Your paper’s due tomorrow. You’ve had a week to write it but here you are, 12 hours before your work is expected to pass from your hands to the teacher’s, still picking out a topic. You vaguely remember hearing the word “thesis” in class. You may have even read about it that day you were so bored you actually leafed through your English textbook. Your teacher and textbook seem to think it’s a pretty important thing. Actually, they seem to think it’s a “requirement,” but you’re still trying to decide whether you should write about cafeteria horror stories or saving the whales; the idea of corralling the pack of wild ideas running loose through your head into a unified statement seems impossible. Lucky for you, it’s not. It just takes a little knowledge, and a little practice. Here’s where the knowledge comes in…
Most of us are familiar with what a thesis is supposed to do, but we’re slightly unsure of why it’s so important. To understand the true importance of the thesis, you’ll need to step back for a moment and consider the general task of writing, in which you’re essentially taking a group of chaotic ideas, making sense of them, and turning them into a cohesive paper, essay, etc. The first step in turning that chaos into coherence is developing one clear, central idea your paper will revolve around, your thesis. In this way, you could compare the thesis of your paper to the foundation of a house. A foundation provides strong, solid support. Likewise, your thesis is a concise, specific statement that will support and provide structure for the rest of your argument.
Here’s a sample thesis statement: The causes of World War II were economic, social, and political.
Once you have a solid foundation in your thesis you can then use it to develop the framework of your paper – your title, topic sentences, introduction and conclusion. You can probably see how the above thesis almost naturally creates the structure of the essay. You could have at least one paragraph for each proposed cause of World War II, then summarize them all in your conclusion.
In addition to being important to you, the writer, to create a foundation and framework for your paper, the thesis statement is also extremely helpful to your readers. It ensures that your readers can easily find their way through your essay to the heart of your argument. By continually giving your paper direction, it keeps the reader from feeling like they’re wandering around in the dark, sure that they’re moving but with no idea of where they’ve been or where they’re going.
In order to create a strong thesis for every paper, even when writer’s block sets in, the first step is to examine your topic and make sure that you completely understand what you’re expected to write about. At this point you may want to define words or concepts you’re unfamiliar with and do some background research to get more acquainted with the subject.
Next, it’s crucial to find some aspect of your topic that genuinely interests you, or stands out in your mind, because if you’re not interested in your topic, your thesis and paper will convey that lack of interest to your readers, and probably bore and confuse them. You may find that even after you’ve taken your general topic and narrowed it down to a more interesting limited subject, it is still too broad to write an effective paper on. Continue to narrow your topic down, always focusing on what is most interesting to you, until you have a very specific statement that you can easily discuss in your allotted paper length.
Once you fully understand your topic and have narrowed it in scope to some specific area that interests you, you’re ready to write a compelling thesis. There is always time to refine and improve your thesis as you get further into the writing process; at this point all you’re looking for is a specific, clear statement that lays out the limited topic you will be discussing, and your compelling point of view or conclusion about that topic.
Here’s an example of a weak thesis statement: Hip hop is a form of music.
This thesis is very broad and takes no stand on the issue. It also gives the reader absolutely no clue of what the paper is going to discuss, besides the general subject of hip hop.
Here’s an example of a stronger thesis statement: Hip hop is a form of music that routinely objectifies women and glorifies a violent lifestyle.
Whether or not you agree with its content, this thesis statement is specific and tells the reader exactly what the paper is going to discuss. It also gives the writer some direction in organizing the paper.
Try to limit your thesis to 1-2 sentences, unless you are writing a longer paper and need more space to establish your thesis. Then, if you plan to state your thesis explicitly in your paper, you’ll want to place it at the end of your introduction. You can choose to leave your thesis implied as opposed to explicitly stated, but you’ll need to make sure that the central idea of your paper is still absolutely clear to the reader.
Remember that your thesis should be original and thought-provoking. It should also be focused. A good thesis is clear and interesting, without being too general to be adequately discussed or proven in one essay.
Writing a strong paper is not easy work; turning disorganized thoughts into something unified takes serious time and effort. Fortunately for you, when you devote some of this time and effort to the development of a strong thesis, you’re taking the first and most important step in the process of writing an interesting, clear essay that people will actually enjoy reading.