Writing the Thesis Statement By Worth Weller (with a little help from the Purdue and Dartmouth OWL) What is it? • For most student work, it's a one- or two- sentence statement that explicitly outlines the purpose or point of your paper. • It is generally a complex, compound sentence** – A compound-complex sentence is made from two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses… “Although I like to go camping, I haven't had the time to go lately, and I haven't found anyone to go with.” What does it do? • It should point toward the development or course of argument the reader can expect your argument to take Where does it go? • Because the rest of the paper will support or back up your thesis, a thesis is normally placed at or near the end of the introductory paragraph. What does it contain? • The thesis sentence must contain an arguable point. – A thesis sentence must not simply make an observation -- for example, "Writer X seems in his novel Y to be obsessed with lipstick." • Rather, it must assert a point that is arguable: – “Writer X uses lipstick to point to his novel's larger theme: the masking and unmasking of the self." What it determines • The thesis sentence must control the entire argument. • Your thesis sentence determines what you are required to say in a paper. • It also determines what you cannot say. • Every paragraph in your paper exists in order to support your thesis. • Accordingly, if one of your paragraphs seems irrelevant to your thesis you have two choices: get rid of the paragraph, or rewrite your thesis. Is it fixed in concrete? • Imagine that as you are writing your paper you stumble across the new idea that lipstick is used in Writer X's novel not only to mask the self, but also to signal when the self is in crisis. • This observation is a good one; do you really want to throw it away? Or do you want to rewrite your thesis so that it accommodates this new idea? A contract • Understand that you don't have a third option: you can't simply stick the idea in without preparing the reader for it in your thesis. • The thesis is like a contract between you and your reader. • If you introduce ideas that the reader isn't prepared for, you've violated that contract. It provides structure for your paper • The thesis sentence should provide a structure for your argument. • A good thesis not only signals to the reader what your argument is, but how your argument will be presented. • In other words, your thesis sentence should either directly or indirectly suggest the structure of your argument to your reader. • Say, for example, that you are going to argue that "Writer X explores the masking and unmasking of the self in three curious ways: A, B, and C.” • In this case, the reader understands that you are going to have three important points to cover, and that these points will appear in a certain order. Other Attributes • It takes a side on a topic rather than simply announcing that the paper is about a topic (the title should have already told your reader your topic). Don't tell readers about something; tell them what about something. Answer the questions "how?" or "why?” • It is sufficiently narrow and specific that your supporting points are necessary and sufficient, not arbitrary; paper length and number of supporting points are good guides here. More Attributes • It argues one main point and doesn't squeeze three different theses for three different papers into one sentence; • And most importantly, it passes The "So What?" Test. An Equation • Thesis statements are basically made up of your topic and a specific assertion about that topic, therefore, • THESIS = TOPIC + SPECIFIC ASSERTION Summary The four “shoulds” of a thesis statement: • A good thesis statement should take a stand - don't be afraid to have an opinion; if after your research, your opinion changes, all the better - means you have been thinking; you can write a new thesis statement! • A good thesis statement should justify discussion - don't leave your readers saying to themselves "So what" or "duh?" or "like what's your point?" • A good thesis statement should express one main idea or a clear relationship between two specific ideas linked by words like "because," "since," "so," "although," "unless," or "however." Example • Poor: Stephen King writes high caliber books. • Good: Stephen King’s books are of such a high caliber because they use colorful vocabulary to discuss normal people who get into supernatural situations. • A good thesis statement should be restricted to a specific and manageable topic - readers are more likely to reward a paper that does a small task well than a paper that takes on an unrealistic task and fails Example: Broad Thesis • Bad Thesis: There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment. • Better Thesis: There should be no restrictions on the 1st amendment if those restrictions are intended merely to protect individuals from unspecified or otherwise unquantifiable or unverifiable "emotional distress." Example: Broad Thesis • Bad Thesis: The government has the right to limit free speech. • Better Thesis: The government has the right to limit free speech in cases of overtly racist or sexist language because our failure to address such abuses would effectively suggest that our society condones such ignorant and hateful views. Example: Uncontestable Thesis • Bad Thesis: Although we have the right to say what we want, we should avoid hurting other people's feelings. • Better Thesis: If we can accept that emotional injuries can be just as painful as physical ones we should limit speech that may hurt people's feelings in ways similar to the way we limit speech that may lead directly to bodily harm. Example: List Thesis • Bad Thesis: There are many reasons we need to limit hate speech. • Better Thesis: Among the many reasons we need to limit hate speech the most compelling ones all refer to our history of discrimination and prejudice, and it is, ultimately, for the purpose of trying to repair our troubled racial society that we need hate speech legislation. Example: Research Thesis • Bad Thesis: Americans today are not prepared to give up on the concept of free speech. • Better Thesis: Whether or not the cultural concept of free speech bears any relation to the reality of 1st amendment legislation, its continuing social function as a promoter of tolerance and intellectual exchange trumps the call for politicization (according to Fish's agenda) of the term.