Thesis and Thesis Statements
Everything you write should develop around a clear central thesis. Your thesis is the backbone of your paper: the main point, the central idea. In fact, if you ask yourself -- "What is the main point of this paper?" -- your answer should resemble your essay's thesis statement. The thesis statement focuses your central ideas into one or two sentences.
Developing a well-crafted thesis statement and revising that statement as you write will help you discover what your essay is really about, what you really want to say. The suggested guidelines below show how to evaluate and refine your thesis statements, and thus how to best showcase your ideas.
Click on one of the following for Thesis Tips and "No-No"s:
Where should my thesis be?
Is my thesis unified?
Is my thesis narrow and specific?
Is my thesis clear?
How can I develop a more analalytic thesis?
How can I develop a more original and energetic thesis?
You should provide a thesis early in your essay -- paragraph #1, or in longer essays #2 --in order to establish your position and give you reader a sense of direction. Avoid burying a great thesis statement in the middle of a paragraph or late in the paper.
>IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT UNIFIED?
Choose one single focus for development. Don't split your energy between two bulky topics.
ORIGINAL THESIS Queen Victoria set the tone of the British Empire, and she allowed powerful prime ministers to take political control of Britain.
REVISED THESIS Victoria set the tone for later monarchs by ruling through a series of prime ministers.
Check your thesis: Are there two large statements connected loosely by a coordinate conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet)? Would a subordinate conjunction help (through, although, because, since) to signal a relationship between the two sentences? Or do the two imply a fuzzy unfocused thesis? -- if so, settle on ONE single focus and then proceed with further development.
>IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT RESTRICTED?
1. Your thesis statement should provide a restricted or limited focus for your essay. Narrow the field of your discussion to a specific line of reasoning/argumentation within a broad topic area.
2. Your thesis should be limited to what can be accomplished in the specified number of pages. Shape your topic so that you can get straight to the "meat" of it -- don't settle for three pages of just skimming the surface.
3. The opposite of a focused, narrow, crisp thesis is a broad, sprawling, superficial thesis. Compare this original thesis with three possible revisions:
ORIGINAL THESIS There are serious objections to today's horror movies.
REVISED THESIS Because modern cinematic techniques have allowed filmmakers to get more graphic, horror flicks have desensitized young American viewers to violence.
The pornographic violence in "bloodbath" slasher movies degrades both men and women.
Today's slasher movies fail to deliver the emotional catharsis that 1930s horror films did.
>IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT CLEAR?
1. Avoid vague words such as "interesting," "negative," "exciting," "unusual" and "difficult." Avoid abstract words such as "society." These words tell the reader next to nothing.
2. Unless you're writing a technical report, avoid technical language. Always avoid jargon.
3. Check to see if you need to define your terms ("socialism," "conventional," "commercialism," "society"), and then decide on the most appropriate place to do so.
4. Check and double-check the cause and effect relationships you set up, and make sure all potential confusion is eliminated.
>IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT ANALYTIC?
The thesis statement should do more than merely announce the topic; it must reveal what position you will take in relation to that topic, how you plan to analyze/evaluate the subject or the issue. In short, instead of merely stating a general fact or resorting to simplistic pro/con statement, you must decide what it is you have to say.
1. Avoid merely announcing the topic;
your original and specific "angle" should be clear.
ORIGINAL In this paper, I will discuss the relationship between fairy tales and early childhood.
REVISED Not just empty stories for kids, fairy tales shed light on the psychology of young children.
2. Avoid making universal or pro/con judgments that oversimplify complex issues.
ORIGINAL We must save the whales.
REVISED Because our planet's health may depend upon biological diversity, we should save the whales
3. When you make a (subjective) judgment call, specify and justify your reasoning.
ORIGINAL Socialism is the best form of government for Kenya.
REVISED If the government takes over industry in Kenya, the industry will become more efficient
4. Avoid merely reporting a fact. Go further in your ideas -- say more.
ORIGINAL Hoover's administration was rocked by scandal.
REVISED The many scandals of Hoover's administration revealed basic problems with the Republican Party's nominating process.
5. Note that arriving at an analytical thesis doesn't happen magically. Continue to revise as your essay and ideas develop.
1. Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale is a bawdy story of adultery and revenge.
2. Characters in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale subvert certain audience expectations.
REVISED In Geoffrey Chaucer's The Miller's Tale, the sexual behaviors of such characters as Alisoun, Nicholas, and Absolon subvert audience expectations raised by the courtly love tradition in the The Knight's Tale.
>IS YOUR THESIS STATEMENT ORIGINAL & ENERGETIC?
1. Avoid, avoid, avoid generic arguments and formula statements. They work well to get a rough draft started, but will easily bore a reader. Keep revising until the thesis reflects your real ideas.
Compare the following:
ORIGINAL There are advantages and disadvantages to using statistics. (a fill-in-the-blank formula)
Careful manipulation of data allows a researcher to use statistics to support
any claim she desires.
In order to ensure accurate reporting, journalists must understand the real significance of the statistics they report.
Because advertisers consciously and unconsciously manipulate data, every consumer should learn how to evaluate statistical claims.
2. Avoid formula and generic words. Search
for concrete subjects and active verbs, revising as many "to be" verbs
as possible. A few suggestions below show how specific word choice sharpens
and clarifies your meaning.
ORIGINAL "Society is..." [who is this "society" and what exactly are they doing?]
REVISED men and women will learn how to..., writers can generate..., television addicts may chip away at..., American educators must decide..., taxpayers and legislators alike can help fix. . .
ORIGINAL "the media"
REVISED the new breed of television reporters, advertisers, hard-hitting print journalists, horror flicks, TV movies of the week, sitcoms, national public radio, Top40 bop-til-you-drop. . .
ORIGINAL "is, are, was, to be" or "to do, to make"
any great action verb you can concoct: to generate, to demolish, to batter,
to revolt, to discover, to flip, to signify, to endure....
3. Use your own words in thesis statements, avoiding quotation. Crafting an original, insightful, and memorable thesis makes a distinct impression on a reader. You will lose credibility as a writer if you become only a mouthpiece or a copyist; you will gain credibility by grabbing the reader with your own ideas and words.
A well-crafted thesis statement reflects well-crafted ideas. It signals a writer who has intelligence, commitment, and enthusiasm.