Choosing a Topic and Developing a Thesis Help (page 2)

Updated on Sep 2, 2011

Turning Your Topic into a Question

A thesis is the main idea of an essay, and is a response to a topic. In the previous example, the student narrowed her topic to "my generation's beliefs about the balance between work and play." To come up with a thesis, she can restate that topic in the form of a question: "What are my generation's beliefs about the balance between work and play?" The answer to that question might be, "My generation believes that life should be made up of equal parts of work and play."

She might never use that sentence in her essay; she could reword it while writing, or after writing, a first draft. Nevertheless, this exercise gives her a point from which she can launch into writing. Here are two more examples of the evolution of a tentative thesis from an assignment, a focused topic, and a question.

Finding a Focus

Finding a Focus

When Assignments Ask Questions

Essay assignments that pose a question allow you to quickly formulate a thesis. In fact, they are often called "thesis-bearing" assignments for that reason. For example:

Television is a powerful medium. What do you think is the ideal place of television in our lives, and why? Explain. How close is reality to that ideal?

Both questions are thesis bearing. Here is a student's freewriting response.

I think the ideal place of television is that it should be for information and entertainment, but that it shouldn't be watched too much. The reality is far from the ideal because too many people spend too much time watching TV to the point that they don't communicate with each other or do things that they should be doing to be physically and emotionally healthy (examples: exercise or homework).

This answer is a good tentative thesis. It explains how the student feels about the subject, it responds to the assignment, and it is focused.

In Short

To write an effective essay, you need a topic that interests you and fulfills the assignment. It must be sufficiently focused so the amount of material you will cover can be adequately explored within the confines of an essay. Narrow down your topic until you can turn it into a specific question. The answer to this question should serve as your tentative thesis—the main idea that you will address and develop in your essay.

Exercises for this topic can be found at Choosing a Topic and Developing a Thesis Practice.

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