The Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is one of the greatest unifying aspects of a paper. It should act as mortar, holding together the various bricks of a paper, summarizing the main point of the paper "in a nutshell," and pointing toward the paper's development. Often a thesis statement will be expressed in a sentence or two; be sure to check with your professor for any particular requirements in your class--some professors prefer a more subtle approach!
Students often learn to write a thesis as a first step in the writing process, and they become loathe to change their claim. Scholars of writing, however, find that a fully formed articulation of thesis to be one of the final steps in writing. Professional writers usually weigh their initial claim in light of new evidence and research; student writers should do the same.
The thesis statement can help "map" a paper, as it suggests an order or direction for the paper's development. A thesis statement, for example, might read:
The following sentence could continue:
In this example, the thesis statement suggests an obvious path for development in "marital expectations." The writer develops the paragraph by exploring the term "marital expectations." Three following paragraphs, for example, would logically discuss 1) household responsibilities, 2) careers, and 3) marital relationships.
The Weak "I will show" thesis
Writers new to college prose often include such statements. Generally, faculty do not like them and they rarely appear in academic prose. Not using an "I will show" statement goes beyond avoiding the first person, a rule that is changing even in scientific writing. Nevertheless, a good thesis in a well structured introduction does not need to state "I hope to show why medieval teenagers lacked personal freedom." That point will be apparent to readers soon enough; see the example below for how to improve this type of statement.
A good thesis statement often answers these questions. You may encounter a thesis statement that reads:
So what? Why should a reader continue? In what ways are the lifestyles of the youngsters different? Better versions of this statement might be:
This revision of the statement above does present a point "worth making," a point one could contest or support with data:
An even more detailed version of this thesis could "map" the paper for a reader:
Note how this statement takes more than a single sentence to make its point. Both of the thesis statements above are improvements because they do not simply state the obvious: they give a reason why or how we can accept the thesis statement. If you want a second example about how to get from an assignment to a thesis statement, we have prepared a detailed example from a paper about Gulf War.
Using the thesis while writing
This type of thesis serves another useful purpose: the writer can check the body of the paper against it, since it promises a reader what will follow. If the body contains other information, such as other major reasons for the difference cited, then the thesis may need to be revised to include it.
Questions to consider
Click here for a printable thesis statement exercise.
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