How to Write a Thesis Help (page 2)
Introduction to Writing a Thesis Statement
The most important part of your paper is your thesis statement. Your entire paper, all the evidence you have accumulated, and the style you choose to write in, will all support and defend this statement. This lesson is about writing a strong thesis so that your reader will be immediately convinced by your argument and point of view.
Think of your thesis statement as an explanation or a summary. If you have a question that you want answered immediately, what kind of answer do you want to receive? Most people like direct answers that are straightforward, do not mince words, and give them concrete explanations. For instance, if you are a teacher and you ask your students if they have their homework, you'd probably want to hear responses like, "Yes, it's here in my desk," or, "I'm sorry, I don't have it with me today." What might make you frustrated, however—even more frustrated than a student who doesn't have his or her homework—is an answer like,"Uh, no, I'm sorry, my homework isn't here. You see, last night, my grandmother came to dinner, and because of traffic from New Jersey she was late. It was weird because the traffic across the George Washington Bridge was really bad last night because of an accident and by the time my grandmother came and we had all finished dinner, I didn't have time to really get to my homework. But … etc." In other words, the more directly you can answer a question, and the fewer words you use, the better. In fact, it is much more likely that people will believe you if you answer them quickly and directly without drifting off the topic or avoiding the question. The same holds true with formulating your thesis statement. No matter how complex your subject matter or your source may be, you should be able to word your thesis in one sentence or less. It may take some time and a little bit of practice on your part, but if you have fun and consider it an exercise, the careful and succinct wording of your thesis will save you hours of valuable time later on.
Writing a Bold and Assertive Thesis Statement
Usually, the most effective place for your thesis—where it makes the greatest impact upon your reader—is at the beginning of your paper. The thesis statement is always included in the introductory paragraph so that the reader is immediately drawn in and interested in your writing. Some people like to begin a paper using the thesis as the opening sentence. Others like to write a few sentences and place the thesis at the end of the introductory paragraph. Either way is acceptable. Your writing style and preference will dictate which of these two methods you prefer, but to demonstrate the difference that length makes, let's consider an example in which the thesis statement is the very first sentence of your paper. Again, let's use the example of a paper on John F. Kennedy's assassination. Look at the two statements below and determine which one most powerfully hooks the reader:
This paper will discuss and examine the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. After doing a lot of research and reading a lot of books, I have decided that President Kennedy's death was not the result of a conspiracy, as many historians and most people think. Actually, this paper will prove that President Kennedy's death was the work of a lone gunman. It was not a government conspiracy, although many people still believe this.
Despite previous theories, President Kennedy's death was not the result of a government conspiracy, but the work of a lone assailant.
Which explanation or thesis statement convinces you? Although both examples essentially argue the same point, Example B is a more persuasive thesis statement because it is short, right to the point, and makes a bold, declaratory statement. Even if the reader doesn't necessarily agree with your thesis statement, your boldness and strong assertion are sure to rouse curiosity and a desire to read more.
Practice Makes Perfect
It is not always easy to consolidate and narrow down the entire essence of your paper or your research into a single sentence. But don't worry. Just as you allowed yourself to brainstorm for your outline, take a blank sheet of paper and write down a full, flowing, practice paragraph that includes several sentences about why you are writing your paper and why you think the topic is important. This gives you plenty of material to draw from and sentences to edit that are already about your topic. For example, a preliminary thesis paragraph might look like this:
I have always been interested in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Although I have read a lot of books that discuss theories about his death being the work of the Mafia, the CIA, or another member of the government, it seems to me like the best theory and the one which is most believable is that he was killed by an assassin. The plan was drawn over many months and carried out to perfection.
Now that you have a lot of sentences to work with, highlight information or words that are important. Later, you have your entire paper to explain your theories and detail your research, but for the moment, try to connect the two most important sentences together and then narrow them down further or fuse them into one sentence. If you were to highlight the key or essential information in the paragraph you wrote, the sentences or words that you highlighted might look like this:
I have always been interested in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Although I have read a lot of books that discuss theories about his death being the work of a conspiracy like the Mafia, the CIA, or another member of the government, it seems to me like the best theory and the one which is most believable is that he was killed by an assassin. The plan was drawn over many months and carried out to perfection.
Practicing Your Thesis Out Loud
If you are still having trouble narrowing your ideas down on paper, another way to refine your ideas is to practice saying your thesis out loud to a friend or relative. A good way to think of this is to pretend that you are a Hollywood director and you are "pitching" your film idea to an influential producer. If you want a producer to invest millions of dollars and make a big budget movie, you've got to get him or her interested in your idea, or "pitch," immediately. As a writer, you are the "director" of your paper and you've got to get your "audience," or reader, interested immediately. Most often, you will only have sixty seconds to run your idea past a producer, so you need to sum up your movie and your idea very neatly and succinctly. Maybe you want Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts to star in your movie, but you are a newcomer to Hollywood and this is your first movie. How would you convince a producer to invest in your idea? Similarly, how do you convince a reader to spend time reading your paper? A powerful thesis statement will do the trick. For example, if you say to the Hollywood producer:
I'd like to make a film about former President John F. Kennedy. I have always been interested in the former president because of a high school teacher, Mr. Golding, who was very influential in my thinking. I remember Mr. Golding suggested that there were many different theories behind President Kennedy's death, but after we spent our term discussing it and after many years of reading, I have decided.… etc.
Are you still reading? Is the Hollywood producer still listening? How about another pitch that might say:
Many people believe that John F. Kennedy's death was the result of a conspiracy, but they are wrong. My film will dramatize his murder at the hands of a lone assassin.
Again, even if the Hollywood producer does not agree with you, he or she might be intrigued by your theory. You haven't taken up all his or her time; you have been direct in your wording and purpose; and he or she might be willing to invest money in your idea. For fun, consider your thesis to be a pitch. Pretend that you only have a maximum of 60 seconds to state your idea. Have a friend time you. If you cannot summarize your thesis statement within that time frame and you cannot narrow down your thesis statement into one sentence, odds are that you still need to rework it. The more you practice, the easier it will become and you will find yourself saying it out loud in no time. Hearing your thoughts out loud is a good way to recognize whether or not they make sense. Many times, having a friend or relative summarize your words will guide you in this process.
Perfecting your thesis to make it as convincing and succinct as possible is important. Although it might take a little bit of practice before you are able to narrow down your thoughts and condense your thesis into a single sentence, a short, strong thesis statement will save you a lot of time later on. A bold declaration at the beginning of your paper assures your reader that you are in control of your material.
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