Discovering Ideas Handbook What Is a Thesis Statement?

We will be talking about thesis statements quite a bit this semester. We will be writing thesis statements, revising them, and using them as tools to help us revise our essays. So let me clarify what I mean by the term "thesis statement." By the way, some of the explanation that follows will be more specific or slightly different from some things you find in your handbook. Where there is any conflict, this document rules. Perhaps the first step would be to clarify what I do not mean by the term "thesis statement." A thesis statement, as we will be using the term this semester, is not necessarily a sentence that appears in the first paragraph of your essay. Your thesis statement might appear in the first paragraph, or the last paragraph, or it might not appear in the essay at all. I do not mean by a thesis statement something that you necessarily write before writing the essay. I will often ask you to write a "trial thesis statement" before submitting a draft of your essay; the term "trial" means that this is not a thesis statement you are committed to. The only reason for asking for a trial thesis statement is to allow us to have something to discuss in class. You will usually not finish writing your thesis statement until you have nearly finished writing and revising your essay. Because your thesis statement may or may not appear in the body of your essay, I will ask you to always put your thesis statement at the very end of your essay, labeled and printed as a separate paragraph after your last paragraph or after your list of works cited, if you have one. So what is a thesis statement? A thesis statement is a single declarative sentence that states what you want your readers to know, believe, or understand after having read your essay. If we understand that definition, it will be a lot easier to work with thesis statements, so let's take a minute to break it down into its component parts and make sure we see what it contains.

thesis statement is a single sentence.
A thesis statement, in other words, is only one sentence, not two or three or more. Why? Because the thesis statement is the main point you want to make in one essay; so it should be one sentence. Frederick Crews defines an essay as "a short piece of nonfiction that tries to make a point in an interesting way." What makes it an essay is that it aims to make a point, one point. This doesn't mean that you can only make one assertion in an essay. But it means that all of the many claims you make must fit together, that they must all support or lead to a single point (claim, conclusion) that defines the whole essay. And if everything you say in an essay supports a single point or claim, then you can express that claim in a single sentence. Notice that nobody is saying that it must be a short sentence or a pretty sentence. But it must be one sentence, not two or more sentences. If you can't express the main point of your essay in one sentence, your essay probably doesn't have one point; it probably has two. And that means it should be two essays. Feel free to write them both, but one at a time.

though it may be implied rather than explicitly stated in the text of the essay. But a thesis statement is not necessarily part of the introduction." "expository. the tradition of putting the thesis in the first paragraph has led some students to mistakenly think of the thesis statement as a kind of introduction to the essay.A thesis statement is a single declarative sentence that states what you want your readers to know. but they are always a little artificial. believe.1." or "argumentative. You may have been asked in a previous class to put your thesis statement in the first paragraph of your essay. Whatever kind of essay you are writing. In some cases. believe. depending on your message and your audience." "persuasive. Different essays will have different purposes. This is why you often cannot finish your thesis statement until you finish your essay. trial thesis statements is that they are too general and hence do not really give any guidance as to what issues and what evidence will be in this essay.4. The decision as to whether to do so should be based on what will work best with your subject and your readers. If you are writing about a topic that your readers know very little about. not the beginning. One problem with many. No good essay is entirely informative or entirely persuasive. If you are writing a primarily "informative" essay rather than a primarily "persuasive" essay. 1. Almost any good essay will have to inform the reader at some points and persuade the reader at others." These categories can sometimes be useful in thinking about your essay. Thus every good essay has a thesis statement. You should be thinking about what you want the whole essay to say. you want it to say what your essay says. if that will help you to get your point across to your readers. where it's going. There is nothing wrong with putting the thesis statement in the first paragraph. or understand after having read your essay. moves toward a single major point. the thesis statement works well as part of the introduction. what you want the reader to know or believe at the end of the essay.2 Why Write a Thesis Statement? . Thus you want your thesis statement to express in a sentence what your whole essay says. However. you want to decide before you finish it what the point will be. rather than one on which they may have opinions that differ from yours. perhaps most. and in developing your thesis statement you should not be thinking primarily about how you want your essay to start. it just means that your thesis is a statement about which your readers are uninformed. But many excellent essays do not state the thesis statement in the first paragraph. or understand. 1. that doesn't mean your essay doesn't have a thesis. Some textbooks attempt to break down the kinds of essays into categories like "informative. But every good essay is unified. you will write differently than you would if you were writing about a topic about which your readers were well informed. what you want your readers to know or believe or understand by the end of the essay.4 A thesis statement is a single declarative sentence that states what you want your readers to know.4. You don't just want the thesis statement to be a general conclusion that someone might reach from your essay. in some cases it doesn't.

Even if we accept that every good essay does have a thesis statement. in the process of writing. An essay is "a short piece of nonfiction that tries to make a point in an interesting way. So I'll have to answer this question in two parts: First. why do I ask you to write it down and hand it in? 1. to "develop" a thesis statement doesn't necessarily require writing it down on a piece of paper and handing it in with your essay. Even if you have a clear idea of what you think you want to say before you start to write. Notice that the definition says that an essay tries to make a point in an interesting way. What's the value of writing out your thesis statement on a piece of paper? If you know the point you are trying to make. In fact. is merely a statement of the point the essay makes. But that is what I will ask you to do for every essay you write. You will keep revising your thesis statement as you revise your essay. using the definition of a thesis statement given above.4. isn't that enough? The basic answer is "yes. Developing a thesis statement is an important part of the process of writing an essay.2 What's the value of writing out your thesis statement on a piece of paper? This brings us to the second question. why do you need to develop a thesis statement when you write an essay? The reason is that. When I talk about "having a thesis. Where the thesis statement is most important is at the end of the process. then it really isn't necessary for . But I am going to ask you to submit your thesis statement in writing with every draft and every essay you write. if it's crystal clear in your own mind. 1. Often you will have to start writing with only a question to answer or a topic to explore. during revision. One of the things that makes writing so interesting and exciting is that. In fact. Most essays don't completely succeed for all readers. and you'll have to write your way to a thesis.Why should you write a thesis statement when you write an essay? What is it good for? Is it just busy work? Something English teachers are required to impose on students to keep them from having any free time? One of those long traditions that everyone has forgotten the reason for? I don't think so. it flows from the definition of an essay that an essay cannot fail to have a thesis. if you don't have a thesis.2. you will usually discover that in the process of writing your idea changes. you can't write a good essay without one. often that thesis is implied by the essay and not explicitly stated." The thesis statement.4. You want your essay to come to a point.1 Why do you need to develop a thesis statement when you write and essay? First. You might try to make a point. to have a clear thesis that every reader will understand. you almost always discover ideas and connections between ideas that you didn't recognize before. then you can't possibly succeed. Having a thesis is no guarantee of a good essay." I don't mean that you have to have the thesis before writing the essay. then it isn't really an essay. If it doesn't make a point. as we have defined it.2. But if you don't have a point to make." If you really do know what you're trying to say in the paper. you really can't write a good essay without developing a thesis statement. Of course. if it's just a random bunch of paragraphs about the same topic that never come to any conclusion. and fail. why do you need to develop a thesis statement? Second. When you write you are creating ideas.

You are the architect. It doesn't have all the detail the finished building will. The main reason I ask you to write down your thesis statement and submit it before.2. most of us are not absolutely clear in our minds about what point we are making when we write. This can be frustrating. you are likely to "drift" as you write the first draft.3 Seeing the relationship between your thesis statement and your essay.4. Until construction is complete. Sometimes it will not be easy to see the relationship between your thesis statement and your essay. If you make changes in the design. it is very easy to write it down on a piece of paper. But you will recognize that in working on your thesis statement you are working on your essay. Unfortunately. And in trying to revise your thesis statement so that it summarizes your whole essay. Even when we think we know exactly what we want to say. The essay will often seem to be two separate half-essays pasted together in the middle. If the thesis statement is a good model of your essay--if everything in the essay is reflected in the thesis statement and everything in the thesis statement is developed in the essay--then we can give you useful feedback on your trial thesis statement that will help you to decide how to revise your essay. People's reactions to the scale model may help you to decide how to alter the design. and after you write your essay is that we will use the trial thesis statement as a tool to discuss and revise your essay. you will alter the scale model. Think of your essay as a building. you will see that that is an impossible task until you have settled on a single direction in which to revise the essay. That is to to write down your thesis and label it in order to produce a good essay. you can see why your thesis statement must evolve and develop as your essay does. This problem is usually not hard to fix. but it does allow us to see the shape and overall design. You may be tempted to think that if you could just ignore the thesis statement your essay would be fine. But it often results in a draft that starts out by posing one question and ends up by answering a different one. On the other hand. this is wishful thinking. For example. we often discover when we start to write it down that it isn't all there. If you think of the thesis statement as a scale model of your essay. if your thesis is clear in your mind. Your thesis statement is to your essay as the scale model is to the building. it will point you toward answers to many of the questions that arise in the process of revision. during. unless you have a very clear idea of what you want to say when you start writing your essay. and you won't worry about having a finished thesis statement until you have a finished essay. you will change your argument as you develop it. A thesis statement can help you to recognize that your essay has changed from its original intention. you can always make changes. Usually. This is a good thing because you usually improve your argument as you change it. Having to develop a written thesis statement along with your essay also helps you to discover problems with your essay and solve them. If you think of the thesis statement as a scale model of your essay. One of the reasons why it may be hard to come up with a thesis statement that matches your essay is that you haven't really decided what you want . No problem. It just takes a few seconds. As you design the building you construct a scale model so that you and your clients can see what the finished building will look like. but it may be hard for you to see at first because you are so close to the essay that you have just written. 1. And so your scale model will not be "final" until the building is finished.

Don't try to think of the one perfect topic for an essay. If it does. It's a form of success. If you expect not to have to revise your thesis statement. you probably don't have an essay yet. 1. you will find that it gets much easier to tell when the finished essay has done what it needs to do. It's the false expectation that causes the problem.4. Your first trial thesis statement is only a rough approximation of what you will eventually end up saying. several of them. something to improve. It doesn't work that say in the essay. This may not sound important. You will have read about the general topic and written on your reading. then answer the question and write the answer down. saying more about less. Ask and answer the questions "why?" and "how?" of your trial thesis statement. but it is. not a sign of failure. and discussing the topic in class. clustering. Once you have a topic. use whatever techniques seem to work for you: freewriting. Try to think of interesting issues. But it gives you something to work with.3 How to Write a Thesis Statement If you understand why you are writing a thesis statement. what point they make. but you haven't stated your reasons. your goal is just to get your rough idea down on paper. You should not expect to just sit down and write a perfect thesis statement. talking it over with friends. If you make the effort to really develop and revise your thesis statement. By the time you write a thesis statement. knowing when you've reached the end of the process. This is a process that writers have to go through in order to produce good work. writing. A good thesis statement will tell you when you have finished. You can just get on with it. It's normal and healthy. To get started. Most essays that don't work very well fail because they were never completed. One of the hardest things about writing good essays--even for very experienced writers--is knowing when you're finished. At first. Usually. the actual development of a thesis statement begins. it will be easier to write one. Throughout the whole process of reading. the process of revising a trial thesis statement consists of making your point clearer and more specific. A quick test is to look at your trial thesis statement and see if it makes sense to ask either "why?" or "how?" of your thesis statement as you have written it. They might even be interesting. brainstorming. The answer to that question will often be a better thesis statement than your original. And one reason we hand in incomplete essays is that we don't know how to tell when they are finished. there probably isn't one. I'll probably ask you to suggest three or four topics that might lead to interesting essays. You may have seven or ten decent paragraphs down on paper. So expect to revise your thesis statement and you will neither be surprised or disappointed. and you will have an idea how your fellow students--your audience for the essay--are thinking about it. . narrowing down and filling in what you can really do in the essay. you are bound to feel bad when you do. Often you will devote much more space in your essay to giving reasons than to stating conclusions. knowing when you should stop revising. One of the most common problems with a trial thesis statement is that you have given the final conclusion you want to reach in the essay. But if you can't say for sure what they add up to. be on the lookout for questions and problems that interest you. we will have discussed the topic in class.

When a transitive verb is in the active voice." "Because of" leads to a prepositional phrase. what caused the problem. not just what we are going to write about. When such a clause is in the passive voice.4. and more direct than the passive voice or than clauses using linking verbs (for example. The problem with making your thesis statement a negative claim is that the only way to support it is by making a positive claim." 1. Often these take the form of "X because Y. Jane. Be very careful about using the word "not" in a thesis statement. A transitive verb is an action verb that transmits the action to a receiver.3 Use the active voice in every clause in your thesis statement. So if you find yourself using a verb like "is.3. Notice that if you ask the question "why?" of a negative claim. We want a thesis statement to express what we are going to say." "was." 1. she is the subject of the sentence." All of these terms are also defined in your handbook. throwing. not just join topics together.2 Make your thesis statement a positive statement. not what didn't cause it. use a form of the verb "to be" as the main verb in a clause. but won't tell who is doing what to whom. the ball. the receiver is the subject of the sentence: "The ball was thrown by Jane." If you do so. Always use "because" in the form "because somebody does something. Tell us what somebody did. more informative. And don't hesitate to ask questions if you are confused. the active voice is clearer. don't ever follow it with "of. not your attitude. the doer of the action is the subject of the sentence or clause. just that it must be worded as a positive claim. And we almost always can. make it a group of words with a subject and a verb." "are. try adding a "because clause. until the meanings become clear. If you use "because" in your thesis statement. But when we are writing thesis statements. That is. An example would be the verb "throw" in the sentence "Jane throws the ball. she does the action. rather than one that uses terms like "not." If you don't answer the question "why?" in your trial thesis statement. We want a thesis statement to express action. not what you don't know. Clauses that use transitive verbs are in either the active or the passive voice. what you know.Some thesis statements need to state both a conclusion and a premise. not what they didn't do. But we are sometimes. So if your thesis statement is worded negatively. you will almost always have to answer it with a positive one. you probably haven't said what you need to say yet. be careful to make it a clause and not a phrase. as in this example. though very rarely.3. Look them up if you need to. I think we should always use the active voice when we can. Jane did the throwing." The action. One corollary to the rule that we should use the active voice is that we should never. I don't mean that your statement must be "positive" in the sense of optimistic.4. This suggestion is about the wording of your thesis. is transmitted from the doer. to a receiver. not just a string of nouns and modifiers. If we try to put every clause in every thesis statement in the active voice it will help us to find out what we really want to say and to write better essays faster. "is" or "was"). or hardly ever. not a negative one." or "were" as a linking verb rather than . it will give you a static topic. Most of the time. justified in using the passive voice in writing for variety or emphasis. as often as you need to.

If most of your readers are likely to believe your thesis without even reading your essay. The test is will you answer the question "how do you know?" to the satisfaction of your readers for every major claim you make? 1.4.3 Make it controversial or informative. you shouldn't make a claim that is so controversial that you really don't have a chance of getting your readers to accept it.4. In a good essay. Ask whether the sentence could mean different things to different people. The point you make in your essay shouldn't be obvious. Probably the most common problem with trial thesis statements is that they are too broad.4.1 Make it clear and unambiguous. 1. revise it to remove the possible meanings that you don't want to convey. Your thesis statement should be a statement about which your audience's knowledge or thinking is deficient or erroneous.4. Topic Sentence . 1. That is. You should be telling them something they don't already know or don't already believe. Can you move your audience to accept this thesis statement in an essay of the length you propose to write? Just as you can't write a very good essay pointing out something that is already obvious to your readers. 1. revise. the ideas it contains. 1.4.4. you probably don't need to write an essay to support that thesis.4.4 Make it defensible.4. Make sure it couldn't be interpreted to mean something other than what you want it to mean. we have been discussing fairly formal tests of a thesis.4 Content of Your Thesis Statement So far.2 Make it precise and limited. you will have to look at the meaning of the thesis. If it could. you will say more about less.4. you will develop your essay through specifics. not less about more. State no more than you are willing to defend. examples. evidence of some detail that you can directly relate to your own experience or to specific sources.just a helping verb. that they claim too much. the meaning you want the essay to have. Ask yourself "Who's doing what? Who's kicking who?" And rewrite your thesis statement in the active voice. It should be unambiguous. But as you start working with actual thesis statement. and ask whether what your thesis says expresses the right content.

Finally. Example: There are three reasons why Canada is one of the best countries in the world.What is the topic sentence? The topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph. All Canadians have access to medical services at a reasonable price. Canada has an excellent health care system. How do I write one? Summarize the main idea of your paragraph. What does it do? It introduces the main idea of the paragraph. Canada's cities are clean and efficiently managed. As a result. Canada has a high standard of education. Second. Indicate to the reader what your paragraph will be about. First. Canadian cities have many parks and lots of space for people to live. . Canada is a desirable place to live. Students are taught by well-trained teachers and are encouraged to continue studying at university.