Thesis Statement ExcercisesWriter's Web
(printable version here)

Joe Essid, University of Richmond Writing Center
David Wright, Furman University English Department
Athena Hensel, UR Writing Consultant

This page gives writers, tutors, and faculty the chance to explore the reasons for the flaws in several prospective thesis statements. The page also lets writers suggest corrected versions for several other statements, then compare answers to the authors' reasoning and suggested changes.

Part I: Possible Example Thesis Statements
Choose the best revision for each thesis statement

1) “The Raven” is a dark and morose poem that leaves the audience feeling depressed by the last stanza. Poe succeeds in creating that effect in “The Raven” through use of repetition and adds to it through contrast of religious Christian and Greek mythological references. [Original]

1a) E.A. Poe uses repetition and contrasting religious symbolism to create the dark and morose feeling of “The Raven.” [Revision #1]

1b) Through the use of droning alliteration and assonance, Poe creates a dark and morose feeling in “The Raven”; Poe enhances this feeling by employing both Christian and Greek religious symbolism. [Revision #2]

1c) E.A. Poe’s “The Raven” conveys dark, morose, and depressing feelings because of the repetition of sounds and the contrasting Christian and Greek symbols of death and the afterlife. [Revision #3]

Show Answer? 1B is the correct revision to this thesis statement. This is because the revision includes both a claim and evidence clause, and uses more precise language to describe the claim than any other choice.

2) Alexander Hamilton appeals to the logic of the Americans reading this text. [Original]

2a) Alexander Hamilton appeals to the logic of his audience by relying on well-chosen diction and syntax. [Revision #1]

2b) By employing well-chosen diction and syntax, Alexander Hamilton appeals to his audience’s sense of logic. [Revision #2]

2c) In “The Federalist #1,” Alexander Hamilton appeals to his audience’s sense of logic through his use of powerful diction and clear syntax. [Revision #3]

Show Answer? The correct revision is 2C. It states the document to which it refers, while using the most precise language, such as powerful instead of well chosen and clear syntax instead of well-chosen syntax.

3) While describing her feelings for her husband in this poem, Anne Bradstreet uses many symbols to get her point of the love for her husband across to the reader. [Original]

3a) In “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” Anne Bradstreet uses several symbols, including “gold” and “rivers,” to convey her feelings of love. [Revision #1]

3b) Anne Bradstreet invokes her feelings of love in “To My Dear and Loving Husband” because of her effective use of symbols, including “gold” and “rivers.” [Revision #2]

3c) In the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” Anne Bradstreet accomplishes her main goal of expressing her love for her husband by effectively using the symbols of “gold” and “rivers.” [Revision #3]

Show Answer? Revision 3c offers the most specificity with the notation of her main goal, and it sets up expectations of how the writer will explore the effective manner in which Bradstreet uses the two symbols.

Part II: Identifying Problems in Thesis Statements

4) What is wrong with this thesis? How can you revise it to make it more effective?

“In this essay I will try to prove that drugs such as Prozac and Paxil are unnecessary and probably dangerous."

Show Answer? Writing “in this essay I will prove x” does not express how or why you are making your argument, so it should be avoided whenever possible. A better form of this thesis would refer to the main reasoning behind the claim, allowing the reader to predict how the paper will unfold. For example, “Because of the inconclusive evidence for the usefulness of drugs such as Prozac or Paxil to treat depression, their widespread usage should be more carefully scrutinized” would be a more specific thesis which better outlines the paper’s argument.

5) What is wrong with this thesis? How can you revise it to make it more effective?

"In his novel The Long Walk, it seems as if Stephen King is attempting to make a statement about the evils of laissez-faire capitalism, and in my opinion the characters and settings reflected this well."

Show Answer? This thesis has two main problems: lack of specific evidence and too much hedging. The author should reference specific aspects of the book which suggest this interpretation in order to make a stronger and more acceptable claim. Additionally, the use of “it seems” and “in my opinion” weaken the claim by showing that the author may not believe his or her own words on this subject. A better thesis might be “Stephen King’s The Long Walk exemplifies the evils of laissez-faire capitalism through its depiction of the main characters’ competition amongst themselves, alienation from each other, and exploitation by commercial media.”

6) What is wrong with this thesis? How could you revise it?

"The Great Gatsby is inarguably the best-written novel of the last 100 years, leaving millions of readers with either a renewed or disenchanted view of the “American Dream.”

Show Answer? While The Great Gatsby does thematically allude to the “American Dream,” this is a “swashbuckling” thesis which makes too grand of a statement to be effectively supported in simply one essay, or even in one book. The author should specify under what context he or she is judging The Great Gatsbyu> (American novels? 20th-century novels across the world? 20th-century Western novels?) and refer to the main reasoning behind this assertion (Is it the strength of the thematic elements? The descriptive prose? The witty dialogue?). In other words, the author has not established the HOW (context) and WHY (reasoning) of the thesis. A better version of this thesis might state “The Great Gatsby is widely regarded one of the best 20th-century American novels due to its rich symbolism: success, knowledge, corruption and alienation are but a few of the themes explored in Fitzgerald’s novel, but together they form a meaningful commentary on living the American Dream.”

7) What is wrong with this thesis? How would you revise it?

“The cost of a college education is rising sharply.”

Show Answer? This is statement cannot act as a thesis because it does not answer a question or make an arguable claim. It cannot be disputed that college education is generally becoming more expensive, but the reader will ask “so what?” This statement can act as evidence to support a governing claim, but the governing claim should address a larger question which requires multiple pieces of evidence to support it. A more expansive thesis might something like: “While a college education is meant to be a gateway for any citizen to achieve success through hard work, the rising cost of college tuition along with more difficult loan-application processes have made attending college more and more a socioeconomic class-based activity.”

Part III: Practice Revising Thesis Statements

8) Revise this thesis to make the language more precise.

"The two films are different. One focuses on two women who are close friends and the other focuses on two male friends who are really just buddies."

Show Answer? The two films differ greatly, because one focuses on close friendship between two women whereas the other focuses on a more casual friendship between two men.

9) Revise this thesis statement to make the claim more specific:

“In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson symbolizes English upper and lower-class society.”

Show Answer? In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson symbolizes the disparity between upper and lower-class society through the opposing physical and psychological characteristics of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

10) Should you always perfect your thesis before writing the rest of your paper?

Show Answer? Not necessarily; in fact, you should have a fair amount of research and perhaps some analytical writing completed before attempting to refine your thesis. Because the thesis also acts as a governing claim to your paper, mapping out the main points of your argument, you will want to have a thorough concept of what your entire argument will be before condensing it into a thesis statement. Additionally, trying to create a thesis simply from a question or preconceptions about a topic may tempt you to overlook any evidence which refutes that thesis while in the writing process. For step-by-step instructions on how to form a thesis after writing the body of your paper, see “The Thesis Statement: Where to End, Not Begin.”

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