Chapter 8: Thesis Development

Part 2: Chapter 8

After developing an outline, a good next step is refining your thesis statement. The textbook Successful Writing explains that writers need a thesis statement to provide a specific focus for their essay and to organize what they will discuss in the body of their writing. A thesis statement is an argumentative central claim in a paper; the entire paper is focused on demonstrating that claim as a valid perspective. Your thesis statement should be in your introduction because you must make sure that the audience is aware of your paper’s intent so that there is clarity from the outset. Consider placing the thesis toward the bottom of your introduction. This allows you a few sentences to introduce the concept and prepare the reader for your purpose.

Just like a topic sentence summarizes a single paragraph, the thesis statement summarizes an entire essay. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.

Elements of a Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis is not your paper’s topic, but rather your interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic your professor gives you, you must ask yourself, “What do I want to write about it?” Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful, and confident.

A thesis is generally one to two sentences long and appears toward the end of your introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that will be demonstrated in the body. The thesis forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.

A strong thesis statement contains the following qualities.

Specificity

A thesis statement must concentrate on a specific area of a general topic. As you may recall, the creation of a thesis statement begins when you choose a broad subject and then narrow down its parts until you pinpoint a specific aspect of that topic. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a proper thesis statement would focus on a specific area of that topic, such as options for individuals without health-care coverage.

Precision

A strong thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and to remain focused on the topic. If the specific topic is options for individuals without health-care coverage, then your precise thesis statement must make an exact claim about it, such as that limited options exist for those who are uninsured by their employers. You must further pinpoint what you are going to discuss regarding these limited effects, such as whom they affect and what the cause is.

Ability to be argued

A thesis statement must present a relevant and specific argument. A factual statement often is not considered arguable. Be sure your thesis statement contains a point of view that can be supported with evidence.

Ability to be demonstrated

For any claim you make in your thesis, you must be able to provide reasons and examples for your opinion. You can rely on personal observations in order to do this, or you can consult outside sources to demonstrate that what you assert is valid. A worthy argument is backed by examples and details.

Assertiveness

A thesis statement that is assertive shows readers that you are, in fact, making an argument. The tone is authoritative and takes a stance that others might oppose.

Confidence

In addition to using force in your thesis statement, you must also use confidence in your claim. Phrases such as “I feel” or “I believe” actually weaken the readers’ sense of your confidence because these phrases imply that you are the only person who feels the way you do. In other words, your stance has insufficient backing. Taking an authoritative stance on the matter persuades your readers to have faith in your argument and open their minds to what you have to say.

Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements

Each of the following thesis statements meets several of the following requirements:

  • Specificity

  • Precision

  • Ability to be argued

  • Ability to be demonstrated

  • Assertiveness

  • Confidence

 
  1. The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxon in the play “Fences” symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
  2. Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
  3. J. D. Salinger’s character in Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet in an effort to protect himself, he acts like a phony on many occasions.
  4. Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
  5. Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
  6. In a crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.

Now that you have read about the contents of a good thesis statement and have seen examples, take a look at the pitfalls to avoid when composing your own thesis:

A thesis is weak when it is simply a declaration of your subject or a description of what you will discuss in your essay. Avoid creating an announcement.

 
  • Weak thesis statement: My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.

A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable or outrageous claim or insults the opposing side.

 
  • Weak thesis statement: Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.

A thesis is weak when it contains an obvious fact or something that no one can disagree with or provides a dead end.

 
  • Weak thesis statement: Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.

A thesis is weak when the statement is too broad.

 
  • Weak thesis statement: The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.

Ways to Revise Your Thesis

Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.

Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.

The best way to revise your thesis statement is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then incorporate into your thesis statement.

You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:

  1. Pinpoint and replace all non-specific words, such as people, everything, society, or life, with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.

    The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words, like people and work hard, the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.


  2. Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.

    A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience.


  3. Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb to be, a verb that simply states that a situation exists.

    The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are. Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:

    • Who is not paying the teachers enough?

    • What is considered “enough”?

    • What is the problem?

    • What are the results?


  4. Omit any general claims that are hard or impossible to support.

    While it is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, that is not true for all girls. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:

    • Which teenage girls?

    • What constitutes “too” sexualized?

    • Why are they behaving that way?

    • Where does this behavior show up?

    • What are the repercussions?

Adapted from “Chapter Nine” of Successful Writing, 2012, used according to creative commons CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

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