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Providing Support for Your Thesis Help

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Updated on Sep 6, 2011

Providing Support for Your Thesis

Your thesis is as important as the evidence that supports it. This lesson describes six different strategies for supporting your assertions.

The word friendly can be used to describe the "general reader." It's important to think of your reader this way, because when you write for a friendly audience, you won't be tempted to employ an unnecessarily adversarial or defensive tone. But friendly doesn't mean that the reader will accept everything and anything you say. Unsubstantiated assertions will be questioned, and evidence will be required.

An essay is an explanation, not just of what you think, but of why you think it. The why comprises many types of support, including evidence, examples, and details. Most types of support are in one of six categories:

  1. specific examples
  2. facts
  3. reasons
  4. descriptions and anecdotes
  5. expert opinion and analysis
  6. quotations from the text

The boundaries of these categories are not absolute; an anecdote is often an example, and a reason can also be a fact. However, the categories are useful for discussing types of support and illustrating how to substantiate your assertions in a variety of ways.

Using Specific Examples in Your Thesis

Specific examples comprise the broadest category of evidence. Such an example offers something tangible to the reader; it is a person, place, or thing that exemplifies your idea. Let's examine the following statement:

Movies often portray the American suburb as a place of false happiness and hidden misery. But this is an unfair and inaccurate depiction.

This thesis has two ideas that need support: the portrayal of the American suburb as a place of false happiness and hidden misery, and that this depiction is unfair and inaccurate. You could cite films such as American Beauty and The Ice Storm as specific examples.

But examples can't simply be mentioned. To support your thesis, you'll need to demonstrate that both films portray the American suburb in precisely this negative way. You could begin this demonstration with a summary of the plot (remember, you shouldn't assume that a general reader has the same knowledge as you), and then offer the following specific examples as evidence:

  • the Burnhams' home and neighborhood
  • Mrs. Burnham's obsession with appearance
  • the breakdown of the Burnhams' marriage
  • Mr. Burnham's rebellion against the status quo
  • Jane Burnham's hatred of her parents
  • Mrs. Fitts' comatose state

Specific examples like these provide concrete evidence of your assertions. They make your claim "real" for your reader.

Using Facts in Your Thesis

The next form of support must be differentiated from opinion.

A fact is:

      something known for certain to have happened
      something known for certain to be true
      something known for certain to exist

An opinion is:

      something believed to have happened
      something believed to be true
      something believed to exist

Facts are what we know; they are objective and therefore do not change from person to person. Opinions are what we believe; they are subjective and debatable, and they often change from person to person. Because facts are objective, they're particularly valuable as evidence in an essay, especially when your thesis is controversial.

Facts include statistics, definitions, recorded statements, and observations. For example, a writer is drafting an essay assessing the flat tax from her outline. Here is her thesis:

A flat tax would be good for the government and for citizens.

To support it, she could include the following facts:

  • The IRS publishes 480 different tax forms.
  • The IRB publishes 280 different tax forms to explain those 480 tax forms.
  • The body of the tax law has 7.05 million words—ten times the number of words in the Bible.
  • The cost of income tax compliance is over $1.3 billion a year (some sources estimate the cost as high as $2 billion).
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