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2.2: Developing Thesis Statements

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    The Thesis Statement

    At the heart of most good nonfiction prose there is a concise statement that controls the development of the composition, predicts its content, and restricts the topic. This concise statement is called a thesis, and it is usually a single sentence near the beginning of your paper (most often, at the end of the first paragraph) that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will support the thesis and persuade the reader of the logic of your argument.

    What is a Thesis Statement:

    A thesis will always have a topic and a claim about the topic.

    A good thesis:
    • Tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion.
    • Is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper.
    • Is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be the surge of asylum seekers at the southern border or the health-care crisis; a thesis must then offer a way to understand these issues.
    • Is a debatable topic that makes a claim that others might dispute.

    Consider the following before you write your thesis statement:

    • Have I addressed the question? Re-reading the prompt/writing assignment after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
    • Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument.
    • Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”?
    • Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to be “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
    • Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary.

    Example of building a thesis:

    Suppose you are asked to write an argumentative essay on drone technology, you might start with a statement such as:
    Drone technology has many positive benefits.

    This one is too general? what kind of benefits? how is it positive? to whom is it beneficial? You might be a bit more specific:
    Drone technology can be beneficial to state and local governments.

    This one is a working thesis with potential. How can we make it more specific?
    Drone technology can be beneficial to state and local governments across the U.S. in areas such as fighting wildfires, supporting law enforcement, and monitoring the border.
    This final thesis statement takes a clear stand and creates a roadmap for the reader.

    The following video, Introduction to the Thesis Statement: How to Write an Essay created by edX Series demonstrates how to create an effective thesis statement:

    What A Thesis is Not:

    A thesis is:
    • Not an announcement
    Example: I am going to discuss the 2020 presidential elections

    • Not introduced by an opinion phrase such as I think, I feel, I believe. It weakens the argument.
    Example: I think too many democratic candidates are running for the presidential primary elections.

    • Not a statement of fact.
    Example: Joe Biden is the president of America. So what? What am I trying to argue?

    • Not a question.
    Example: Why should you care about the health insurance crisis?
    Remember, a thesis states your position on your topic. A question cannot state anything because it is not a statement. A question is a great lead into a thesis, but it can’t be the thesis.

    • Not a quote.
    Example: Kamala Harris writes “The core of my campaign is the people”
    This quote tells us Kamala Harris’ position, but it does not clearly express a position. It therefore cannot be an effective thesis.

    What A Thesis Is:

    • It is a claim (not a fact) that can be supported by evidence
    • It directly answers the question of the assignment
    • It is a statement that unifies the paper by stating the writer's most important or significant point regarding the topic
    • It forecasts the content and order of the essay
    • It is placed most often in the beginning of the essay, preferably at the end of the introduction
    • It should be stated explicitly rather than implicitly