A thesis statement is the controlling idea of your essay. All of the other sentences and paragraph in the essay relate to the thesis. As you plan your essay, you will develop a working thesis: a general idea about what you want to say in your essay in response to the prompt or reason for writing.
As you develop your working thesis, try to incorporate all 4 parts of an effective thesis.
Topic + Stance
At minimum, you need to state a topic and a stance. A topic is a statement of fact or a general category.
(Topic) The military recruits students in high schools.
(Topic + Stance) I would like to discuss what’s wrong with military recruitment in high schools.
Topic + Stance + Reasons
Adding reasons to your stance makes your point stronger from the start. You might know all the reasons right away, but you can add them as you go. By being clear from the start, your planning process and your essay itself will be clearer.
(Topic + Stance) We should not allow the military to recruit in high schools
(+Reasons) because recruiters violate privacy, manipulate naïve young people, and target low-income youth.Topic + Stance + Reasons + Importance
Topic + Stance + Reasons + Importance
The previous thesis offered 3 clear reasons about the problems with military recruitment of high school students. Yes, each of these things is bad. But are these the only things that made recruitment bad? Or, is the recruitment itself bad, and these are just three consequences of the recruitment?
Imagine you are a high school principal, and you brought these three issues to the military recruiters at your school. Image that they promised to fix these three problems, and then they actually did. Would you let them recruit?
If you said yes, your thesis would be something like this:
(Topic + Stance) We should not allow military recruiters in in high school unless they can promise not (reasons) to violate privacy, manipulate naïve young people, and target low-income youth.
With this thesis, you are fundamentally in agreement with the idea of military recruitment, you just have some problems with how it is done. Missing here is the reason why this topic is important: why is military recruitment fundamentally good? Why do these particular problems need to be addressed?
(Importance) Military service is an avenue of success for many young people, (Topic + Stance + Reasons) but we should not allow military recruiters in in high school unless they can promise not to violate privacy, manipulate naïve young people, and target low-income youth.
Now, imagine that you are a high school principal opposed to military requirement. You see these three problems as just the most obvious abuses. You believe that even if recruiters change their practices, the act of recruitment in high schools will always be fundamentally discriminatory. In that case, your thesis would be something more like this:
(Stance + Reasons + Importance) We should end the abusive and discriminatory practice of (Topic) military recruitment in high schools.
Notice how the list of specific reasons has vanished in this version of the thesis. They are not as important in this essay. They are examples of the large problem, but they themselves are not the problem.
Examples of Weak Thesis Statements
Weak thesis statement: My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.
It has a topic and a very weak stance. It needs to provide more context through a stronger importance, which will lead to reasons.
Weak thesis statement: Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.
The stance is implied--banning books for religious reasons is wrong. The attack on "Religous radicals" is unnecessary. The thesis needs a stronger importance: other than get angry, what should we do about this?
Weak thesis statement: Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.
This is just a topic.
Weak thesis statement: Abraham Lincoln's long and challenging life can serve as a lesson to all.
It has a topic. The stance and importance are so broad that they almost disappear.
Revise your thesis
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. 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.
If you don't have a complete thesis at the beginning, that's OK. You can continue to revise the thesis as your ideas develop. 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.
Tips for clarifying your thesis
You can 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. 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
[Adapted from Writing, Reading, and College Success: A First-Year Composition Course for All Learners (Kashyap and Dyquisto)]