big
- “Paul Harding’s novel Tinkers is ultimately a cry for help from a clearly depressed author.” Unless you interviewed Harding extensively, or had a lot of real-life sources, you have no way of proving what is fact and what is fiction.”
Get the sound right
You want your thesis statement to be identifiable as a thesis statement. You do this by taking a very particular tone and using specific kinds of phrasing and words. Use words like “because” and language which is firm and definitive.
Example thesis statements with good statement language include:
- “Because of William the Conqueror’s campaign into England, that nation developed the strength and culture it would need to eventually build the British Empire.”
- “Hemingway significantly changed literature by normalizing simplistic writing and frank tone.”
Know where to place a thesis statement
Because of the role thesis statements play, they appear at the beginning of the paper, usually at the end of the first paragraph or somewhere in the introduction. Although most people look for the thesis at the end of the first paragraph, its location can depend on a number of factors such as how lengthy of an introduction you need before you can introduce your thesis or the length of your paper.
Limit a thesis statement to one or two sentences in length
Thesis statements are clear and to the point, which helps the reader identify the topic and direction of the paper, as well as your position towards the subject.
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