What is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is the basic stand a writer takes, an opinion a writer expresses about a topic. It is the controlling idea, tying together and giving purpose to all the details. The writer's main goal in an essay is to persuade the reader that the thesis is a valid one by supplying details, examples, and quotes - "the beef". Other secondary purposes may be to inform, explain, entertain, alarm, or call to action; however, unless the primary purpose is achieved, no secondary purpose stands a chance. A thesis, of course, is only a vibration in the brain until it is turned into words. The first step in creating a workable thesis is to write a 1-sentence version of the thesis which is called a thesis statement.
Every essay requires a thesis statement. Like an anchor, it gives a paper a clear focus and eliminates the problem of aimless drift. As a result it helps organize the paper because writers only use information that helps accomplish their goal. A thesis statement, then, is the main idea that all the elements of the paper should support. It contains an opinion and is expressed in one sentence.
What a Thesis is Not
A Thesis is not a title:
A title can often give the reader a clue of what the thesis is going to be, but the title is not a thesis. The thesis statement does not suggest the main idea; it is the main idea. Note: A thesis statement must also be a complete sentence.
Title: Year Round School
Thesis Statement: Year round school is a disastrous concept with mythical benefits.
A Thesis is not an Announcement of the Subject: ("My paper is about...")
A Thesis takes a stand. It expresses an attitude or opinion about a subject. It is not the subject itself. MLA urges us not to use the personal pronouns I, me, you, your (unless the essay is a personal narrative.) It is acceptable to use the pronoun we.
Announcement: My paper is on the incompetence of Mr. Law.
Thesis Statement: Mr. Law is an incompetent teacher.
A Thesis is NOT a Statement of fact.
A thesis makes a judgment or interpretation. There is no need to write a whole paper supporting a statement that needs no support. A thesis must be arguable. The addition of one opinion word will accomplish that goal.
Fact: The capital of Pennsylvania is Harrisburg.
Thesis: The capital of Pennsylvania is Harrisburg, but it should be Philadelphia.
A Thesis is not the Whole Essay.
A thesis statement is one sentence that expresses the main idea.
What an Effective Thesis Contains
An effective thesis is restricted and deals with bite-sized issues rather than issues that would take a whole lifetime to discuss intelligently. A more restricted thesis lends itself to a tighter and more complete argument.
Not restricted enough: People are too selfish.
Improved: Human selfishness is seen at its worst during rush hour.
A Thesis Must be Unified
A thesis must express one major idea about the subject. For tight organization, an essay depends upon all details working to support one idea. A good thesis sometimes includes a secondary idea if it is strictly related to the major one. Be careful that the relationship is close or the paper will not have a tight focus, and the structure will suffer.
Not Unified: Detective stories are not a high form of literature; but people have always been fascinated by them, and many fine writers have experimented with them.
Improved: Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills.
A Good Thesis is Specific
Word choice is key when writing an effective thesis statement. Make sure that the thesis does not imply any ambiguity. Be careful to select words that are not dull, vague, or unclear.
Ambiguous: Drug addiction is a big problem.
Improved: Drug addiction has caused a huge increase in violent crime.
Note: Writers may also extend the thesis statement by forecasting (listing) the major points that will be presented in the paper. A forecasting thesis is an excellent strategy to prepare the reader for a series of issues which will be discussed in that exact order in a lengthy paper. Short essays usually do not benefit from a forecasting thesis statement because it often becomes a summary and reveals too much too soon. Summaries are most effective as the conclusion of an essay.
Hemingway's war stories helped create a new prose style by employing extensive dialogue, shorter sentences, and strong Anglo-Saxon words.
I asked the students if they thought that their thesis statement would help the reader navigate their essay easily or if their thesis statement would make their reader lost. Every student thought their readers would get lost and maybe end up up in the middle of the desert. Hopefully they have water. If not. . .
So what do we doooooooooooooooooooo? Commence the writing workshop.
One of the biggest problems we've found in the last week, regardless of grade level, is that while students had picked a topic, it didn't relate to the theme of rights and responsibilities. Throughout the lesson, that's what we kept coming back to. What's your topic? Is that a right or a responsibility? Were someone's rights violated? Was someone rights? Who had a responsibility to do what? A lot of the times, they couldn't answer that question. In a group discussion, they were able to get help, not only from me, but also from their peers. They came up with some super awesome ideas that were so awesome I got chills. Quite often, they realized that they needed to do additional research.
One of the great things about having a student teacher is that we can break students up in to more groups to give them more focused instruction, which is what we did today. One on one instruction in a group of twelve is a whole lot more than one on one help in a group of twenty-eight. I know that I am quite fortunate in this regard this year and I do. not. take. it. for. granted. At. all. I'm going to miss her when she leaves in December.
Once we were settled in our groups, I asked for some brave volunteers. They'd have to read their thesis statement as is and let us rip it to shreds. They'd have to be very brave. So very brave. A couple of kids raised their hands, and it was on.
The video in this section shows how I went through the process of identifying three major points in their essay and relating it to the theme of rights and responsibilities to get to the point of writing a thesis statement.
Essentially, I asked students what their topic was and if it was a right or a responsibility. Most students hadn't considered the right/responsibility component, so there were some ruffled feathers.
The next step was to determine
- what rights were given/taken away/violated, etc.
- what responsibilities a certain individual had
and then to write the whole thing as one sentence.
In the above picture, one student wrote about scientists. Why did he choose this topic? It was on the list of approved topics. Through the discussion, we were able to determine that scientists have responsibilities. What responsibilities? The responsibility to not kill people with experiments, to not use something without testing, and to follow the laws of the country. The student then had to take that and write a complete sentence. Bam! Thesis statement.
At least one student in every class wrote about Native American boarding schools. In that case, we determined that rights were violated. How? What were the three ways rights were violated? Through the discussion, each student identified something like the right to speak the native language was taken away, rights to religion were taken away, and rights to live where they wanted to were taken away. Put that in one sentence and boom! Thesis statement. It was much more emphatic when I could slam my hand on a desk at the bam!
And on and on and on. After each thesis statement workshop, I checked in with students and asked them to give me a thumbs up if they felt they could write the thesis on their own, thumbs sideways if they needed help, and thumbs down if they had no idea what to do. I then called on students with sideways or down thumbs to work with.
Throughout the process, I reminded students that they might discover that their whole essay needed to change, that they might need to rewrite whole paragraphs, or relocate sentences within the essay. That's just part of the writing process and part of being a writer.