What is a Thesis Statement?
The thesis statement is the sentence that states the main idea of a writing assignment and helps control the ideas within the paper. It is not merely a topic. It often reflects an opinion or judgment that a writer has made about a reading or personal experience. For instance: Tocqueville believed that the domestic role most women held in America was the role that gave them the most power, an idea that many would hotly dispute today.
What Makes a Strong Thesis Statement?
- A strong thesis statement gives direction to the paper and limits what you need to write about. It also functions to inform your readers of what you will discuss in the body of the paper. All paragraphs of the essay should explain, support, or argue with your thesis.
- A strong thesis statement requires proof; it is not merely a statement of fact. You should support your thesis statement with detailed supporting evidence will interest your readers and motivate them to continue reading the paper.
- Sometimes it is useful to mention your supporting points in your thesis. An example of this could be: John Updike's Trust Me is a valuable novel for a college syllabus because it allows the reader to become familiar with his writing and provides themes that are easily connected to other works. In the body of your paper, you could write a paragraph or two about each supporting idea. If you write a thesis statement like this it will often help you to keep control of your ideas.
Where Does the Thesis Statement Go?
A good practice is to put the thesis statement at the end of your introduction so you can use it to lead into the body of your paper. This allows you, as the writer, to lead up to the thesis statement instead of diving directly into the topic. If you place the thesis statement at the beginning, your reader may forget or be confused about the main idea by the time he/she reaches the end of the introduction. Remember, a good introduction conceptualizes and anticipates the thesis statement.
Tips for Writing/Drafting Thesis Statements
- Know the topic. The topic should be something you know or can learn about. It is difficult to write a thesis statement, let alone a paper, on a topic that you know nothing about. Reflecting on personal experience and/or researching will help you know more information about your topic.
- Limit your topic. Based on what you know and the required length of your final paper, limit your topic to a specific area. A broad scope will generally require a longer paper, while a narrow scope will be sufficiently proven by a shorter paper.
- Brainstorm. If you are having trouble beginning your paper or writing your thesis, take a piece of paper and write down everything that comes to mind about your topic. Did you discover any new ideas or connections? Can you separate any of the things you jotted down into categories? Do you notice any themes? Think about using ideas generated during this process to shape your thesis statement and your paper.
Placement of the thesis statement
The thesis statement usually belongs near the start of the essay. However, the exact placement can vary.
For a relatively simple, short essay, you could put the thesis statement as the first sentence. Then, the rest of the first paragraph discusses what you’re going to talk about in the rest of the essay. By the time you get to the second paragraph, you’re already into the first part of the essay - you’ve finished the introduction. This is OK for simple, straight to the point essays.
Thesis statement placement in a simple essay
Thesis statement. Blah blah blah - rest of introductory paragraph describing what we’re going to talk about in the essay.
Second paragraph - straight into the discussion of the first topic.
However, putting the thesis statement as the very first sentence in the essay doesn’t work as well once your essays get a little longer and more complex. Reading the thesis statement in the first sentence can be a bit of a put off for the reader - there’s no warm-up for the reader before the statement is introduced.
More sophisticated writing (and face it, that’s what you’re usually trying to do, or at least appear to do) prepares the reader for the thesis statement. It’s sort of like trying to get someone to do something for you. You’re usually better off gradually working your way to the request, rather than asking straight out:
Handy Hint - How not to ask for something
James: Can you lend me $20?
I’m sure you’ve heard people asking something straight out. Unless the person they’re asking owes them a favour, they’re not that likely to get what they ask for. Most people (even if they don’t admit it) can be manipulated just a little to be in a more receptive state of mind for a request. Watch!
Handy Hint - How to ask for something
James: I’ve got to go to soccer training tonight.
Sally: That should be lots of fun.
James: Yeah, it will be exhausting.
Sally: I hope you don’t collapse.
James: Yeah, well if I get some food into me now I should be alright.
Sally: Yeah, what are you planning to eat?
James: I don’t know ... (looks into wallet) Oh man, I don’t have any money.
Sally: What’d you do with it?
James: Oh, that’s right, I had to lend it to Mum. I don’t suppose you’ve got $20 I could borrow, please, just to get some food?
Sally: Oh, OK. Here you go (gives James a twenty dollar note).
James has set up some background information - he’s got to go to soccer training tonight. To get through soccer training he’s going to need lots of energy, which means he’d better eat well. Then he ‘discovers’ he has no money, so he won’t be able to buy lunch. On top of that, the reason he doesn’t have any money isn’t his fault - he’s ‘lent’ the money to his Mum (sure he has!) Now that Sally has the background information, she would feel a lot worse about saying no to him, than she would if he’d just asked straight out.
The same goes for a thesis statement - you’re trying to sell something to your audience. It helps if you ‘butter up’ your audience first, especially if it’s a potentially hostile audience that might disagree with your thesis statement.
So use your first paragraph to work into your thesis statement - to focus the reader’s attention on the general topic (and in a direction that you want the reader to focus). That way, they’ll be warmed-up when you introduce the thesis statement itself, which can happen somewhere near the end of the first paragraph, or even in a second paragraph if you want an extended ‘lead-in’ to the thesis statement.
Thesis statement placement in a good essay
Introductory sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Background / lead in sentence. Thesis statement.
Second paragraph - straight into the discussion of the first topic.
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