Finding and Developing a Thesis Study Guide (page 2)
Finding and Developing a Thesis
Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them. - JOHN RUSKIN (1819–1900) ENGLISH POET AND ESSAYIST
This lesson takes you to the next step in the planning process: deciding on a thesis statement for your essay. Knowing in advance what you're going to say about your topic is essential to good writing.
In this lesson, you'll learn how to develop and refine your essay's thesis. The distinction between a topic and a thesis is extremely important. Make sure you understand how they differ:
topic: the subject matter, the data or situation that you are writing about, in your magazine article, essay, book, or whatever thesis: the position you are taking about the topic
A thesis statement presents the idea or argument that you intend to support in your essay.
The last lesson introduced the question Who is doing the most to promote recycling? Had that been a real essay assignment, and had you done research and thinking about the topic, you would have been ready to develop a thesis statement for your essay. Here are some possible thesis statements for this topic:
|1. Nonprofit community activist groups in the city are doing the most to promote recycling.|
|2. The city government is leading the drive to promote recycling.|
|3. The city government, the city schools, and local church groups are equally active in promoting recycling.|
|4. The recycling activity in the city is practically invisible—nobody is doing very much to promote this important activity.|
Note that each of these sentences states in very few words the idea you will be exploring in the proposed essay. Be sure to distill your thesis statement into as few words as possible so that you can keep clearly in your mind (and in the mind of the reader) the most basic point that you are trying to make in your essay.
How To Develop a Thesis
As you are well aware, one of the trickiest part about writing is deciding what to write. And within the general area of planning, probably the toughest part of all is pinpointing your thesis. You may have done lots of reading, thinking, and researching, and still not know exactly what it is you want to say in your essay. Here are some guidelines to help you distill your thinking and identify a thesis for your essay.
Step 1: Make Your Thesis Interesting
Make sure your thesis is interesting, both to you and to your potential readers. If you're not interested by the thesis you are considering, it will show in your writing, and you can be pretty sure your readers won't be interested either.
A good way to ensure that your thesis has interest value is to give it a little twist or controversy or shock. Look at the four sample thesis statements from the recycling example. Which one is most interesting? Which essay do you think you'd want to read? Probably you'll say number 4, because it has a bit of spice and surprise. It makes the reader wonder how the writer will prove this statement to be true about the city.
Step 2: Keep Your Thesis Statement Focused
Most essay topics that you are assigned are quite broad. They might be topics such as What is your favorite movie? or What is your career goal? or Who has influenced you the most? Or a teacher might ask you to write an essay about a book your class has read, or a news event that interests you.
All of these topics are very general, and may not immediately grab your attention or the interest of your reader. Your job as a writer is to establish a thesis statement for your essay that is very specific and narrow, and communicates your point of view about the topic. For example, in response to the assignment to write about your favorite book, you might decide on a thesis statement such as one of these:
|1. My favorite book is _____ because it opened my eyes to the importance of _____.|
|2. My favorite book is my own diary because in it I write _____.|
|3. I haven't yet found a favorite book because _____.|
Do you see how these thesis statements narrow the topic, establish a point of view or an argument to be supported in the essay? Which do you think is most interesting? Which essay do you want to read? Why?
Step 3: Meet the Assignment's Requirements Exactly
A frequent mistake that writers make is to stray away from the assignment. In some cases, this won't matter. But most of the time, when you are taking a test, entering a contest, or writing an application for a scholarship of some kind, it is essential that you pay close attention to the essay assignment and fulfill its requirements.
Paying close attention to the assignment can also help you plan your essay more easily. Read the assignment carefully, and once you've established your thesis statement, go back and reread the assignment to make sure you're meeting its requirements. For example, many assignments ask you to support your argument with a certain number of facts or reasons; other assignments might ask you to avoid stating personal opinions. Whatever the assignment, it is your obligation as a careful (and smart) writer to read the rules carefully and obey them.
Often the requirement that gets ignored, or forgotten, is the length requirement. When an assignment calls for 300 words, it usually means that exactly, and you may well be penalized if your essay is significantly shorter or longer than the stipulated length. In general, if you come within 25–50 words either way of the required length, you'll be safe. No reader is likely to count as carefully as you do, but you definitely should be aware of length requirements and how closely you are meeting them.
The professional way to count words does not count every individual word equally; little words like a, an, and the do not count as whole words. Instead, most official word counts figure that approximately four to five characters constitute a word. Thus, to be absolutely precise, you count the number of characters in a line (including spaces), and then count the number of lines in your document, and that gives you the official word count. If you are writing on a computer, choose to use its word count tool, and note that the computer's program is probably counting in the official way.
Step 4: Double-Check Your Thesis Before You Write
Before you begin the actual drafting of your essay, reread the assignment and double-check your thesis statement to assure yourself that you are responding directly and precisely to the assignment. Check to see that you have developed a thesis that both states a point of view and is sufficiently focused to serve as the guiding statement throughout your essay.
Practice: Developing Thesis Statements
Take five minutes and develop three possible thesis statements for each of these essay topics. Remember to write a narrow statement that presents a point of view and directly addresses the assigned topic. Be sure to follow the four steps outlined in this lesson as you develop your thesis statements.
|1. Write an essay about coeducation in middle schools in America.|
|2. Write an essay about the use of school uniforms in middle schools in America.|
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