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5.1: Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement

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    Have you ever known a person who was not very good at telling stories? You probably had trouble following his train of thought as he jumped around from point to point, either being too brief in places that needed further explanation or providing too many details on a meaningless element. Maybe he told the end of the story first, then moved to the beginning and later added details to the middle. His ideas were probably scattered, and the story did not flow very well. When the story was over, you probably had many questions.

    Just as a personal anecdote can be a disorganized mess, an essay can fall into the same trap of being out of order and confusing. That is why writers need a thesis statement to provide a specific focus for their essay and to organize what they are about to discuss in the body.

    Just like a topic sentence summarizes a single paragraph, the thesis statement summarizes an entire essay. It tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point. It is like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

    Elements of a Thesis Statement

    For every essay you write, you must focus on a central idea. This idea stems from a topic you have chosen or been assigned or from a question your teacher has asked. It is not enough merely to discuss a general topic or simply answer a question with a yes or no. You have to form a specific opinion, and then articulate that into a controlling idea—the main idea upon which you build your thesis.

    Remember that a thesis is not the topic itself, but rather your interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic your professor gives you, 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.

    A thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of your introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that are able to be demonstrated 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.

    A Strong Thesis Statement

    A strong thesis statement contains the following qualities.

    • Specificity. A thesis statement must concentrate on a specific area of a general topic. As you may recall, the creation of a thesis statement begins when you choose a broad subject and then narrow down its parts until you pinpoint a specific aspect of that topic. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a proper thesis statement would focus on a specific area of that topic, such as options for individuals without health care coverage.
    • Precision. A strong thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and to remain focused on the topic. If the specific topic is options for individuals without health care coverage, then your precise thesis statement must make an exact claim about it, such as that limited options exist for those who are uninsured by their employers. You must further pinpoint what you are going to discuss regarding these limited effects, such as whom they affect and what the cause is.
    • Ability to be argued. A thesis statement must present a relevant and specific argument. A factual statement often is not considered arguable. Be sure your thesis statement contains a point of view that can be supported with evidence.
    • Ability to be demonstrated. For any claim you make in your thesis, you must be able to provide reasons and examples for your opinion. You can rely on personal observations in order to do this, or you can consult outside sources to demonstrate that what you assert is valid. A worthy argument is backed by examples and details.
    • Forcefulness. A thesis statement that is forceful shows readers that you are, in fact, making an argument. The tone is assertive and takes a stance that others might oppose.
    • Confidence. In addition to using force in your thesis statement, you must also use confidence in your claim. Phrases such as I feel or I believe actually weaken the readers’ sense of your confidence because these phrases imply that you are the only person who feels the way you do. In other words, your stance has insufficient backing. Taking an authoritative stance on the matter persuades your readers to have faith in your argument and open their minds to what you have to say.

    Tip

    Even in a personal essay that allows the use of first person, your thesis should not contain phrases such as in my opinion or I believe. These statements reduce your credibility and weaken your argument. Your opinion is more convincing when you use a firm attitude.

    Exercise 1

    On a separate sheet of paper, write a thesis statement for each of the following topics. Remember to make each statement specific, precise, demonstrable, forceful and confident.

    Topics

    • Texting while driving
    • The legal drinking age in the United States
    • Steroid use among professional athletes
    • Abortion
    • Racism

    Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements

    Each of the following thesis statements meets several of the following requirements:

    • Specificity
    • Precision
    • Ability to be argued
    • Ability to be demonstrated
    • Forcefulness
    • Confidence
    1. 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.
    2. Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
    3. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
    4. J. D. Salinger’s character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet in an effort to protect himself, he acts like a phony on many occasions.
    5. 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.
    6. Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
    7. In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.

    Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis

    1. A thesis creates an argument that builds from one point to the next, giving the paper a direction that the audience can follow as the paper develops.

    This point often separates the best theses from the pack. A good thesis can prevent the two weakest ways of organizing a critical paper: the pile of information and the plot summary with comments. A paper that presents a pile of information will frequently introduce new paragraphs with transitions that simply indicate the addition of more stuff. (“Another character who exhibits these traits is X,” for instance.) Consider these examples:

    A: The Rules and Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey both tell women how to act.

    B: By looking at The Rules, a modern conduct book for women, we can see how Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is itself like a conduct book, questioning the rules for social success in her society and offering a new model.

    Example A would almost inevitably lead to a paper organized as a pile of information. A plot summary with comments follows the chronological development of a text while picking out the same element of every segment; a transition in such a paper might read, “In the next scene, the color blue also figures prominently.” Both of these approaches constitute too much of a good thing. Papers must compile evidence, of course, and following the chronology of a text can sometimes help a reader keep track of a paper’s argument.

    The best papers, however, will develop according to a more complex logic articulated in a strong thesis. Example B above would lead a paper to organize its evidence according to the paper’s own logic.

    2. A thesis fits comfortably into the Magic Thesis Sentence (MTS).

    The MTS: By looking at _____, we can see _____, which most readers don’t see; it is important to look at this aspect of the text because _____.

    Try it out with the examples from the first point:

    A: By telling the story of Wesley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.

    B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the narrator’s grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.

    Notice that the MTS adds a new dimension to point number one above. The first part of the MTS asks you to find something strange (“which most readers don’t see”), and the second part asks you to think about the importance of the strangeness. Thesis A would not work at all in the MTS; one could not reasonably state that “most readers [or viewers] don’t see” that film’s affirmation of true love, and the statement does not even attempt to explain the importance of its claim. Thesis B, on the other hand, gives us a way to complete the MTS, as in “By looking at the way fighting sticks link the plot and frame of The Princess Bride, we can see the way the narrator’s grandson is trained in true love, which most people don’t see; it is important to look at this aspect of the text because unlike the rest of the film, the fighting sticks suggest that love is not natural but socialized.” One does not need to write out the MTS in such a neat one-sentence form, of course, but thinking through the structure of the MTS can help refine thesis ideas.

    3. A thesis says something about the text(s) exclusively.

    If a thesis could describe many works equally well, it needs to be more specific. Let’s return to our examples from above:

    A: By telling the story of Wesley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.

    B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the narrator’s grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.

    Try substituting other works:

    A: By telling the story of Darcy and Elizabeth’s triumph over evil, Pride and Prejudice affirms the power of true love.

    Sure, that makes sense. Bad sign.

    B: Although the main plot of Pride and Prejudice rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the grandson is being trained in true love, that it is not natural but socialized.

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Um, nope. Even if you have never read Pride and Prejudice, you can probably guess that such a precise thesis could hardly apply to other works. Good sign. The point here is that the thesis needs to be specific enough that its meaning relates to the specific work(s) you are writing about -- be it fiction or nonfiction.

    4. A thesis makes a lot of information irrelevant.

    If the thesis is specific enough, it will make a point that focuses on only a small part of the text be analyzed or a particular aspect of a larger topic. A writer should ultimately apply that point to the work as a whole, but a thesis will call attention to specific parts of it. Let’s look at those examples again. (This is the last time, I promise.)

    A: By telling the story of Wesley and Buttercup’s triumph over evil, The Princess Bride affirms the power of true love.

    B: Although the main plot of The Princess Bride rests on the natural power of true love, an examination of the way that fighting sticks–baseball bats, tree branches, and swords–link the frame story to the romance plot suggests that the narrator’s grandson is being trained in true love, that love is not natural but socialized.

    One way of spotting the problem with Example A is to note that a simple plot summary would support its point. That is not of true example B, which tells the reader exactly what moments the paper will be discussed and why. The thesis is focused and concentrated.

    5. Remember to Address the Work as a Whole: The “So What?”

    As you complete your analysis, remember to think about what the effect this will have on the world of academia.

    • Does your thesis introduce your topic in a clear way?
    • Does the introduction mention what you will be addressing? Social constructs, gender issues, etc.

    Writing a Thesis Statement

    One legitimate question readers always ask about a piece of writing is “What is the big idea?” (You may even ask this question when you are the reader, critically reading an assignment or another document.) Every nonfiction writing task—from the short essay to the ten-page term paper to the lengthy senior thesis—needs a big idea, or a controlling idea, as the spine for the work. The controlling idea is the main idea that you want to present and develop.

    Tip

    For a longer piece of writing, the main idea should be broader than the main idea for a shorter piece of writing. Be sure to frame a main idea that is appropriate for the length of the assignment. Ask yourself, “How many pages will it take for me to explain and explore this main idea in detail?” Be reasonable with your estimate. Then expand or trim it to fit the required length.

    Developing Thesis Statements from Topics

    The big idea, or controlling idea, you want to present in an essay is expressed in a thesis statement. A thesis statement is often one sentence long, and it states your point of view. The thesis statement is not the topic of the piece of writing but rather what you have to say about that topic and what is important to tell readers.

    Table 5.1 “Topics and Thesis Statements” compares topics and thesis statements.

    Table 5.1 Topics and Thesis Statements

    Topic Thesis Statement
    Music piracy The recording industry fears that so-called music piracy will diminish profits and destroy markets, but it cannot be more wrong.
    The number of consumer choices available in media gear Everyone wants the newest and the best digital technology, but the choices are extensive, and the specifications are often confusing.
    E-books and online newspapers are increasing their share of the market. E-books and online newspapers will bring an end to print media as we know it.
    Online education and the new media Someday, students and teachers will send avatars to their online classrooms.

    The first thesis statement you write will be a preliminary thesis statement, or a working thesis statement. You will need it when you begin to outline your assignment as a way to organize it. As you continue to develop the arrangement, you can limit your working thesis statement if it is too broad or expand it if it proves too narrow for what you want to say.

    Exercise 2

    Using the topic you selected in Section 4.6 “Prewriting Strategies”, develop a working thesis statement that states your controlling idea for the piece of writing you are doing. On a sheet of paper, write your working thesis statement.

    Tip

    You will make several attempts before you devise a working thesis statement that you think is effective. Each draft of the thesis statement will bring you closer to the wording that expresses your meaning exactly. Sometimes, this refinement of the thesis statement happens after your write your first draft of the paper.

    Guidelines for Drafting a Thesis Statement

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    It helps to understand why readers value the arguable thesis. What larger purpose does it serve? Readers will bring a set of expectations to an essay. If writers can anticipate the expectations of their readers, the better they will be able to persuade the audience to find the arguments convincing, interesting, and relevant.

    Academic readers (and readers more generally) read to learn something new. They want to see the writer challenge commonplaces—either everyday assumptions about the object of study or truisms in the scholarly literature. In other words, academic readers want to be surprised so that their thinking shifts or at least becomes more complex by the time they finish reading an essay. Good essays problematize what we think we know and offer an alternative explanation in its place. They leave their reader with a fresh perspective on a problem.

    We all bring important past experiences and beliefs to our interpretations of texts, objects, and problems. Writers can harness these observational powers to engage critically with what they are studying. The key is to be alert to what strikes you as strange, problematic, paradoxical, or puzzling about your topic. If writers can articulate this and a claim in response, they are well on their way to formulating an arguable thesis in the introduction.

    How do I set up a “problem” and an arguable thesis in response?

    All good writing has a purpose or motive for existing. The thesis is the writer’s surprising response to this problem or motive. This is why it seldom makes sense to start a writing project by articulating the thesis. The first step is to articulate the question or problem your paper addresses.

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Here are some possible ways to introduce a conceptual problem in your paper’s introduction.

    1. Challenge a commonplace interpretation (or your own first impressions).

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    How are readers likely to interpret this source or issue? What might intelligent readers think at first glance? (Or, if you’ve been given secondary sources or have been asked to conduct research to locate secondary sources, what do other writers or scholars assume is true or important about your primary source or issue?)

    What does this commonplace interpretation leave out, overlook, or under-emphasize?

    2. Help the reader see the complexity of your topic.

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Identify and describe for the reader a paradox, puzzle, or contradiction in a primary source(s).

    What larger questions does this paradox or contradiction raise for readers?

    3. If research is part of the assignment, piggyback off another scholar’s research.

    Figure: Summarize another scholar’s argument about the topic, primary source, or case study and explain to the reader why this claim is interesting and explain how the claim will extend this scholar’s argument to explore an issue or case study that the scholar doesn’t address fully.

    4. If research is part of the assignment, identify a gap in another scholar’s or a group of scholars’ research.

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Summarize another scholar’s argument about your topic, primary source, or case study and explain to the reader why this claim is interesting. Or, summarize how scholars in the field tend to approach the topic.

    Next, explain what important aspect this scholarly representation misses or distorts. Introduce the particular approach to the topic and its value.

    5. If research is part of the assignment, bring in a new lens for investigating the case study or problem.

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Summarize how a scholar or group of scholars has approached the topic.

    Introduce a theoretical source (possibly from another discipline) and explain how it helps to address this issue from a new and productive angle.

    Tip: your introductory paragraph will probably look like this:

    Figure: from Amazon AWS.

    Testing Your Thesis

    Test a thesis statement’s arguability by asking the following questions:

    1) Does the thesis only or mostly summarize a source?

    If so, try some of the exercises above to articulate the paper’s conceptual problem or question.

    2) Is the thesis arguable – can it be supported by evidence, and is it surprising and contentious?

    If not, return to the sources and practice the exercises above.

    3) Is the thesis about the primary source, or is it about the world?

    If it’s about the world, revise it so that it focuses on primary source(s). Remember to include solid evidence to support the thesis.

    "THREE-STORY THESIS STATEMENTS" BY AMY GUPTIL

    How do you produce a good, strong thesis? And how do you know when you’ve gotten there? Many instructors and writers find useful a metaphor based on this passage by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.:3

    There are one-story intellects, two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors who have no aim beyond their facts are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize using the labor of fact collectors as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict—their best illumination comes from above the skylight.

    One-story theses state inarguable facts. Two-story theses bring in an arguable (interpretive or analytical) point. Three-story theses nest that point within its larger, compelling implications. 4

    The biggest benefit of the three-story metaphor is that it describes a process for building a thesis. To build the first story, you first have to get familiar with the complex, relevant facts surrounding the problem or question. You have to be able to describe the situation thoroughly and accurately. Then, with that first story built, you can layer on the second story by formulating the insightful, arguable point that animates the analysis. That’s often the most effortful part: brainstorming, elaborating and comparing alternative ideas, finalizing your point. With that specified, you can frame up the third story by articulating why the point you make matters beyond its particular topic or case.

    Thesis: that’s the word that pops at me whenever I write an essay. Seeing this word in the prompt scared me and made me think to myself, “Oh great, what are they really looking for?” or “How am I going to make a thesis for a college paper?” When rehearing that I would be focusing on theses again in a class, I said to myself, “Here we go again!” But after learning about the three story thesis, I never had a problem with writing another thesis. In fact, I look forward to being asked on a paper to create a thesis.

    Timothée Pizarro

    For example, imagine you have been assigned a paper about the impact of online learning in higher education. You would first construct an account of the origins and multiple forms of online learning and assess research findings about its use and effectiveness. If you’ve done that well, you’ll probably come up with a well considered opinion that wouldn’t be obvious to readers who haven’t looked at the issue in depth. Maybe you’ll want to argue that online learning is a threat to the academic community. Or perhaps you’ll want to make the case that online learning opens up pathways to college degrees that traditional campus-based learning does not. In the course of developing your central, argumentative point, you’ll come to recognize its larger context; in this example, you may claim that online learning can serve to better integrate higher education with the rest of society, as online learners bring their educational and career experiences together. To outline this example:

    • First story: Online learning is becoming more prevalent and takes many different forms.
    • Second story: While most observers see it as a transformation of higher education, online learning is better thought of an extension of higher education in that it reaches learners who aren’t disposed to participate in traditional campus-based education.
    • Third story: Online learning appears to be a promising way to better integrate higher education with other institutions in society, as online learners integrate their educational experiences with the other realms of their life, promoting the freer flow of ideas between the academy and the rest of society.

    Here’s another example of a three-story thesis:5

    • First story: Edith Wharton did not consider herself a modernist writer, and she didn’t write like her modernist contemporaries.
    • Second story: However, in her work we can see her grappling with both the questions and literary forms that fascinated modernist writers of her era. While not an avowed modernist, she did engage with modernist themes and questions.
    • Third story: Thus, it is more revealing to think of modernism as a conversation rather than a category or practice.

    Here’s one more example:

    • First story: Scientists disagree about the likely impact in the U.S. of the light brown apple moth (LBAM), an agricultural pest native to Australia.
    • Second story: Research findings to date suggest that the decision to spray pheromones over the skies of several southern Californian counties to combat the LBAM was poorly thought out.
    • Third story: Together, the scientific ambiguities and the controversial response strengthen the claim that industrial-style approaches to pest management are inherently unsustainable.

    A thesis statement that stops at the first story isn’t usually considered a thesis. A two-story thesis is usually considered competent, though some two-story theses are more intriguing and ambitious than others. A thoughtfully crafted and well informed three-story thesis puts the author on a smooth path toward an excellent paper.

    The concept of a three-story thesis framework was the most helpful piece of information I gained from the writing component of DCC 100. The first time I utilized it in a college paper, my professor included “good thesis” and “excellent introduction” in her notes and graded it significantly higher than my previous papers. You can expect similar results if you dig deeper to form three-story theses. More importantly, doing so will make the actual writing of your paper more straightforward as well. Arguing something specific makes the structure of your paper much easier to design.

    Peter Farrell

    Effective Thesis Statements

    As mentioned before, a thesis statement is the controlling idea of your essay. It is the main idea that all of the other sentences in the essay relate to. After gathering information about your topic, you need to figure out what you want to say about it.

    An effective thesis statement has two major characteristics.

    1. An effective thesis statement makes a point about a topic. For this reason, it must do more than state a fact or announce what you plan to write about.

    Statement of fact: The military recruits students in high schools.

    Announcement: In this essay, I would like to discuss what’s wrong with military recruitment in high schools.

    List thesis: We should not allow the military to recruit in high schools because recruiters violate privacy, manipulate naïve young people, and target low-income youth.

    Effective thesis: We should end the abusive and discriminatory practice of military recruitment in high schools.

    A statement of fact is not an effective thesis statement because it does not take a position, giving you nothing to develop in your essay. Likewise, an announcement of what you plan to write about in your essay does not take a position on the issue, leaving you with nothing to develop. A good thesis statement makes a claim that is arguable.

    2. The most effective thesis statements do not list your main points but unite your main points into a larger, central idea.
    The list thesis above looks strong, but notice how the effective thesis connects the three points with the words “abusive” and “discriminatory.” Now we know how the three points relate to each other; they are more than just a list.

    To turn three or four “reasons” or topic sentences into a thesis, consider what they have in common and what your overall point is.

    Tip

    You can find thesis statements in many places, such as in the news; in the opinions of friends, coworkers or teachers; and even in songs you hear on the radio. Become aware of thesis statements in everyday life by paying attention to people’s opinions and their reasons for those opinions. Pay attention to your own everyday thesis statements as well, as these can become material for future essays.

    Now that you have read about the contents of a good thesis statement and have seen examples, take a look at the pitfalls to avoid when composing your own thesis:

    • 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 3

    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. Then revise the weak statements so that they conform to the requirements of a strong thesis.

    1. The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
    2. The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
    3. Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
    4. In this essay, I will give you lots of reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
    5. Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.

    Writing at Work

    Often in your career, you will need to ask your manager for something through an e-mail. Just as a thesis statement organizes an essay, it can also organize your e-mail request. While your e-mail will be shorter than an essay, using a thesis statement in your first paragraph quickly lets your manager know what you are asking for, why it is necessary, and what the benefits are. In short body paragraphs, you can provide the essential information needed to expand upon your request.

    Thesis Statement Revision

    Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember from Chapter 4 that 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.

    Tip

    The best way to revise your thesis statement is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then incorporate into your thesis statement.

    Ways to Revise Your Thesis

    You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

    1. 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.

    The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. 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 their research and gain more direction in their writing.

    2. 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.

    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. The writer should ask himself or herself questions similar to the 5WH questions. (See Chapter 4.6 "Prewriting Strategies" for more information on the 5WH questions.) By incorporating the answers to these questions into a thesis statement, the writer more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.

    3. 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: Kansas City cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.

    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. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one 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

    Exercise 4

    In an earlier section you determined your purpose for writing and your audience. You then completed a free writing exercise about an event you recently experienced and chose a general topic to write about. Using that general topic, you then narrowed it down by answering the 5WH questions. After you answered these questions, you chose one of the three methods of prewriting and gathered possible supporting points for your working thesis statement.

    Now, on a separate sheet of paper, write down your working thesis statement. Identify any weaknesses in this sentence and revise the statement to reflect the elements of a strong thesis statement. Make sure it is specific, precise, arguable, demonstrable, forceful, and confident.

    Collaboration

    Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

    Writing at Work

    In your career you may have to write a project proposal that focuses on a particular problem in your company, such as reinforcing the tardiness policy. The proposal would aim to fix the problem; using a thesis statement would clearly state the boundaries of the problem and tell the goals of the project. After writing the proposal, you may find that the thesis needs revision to reflect exactly what is expressed in the body. Using the techniques from this chapter would apply to revising that thesis.

    Video

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Purdue OWL: Thesis Statements. Authored by: OWL Purdue. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube license.

    Contributors

    This page most recently updated on June 8, 2020.