Supporting the Thesis Statement Study Guide (page 2)
Supporting the Thesis Statement
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? - GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950) BRITISH NOVELIST AND ESSAYIST
No thesis statement can stand alone; every one of them needs support. In this lesson, you will learn how to create six types of building blocks to support your main idea and strengthen your writing.
Once you've written your first paragraph, and you're confident it introduces your thesis statement with strength and clarity, you can begin drafting the remainder of your essay. The care you took in drafting the first paragraph should be repeated in all subsequent paragraphs. Their role is to support your thesis statement, engage your reader for the remainder of the essay, and ultimately convince the reader to agree with your conclusion.
As you learned in the previous lesson, good paragraphs are built with logic, smooth flow, and detail. You should assume that your reader is willing to be convinced by your essay, but that you will need to provide support to guarantee that agreement in the end. Your goal as a writer is to provide your reader with sound logic and carefully chosen supporting details that strengthen the foundation of your thesis statement and provide lively and compelling reasons to keep reading.
Six Types of Support For Your Thesis
1. Provide Details and Examples
You will help your reader understand (and agree with) your thesis statement if you provide specific examples that illustrate your thinking. Examples can serve many purposes: you might use them to explain, to describe, to respond to assumed challenges from your reader, or simply to provide elaboration of one of your ideas.
In the paragraph from the King Kong essay that was introduced in step 3 in Lesson 19, a few specific details of Kong's life on Skull Island provided support for the thesis statement that he is "the saddest monster in movie history." Sensory details (such as taste, smell, sound, touch) are often effective supports to make your writing more vivid and convincing. For example, in writing about Kong's terror in captivity, the writer might mention Kong's bellowing. Imagining the sound of Kong's fear would help the reader imagine his sadness. Can you think of other details the writer might add to provide more support in subsequent paragraphs?
2. Provide Facts for Support
People tend to believe in facts, which seem to be objective and unchangeable. Because facts are not subjective, they are more easily agreed upon universally. The use of facts in any argument is likely to strengthen the writer's position. (Always remember that every thesis statement is basically an argument asking the reader to agree to the writer's point of view about some subject.)
Facts come in many forms; they can be statistics, definitions, logical conclusions, or carefully constructed observations. For example, to support the argument that Kong has a place in movie history, the writer might provide some facts about the movie's influence in movie history; how many times the movie has been remade; and how many other movie monsters have been patterned on Kong.
It is essential that you include facts or statistics with a purpose. Too many writers make the mistake of including facts without providing a context for them, or without explaining their relevance to the thesis statement. For example, the Kong writer might include facts about the film's length or the kind of film that was used to shoot it, or the date on which the film opened, but these facts are unlikely to be supportive of the essay's thesis. A good rule to follow: Make it relevant, or leave it out.
3. Provide Reasons to Agree
The strongest arguments are usually those that win readers over with the greatest ease, and usually they do so with sound logic, specific examples, and good common sense. When you're building a thesis statement, you will be wise to consider all the reasons a reader might not agree with you, and make sure that you address or dismiss those potential concerns with your own list of reasons why your thesis is a good one.
For example, let's return to sweet, sad Kong. The writer of the King Kong essay must prove the thesis about Kong's sadness with more convincing reasons than that the writer says so. Here are sample reasons the writer might include why we should accept the sadness thesis:
- Weak Reason: "I couldn't stop crying at the end of the movie; it was just totally sad." (Too emotional and subjective; not a factual reason to agree.)
- Good Reason: "One has only to mention the name Kong all over the world and moviegoers' eyes will tear up. He has become the very symbol of brutalized innocence." (Difficult fact to prove, but a strong, easily accepted semifactual statement.)
- Strong Reason: "The multiple remakes of this movie prove the profound emotional impact of Kong on movie history and on the widespread fans and moviegoers." (Easily substantiated fact.)
4. Include Anecdotes and Descriptions
Depending on the type of essay you are writing, it may well be appropriate to include anecdotes of personal experience that support your thesis. For example, if you are writing about a controversial topic such as "Should school uniforms be required?" a personal story about your experience in a school that required uniforms might be helpful. Personal anecdotes can support a thesis best when they relate directly to the topic and illustrate a particular point about the topic. Beware of generalized anecdotes that only indirectly contribute to the argument you are making.
Descriptions of specific events or situations that pertain to your topic are always helpful. In an essay about school uniforms, for example, descriptions of what various uniforms look like and descriptions of schools that have adopted uniforms would be strong information to include—whether you are writing in support of the idea or in opposition to it. Remember to choose descriptions and facts and evidence carefully. A good writer should be able to support almost any argument.
5. Include Expert Opinions and Quotations from Authorities
Consider all the cops-and-robbers shows you watch on TV. How many of them end in a dramatic courtroom scene with expert testimony from a medical examiner or a scientist? Including expert opinions and quotations from authorities is an excellent way to support a thesis statement.
Here's the proper way that our Kong fan might have used a quotation from a film critic who has written an entire book about Kong, Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture.
In her fascinating analysis of Kong and his influence, Cynthia Erb suggests that:
Like James Bond, Scarlett O'Hara, Batman, and the Star Trek characters, King Kong has become a cultural phenomenon—a character repeatedly featured in advertisements, political cartoons, musicals, operas, novels, comic books, film sequels, music videos, and other cultural works.
Your expert opinions and quotations don't always have to come from books, periodicals, the Internet, or other published sources. You can interview experts or other interested parties on your own. Be sure you quote your interviewees correctly, and provide the expert's credentials in order to justify your use of the expert's opinion as support for your thesis statement.