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Thesis Statements

Why do we need a thesis?

The thesis statement tells your reader what to expect. An effective thesis statement makes a point about your essay's topic. The writer's purpose will affect the thesis statement. For example, in an essay that defines or explains, the thesis will convey the writer's main point. In an essay where the writer's purpose is to persuade, the thesis will usually take a strong stand on an issue. Readers need a strong thesis to maintain interest in the essay.


The "So What??" thesis

The thesis, therefore, will do much more than state a fact. Simply stating a fact gives the writer nothing to develop. For example, Many college students work is not an effective thesis.

Instead, it is what I call the "so what?" thesis. We all know that many college students hold down jobs. So what? What is the writer's point?

 A more effective thesis (for reader and writer) makes a point about working college students. For example: Holding a part time job while attending college can be a valuable experience for students. The writer has a point to develop and the reader has a reason to continue reading.


Hitting your reader over the head

 Avoid making your thesis an announcement. For example, In this paper I will discuss how holding a part time job while attending college can be a valuable experience for students weakens the thesis statement. I call these announcements the "hitting your reader over the head" thesis statements. Clearly, the reader is already aware that the writer is writing the paper and stating his or her opinion.


 Don't be vague--do be specfic

Make sure that your thesis statement is clearly worded and specific.  A vague thesis statement is ineffective. From the writer's point of view the vague thesis statement may result in an essay that lacks unity (has no overriding theme) or coherency (is “choppy") or has no links between ideas). From the reader's point of view the vague thesis statement can be confusing.

The reader's interest won't be held if the writer generalizes. Readers need specifics to understand the writer's point. In other words, readers want to know fairly quickly why they are reading.

For example: Reading great works of literature changed my life. is a vague thesis statement. How many great works will the writer discuss? What types of changes will the writer discuss?

On the other hand, Studying the works of Toni Morrison led me to a deeper awareness of the cultural heritage of African Americans, and fostered my desire to teach Black History at the college level. efficiently narrows the focus of the essay.


Where does the thesis go?

Where does the thesis belong? Well, this is a matter of debate. Some writers feel that the thesis of a piece need not be stated explicitly, that as long as the essay is unified and focused around one controlling idea, the writer's topic and point about that topic are obvious. Others feel that the thesis can come anywhere in the essay.
For the purpose of our class, however, we will generally include the thesis as the last sentence in the introductory paragraph.  One exception would be in the case of an anecdote opening, where a scene is set and scenario is played out that illustrates your point.  The writer's next paragraph in such cases is actually the introduction, and the thesis should be the last sentence of that paragraph.


Don't fall in love with your thesis

Do remember that you are in charge of your paper. In other words, you own the thesis statement--it does not own you. Don't be afraid to change it if while you are writing the body of the essay, you discover an additional factor that changes the scope of your essay, or you find your essay's direction has altered.  Don't let a thesis stop you from exploring or lock you in to only one way of thinking about your topic. It's your thesis. You can alter it if you wish. Just maintain clarity and focus and state a point.