Excellent Thesis Statement

Better Thesis Statements

What is a thesis statement?  

A thesis statement is the central claim that the author promises to defend in his or her paper.

 

Why do I need a thesis statement?  

A thesis statement tells the reader where the paper is headed and why s/he should bother going there. It serves to engage the reader’s interest and motivate her or him  to read on. From the writer’s perspective, a thesis statement brings her central claim into focus so that it becomes obvious how to build the rest of the paper. A thesis statement, if it is a good one, helps  the writer decide what arguments and evidence are necessary to make her point.  In a sense, the thesis statement functions as the conscience of a paper; it helps the writer recognize what belongs in the paper and what does not, depending upon the specific promise it makes to the reader.

 

 

How do I come up with a thesis statement?  

All formal papers and essays have a point. You can have some ideas on a topic, or about an issue, but until you distill what you have drawn a conclusion from your research and reflection and captured in it your thesis statement, your formal writing will lack direction and focus. To arrive at a working thesis statement, try to state out loud or write in a single sentence the most important  conclusion you have come to from your research. Here are some examples of simple claims you could make after reading and reflecting in preparation for writing your paper:

 

  • Politicians should use language responsibly if they wish to govern after the campaign.
  • The face plays an important role in human communication.
  • Migrating Atlantic seabirds need more protection along their migration paths.

 

Sentences like these, each of which makes a claim, are adequate as “working thesis statements”. As you write, research, arrange, and think through other supporting ideas in your paper, you should be moved to refine your working thesis statement to 1) narrow it, 2) make it more consequential or controversial, or 3) put it in a specific context. With more research and thought, we might revise A.-C. above as follows:

 

  • The speed, reach, and permanence of mass media today can threaten a candidate’s ability to govern once elected.
  • Although poets have always noted the role of the face in human communication, facial expression has lately become the subject of intense scientific scrutiny, with the potential for profound social consequences. 
  • Offshore wind farms, chemical pollution from industrialized livestock facilities, new coastal housing developments pose a triple threat to millions of migrating seabirds who have made their way along the Eastern seaboard of the U.S. for millennia. 

 

These revised thesis statements make specific promises to the reader. Can you predict what kinds of evidence or support a writer might include in his or her essay based on one of these thesis statements?

A good thesis statement gives you room to develop your ideas as you wish, but within the boundaries imposed by your knowledge, time, and page limits. We use the word “narrow” to describe a good thesis statement but we don’t mean “narrow-minded” or “stingy”. Instead, a narrow thesis statement is focused and fits the size and scope of your paper.  When everything in your paper is selected to support or explore your thesis statement, then you are enjoying the benefits of a good thesis statement.

Here is a worksheet to help you come up with and refine a good thesis statement.

 

Thesis Statement Worksheet

 

What is your topic (the area of study for this paper)?

What background information does the reader need to know before you state your thesis?

What is your working thesis statement?

 

Test your thesis statement. Does your thesis statement:

 

  • Make a claim that a reader can agree or disagree with?
  • Reflect knowledge of the source material?
  • Pick out an idea that can be defended in the space allowed?
  • Limit the kinds of evidence you can use to defend it?

 

What evidence, examples, or arguments will you use to support the working thesis?

Now that you have thought ahead about your evidence, can you refine your thesis statement to focus on a particular problem and context? (This is where the originality of your claim comes in.)

 

Strong and Weak Thesis Statements Illustrated

Shakespeare was the world’s greatest playwright.

trite, not defensible

The last scene in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” showcases Shakespeare’s ability to manipulate subtle linguistic differences among his characters for comic effect.

intriguing, has an edge

 

This essay will show that the North American Free Trade agreement was a disaster.

emotional, vague

Neither neo-protectionism nor post-industrial theory explains the downswing of the Canadian furniture industry in 1988-1994. Data on productivity and profits, however, can be closely correlated with provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement that took effect in the same period.

gives context, reflects research, shows intent

 

In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal. This paper will describe the history of  euthanasia and give case studies.

doesn’t reveal a central claim or focus

Recent cases show that Dutch law on euthanasia has encountered difficulty  with issues involving technological interventions and unconscious patients.

focused, promisesfacts and analysis

The occurrence of measles in medical settings is higher than nosocomial infections, rubella, pertussis, influenza, and nosocomial hepatitis B according to a survey of hospital records.

distracting detail, hard to follow, no context

 

In recent years, transmission of measles in hospitals has been described only rarely. New data suggest that the spread of measles in hospitals is more frequent than previously recognized.                                        

shows purpose andcontext, promises new information of consequence

 

 

 

Myths about thesis statements
  •  A thesis statement is the topic of a paper or what the paper is ‘about.’

 If a reader knows that your paper is about migrating birds, she still doesn’t know what your point is. Only a thesis statement can tell the reader that. A topic merely names the field or subject area of your paper; it doesn’t propose anything. Topics are identified in other sentences that give background information that usually lead up to the thesis statement. Compare the topic sentence below with the thesis statement that follows it:

Topic sentenceThere are few people totally unfamiliar with bingo—that game of chance in which numbers, called at random, are plotted on cards to form patterns and to win prizes.

Thesis statement: In order to understand bingo as a cultural phenomenon it should be studied not as a cultural ‘thing’ but as behavior compatible with a patterned way of life.

 

  •  Some writers put their thesis statement at the end of their paper. 

This myth confuses the concluding section of a paper with the intellectual conclusion a writer must reach in order to begin writing a paper in earnest. Since a good thesis statement is the result of research, reflection, and, sometimes, a draft or two of the entire paper, it might seem that it ought to come at the end of one’s essay. But, in academic writing, what is the outcome of thinking and writing for the writer is best presented as the starting point for the reader. Many writers restate their thesis statement/hypothesis in the concluding section of their papers but few choose to delay revealing their central claim until after they have argued in favor of it

 

  • There are strict rules about the form of a thesis statement. 

You can learn to write better thesis statements by practicing with specific forms, e.g. one where a premise (“If term limits were adopted in today…”) precedes a conclusion (“we would lose valuable legislative experience.”). Yet if you grasp the function of a thesis statement, many forms are possible. It may take the form of a supported assertion as in “I agree with the author because…” or it can direct the reader’s attention to a scientific or philosophical issue as in “Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences has applications in the kindergarten classroom for..” or “The relationship between body and soul remains a central issue in…” Short pithy thesis statements are also possible as in “Television kills”—a claim, to be sure, but one which needs elaboration in nearby sentences to correctly direct the reader’s focus.  

 

  • A thesis statement is just your opinion. 

While a thesis statement does present the reader with a claim, it should go well beyond a simple assertion that anyone can make without detailed information about the topic. Statements such as People are too lazy to solve the environmental crisis we face or Today’s educators need to know how to deal with students who don’t speak English don’t convey that the writer has researched his topic and come away with something new or non-obvious to say. A thesis statement offers an informed opinion that the writer is prepared to support with facts, arguments, analysis, and research-based evidence. It might be helpful to remember that a thesis statement takes a ‘point of view’ which the paper develops so that the reader can decide for himself on the issue.

Resources for Learning

Developing Strong Thesis Statements

Summary:

These OWL resources will help you develop and refine the arguments in your writing.

Contributors: Stacy Weida, Karl Stolley
Last Edited: 2018-01-31 03:32:44

The thesis statement or main claim must be debatable

An argumentative or persuasive piece of writing must begin with a debatable thesis or claim. In other words, the thesis must be something that people could reasonably have differing opinions on. If your thesis is something that is generally agreed upon or accepted as fact then there is no reason to try to persuade people.

Example of a non-debatable thesis statement:

Pollution is bad for the environment.

This thesis statement is not debatable. First, the word pollution means that something is bad or negative in some way. Further, all studies agree that pollution is a problem; they simply disagree on the impact it will have or the scope of the problem. No one could reasonably argue that pollution is good.

Example of a debatable thesis statement:

At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on limiting pollution.

This is an example of a debatable thesis because reasonable people could disagree with it. Some people might think that this is how we should spend the nation's money. Others might feel that we should be spending more money on education. Still others could argue that corporations, not the government, should be paying to limit pollution.

Another example of a debatable thesis statement:

America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars.

In this example there is also room for disagreement between rational individuals. Some citizens might think focusing on recycling programs rather than private automobiles is the most effective strategy.

The thesis needs to be narrow

Although the scope of your paper might seem overwhelming at the start, generally the narrower the thesis the more effective your argument will be. Your thesis or claim must be supported by evidence. The broader your claim is, the more evidence you will need to convince readers that your position is right.

Example of a thesis that is too broad:

Drug use is detrimental to society.

There are several reasons this statement is too broad to argue. First, what is included in the category "drugs"? Is the author talking about illegal drug use, recreational drug use (which might include alcohol and cigarettes), or all uses of medication in general? Second, in what ways are drugs detrimental? Is drug use causing deaths (and is the author equating deaths from overdoses and deaths from drug related violence)? Is drug use changing the moral climate or causing the economy to decline? Finally, what does the author mean by "society"? Is the author referring only to America or to the global population? Does the author make any distinction between the effects on children and adults? There are just too many questions that the claim leaves open. The author could not cover all of the topics listed above, yet the generality of the claim leaves all of these possibilities open to debate.

Example of a narrow or focused thesis:

Illegal drug use is detrimental because it encourages gang violence.

In this example the topic of drugs has been narrowed down to illegal drugs and the detriment has been narrowed down to gang violence. This is a much more manageable topic.

We could narrow each debatable thesis from the previous examples in the following way:

Narrowed debatable thesis 1:

At least 25 percent of the federal budget should be spent on helping upgrade business to clean technologies, researching renewable energy sources, and planting more trees in order to control or eliminate pollution.

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just the amount of money used but also how the money could actually help to control pollution.

Narrowed debatable thesis 2:

America's anti-pollution efforts should focus on privately owned cars because it would allow most citizens to contribute to national efforts and care about the outcome.

This thesis narrows the scope of the argument by specifying not just what the focus of a national anti-pollution campaign should be but also why this is the appropriate focus.

Qualifiers such as "typically," "generally," "usually," or "on average" also help to limit the scope of your claim by allowing for the almost inevitable exception to the rule.

Types of claims

Claims typically fall into one of four categories. Thinking about how you want to approach your topic, in other words what type of claim you want to make, is one way to focus your thesis on one particular aspect of your broader topic.

Claims of fact or definition: These claims argue about what the definition of something is or whether something is a settled fact. Example:

What some people refer to as global warming is actually nothing more than normal, long-term cycles of climate change.

Claims of cause and effect: These claims argue that one person, thing, or event caused another thing or event to occur. Example:

The popularity of SUVs in America has caused pollution to increase.

Claims about value: These are claims made of what something is worth, whether we value it or not, how we would rate or categorize something. Example:

Global warming is the most pressing challenge facing the world today.

Claims about solutions or policies: These are claims that argue for or against a certain solution or policy approach to a problem. Example:

Instead of drilling for oil in Alaska we should be focusing on ways to reduce oil consumption, such as researching renewable energy sources.

Which type of claim is right for your argument? Which type of thesis or claim you use for your argument will depend on your position and knowledge of the topic, your audience, and the context of your paper. You might want to think about where you imagine your audience to be on this topic and pinpoint where you think the biggest difference in viewpoints might be. Even if you start with one type of claim you probably will be using several within the paper. Regardless of the type of claim you choose to utilize it is key to identify the controversy or debate you are addressing and to define your position early on in the paper.

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