No matter what type of writing that you do, whether you are writing an essay in a nursing class or an essay for a literature class, it has a main topic. In college level writing, most professors agree that this topic should be expressed in a thesis sentence. The thesis is a very important part of an essay because it summarizes what you have in mind for this essay and guides the reader in reading your essay accurately.
What a thesis IS:
- It is a claim (not a fact) that can be supported by a reason or reasons;
- 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 is usually one sentence that does not discuss many topics;
- It forecasts the content and order of the essay;
- It is placed most often in the beginning of the essay, preferably towards the end of the introduction, but at least within the first or second paragraph; and
- It is sometimes – but rarely – implied rather than stated outright.
Developing Your Thesis
Now that we know what a strong thesis statement is, we can begin to craft one of our own. Most effective thesis statements often answer these three questions:
- What is the essay’s subject?
- What is the main idea that will be discussed about the topic?
- What is the evidence or support that will be used to support the main idea?
Let’s suppose that I want to write an essay about playing sports. I might begin with a sentence like this:
Playing sports is really good for people.
This is a good start because it does express my position without announcing it; unfortunately, it is vague and general and therefore ineffective. It is not all that exciting for my reader, and it leaves my audience too many unanswered questions. WHY is playing sports good for people? HOW does playing sports benefit people? WHICH people benefit from playing sports? Asking questions about the topic is a great way to find more specific information to include in my thesis.
Let’s suppose now that after asking these questions, I’ve decided I want to narrow my topic into children and sports. I might next have a thesis like this:
Playing sports is really good for children.
Now my thesis is more specific, but I still haven’t really answered the WHY and HOW questions. Maybe I think that playing sports helps children develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health. I might have a thesis that ends up like this:
Playing sports is beneficial for children because it helps them develop better cooperation skills, better coordination, and better overall health.
Notice that I have beefed up my vocabulary a bit by changing “really good” to “beneficial.” For help with specific vocabulary, check out the Using Precise Language page.
Notice that I also now have the three major elements of a thesis statement:
1) A subject: playing sports
2) A main idea: playing sports is beneficial for children
3) Support or Evidence: better cooperation, better coordination, and better overall health.
Most effective thesis statements contain this type of structure, often called an action plan or plan of development. This is such an effective type of thesis because it clearly tells the reader what is going to be discussed; it also helps the writer stay focused and organized. How can you now use this pattern to create an effective thesis statement?
Remember, this is not the only type of effective thesis statement, but using this pattern is helpful if you are having difficulty creating your thesis and staying organized in your writing.
What a thesis is NOT:
- A thesis is not an announcement.
Example: I am going to tell you the importance of ABC.
I don’t need the announcement element of this thesis. I can simply write, “The importance of ABC is XYZ.”
- A thesis is not introduced by an opinion phrase such as I think, I feel, I believe.
Example: I feel that good hygiene begins with the basics of effective hand-washing.
I don’t need to write that “I feel” this because if I am writing it, then chances are that I feel it, right?
- A thesis is not a statement of fact.
Example: George Will writes about economic equality in the United States.
Discussing a statement of fact is extremely difficult. How will I continue the discussion of something that cannot be disputed? It can easily be proven that George Will did in fact write about equality in the United States, so I don’t really have a strong position because it is simply a fact.
- A thesis is not a question.
Example: What makes a photograph so significant?
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 in to a thesis, but it can’t be the thesis.
Example 5: George Will writes, “Economic equality is good for the United States.”
This quote tells us George Will’s position, but it does not clearly express my position. It therefore can’t be my thesis.
November is the month for research papers. It is also the time of the semester when the formulation of a proper Thesis Statement becomes essential. And sure, this topic may seem overdone, but the thesis happens to be the life-blood of any decent paper.
Thesis statements dictate the logical sequence of your paper. If you are having trouble with transitions or with fitting in a certain quote, always look back to your thesis. The thesis also acts as a signpost for your reader, letting them know what you will introduce next or what points you will address in relation to your argument. Theses clarify what you have to say and rid your paper of extraneous information. They do not summarize or make general statements. They are arguments that must be open to debate. All arguments contain two key parts:
1) a Claim and
2) a Support for that claim.
A claim is the point you are arguing. A support answers the WHY and HOW of your claim: I am arguing this (claim) because of this reason (support). Often the words because or since will let you know when you’re about to read a given claim’s support. Sometimes the support isn’t so explicit, but should be clear anyway.
Without these two parts, your sentence isn’t a Thesis Statement. For example, take the sentence:
"Gandhi had a better understanding of poverty than Marx."
What is the claim here? Gandhi had a better understanding of poverty than Marx. But what is the support? How or why does Gandhi understand poverty better than Marx? This sentence lacks a support and is merely a statement; not a Thesis Statement.
On the other hand, what if the sentence read as follows:
"Gandhi’s understanding of poverty, which takes into account the spiritual side of human nature, is better than that of Marx, whose analysis is solely economic."
This sentence contains the same claim as the previous sentence (Gandhi understands poverty better than Marx), but takes it one step further by saying exactly how Gandhi’s understanding is better than Marx’s: because Gandhi’s understanding of poverty takes into account the spiritual side of humanity, whereas Marx only accounts for the economic aspects. The writer argues that Gandhi’s understanding of poverty is more comprehensive than Marx’s because he includes the spiritual side of things. Not only is this a complete thesis (contains both a claim and support), but it’s arguable: people can disagree and, in the following paper, the writer will have to examine how Gandhi addresses the spiritual side of poverty and make it clear that Marx doesn’t.
Contrast this thesis with another thesis statement:
"Machiavelli’s philosophy could never work because he advocates lying and liars always get caught."
This thesis claims that Machiavelli’s philosophy can’t work. The support is that Machiavelli advocates lying and liars get caught. This thesis contains both a claim and support for it. However, both the claim and support are very weak. The claim is too broad: what aspect of his philosophy can’t work? It’s too much to say that all of Machiavelli’s philosophy is wrong because the term philosophy covers so much ground.
The support is also lacking. The key words here are “always” and “never.” If things are always one way, can anyone argue against them? This statement doesn’t open itself to debate. The way it’s presented is not arguable. Also, be wary anytime someone uses ultimatums like “always” or “never” because they are almost always wrong. Not all liars get caught.
Now that you know the two basic ingredients of a thesis, you can use them to check for faulty theses and write your own. One question remains: where should the thesis statement go? To this I would say, the sooner the better. However, not all papers are created equal. You might want to start your paper off with a hook that grabs your readers’ attention or sets up some context of different arguments so that the reader can see where your argument will fit in. A compact and “punchy” Thesis Statement might provide a great opening line. However late your Thesis Statement comes, it needs to stand out. Make it sharp and clear so that you don’t bury it.
More information regarding writing a Thesis or Thesis statement can be found on the Writing Center website handouts along with other strategies for writers. You can also schedule an appointment with our tutors.
November 11, 2014