What is a Thesis Statement?
If you get your thesis statement right, it will make writing the paper a breeze and reading it a pleasure. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what thesis statements are, what sort of thing should go into them, where they should appear in the paper, and how long they are allowed to be. So let's start by addressing these.
- A thesis statement comes somewhere in the introduction, wherever it works best for the individual assignment.
- It is an expression of intention about the conclusion you plan to form and how you intend to do that. That is, it contains your answer and the main grounds for it.
- It can be as long as you need. Usually, one sentence is enough, but if your assignment has several parts then you may need the same number of sentences. Generally, try not to let it get longer than three sentences for a 2,000 word paper (5-10 pages double line spacing).
- Form your thesis statement after you have done your research or preparation, when you know your material but haven't yet started to write your paper. Alternatively, plan your paper first in outline form, and then form your thesis statement, then tweak the outline plan to match, and then write up.
Forming the Thesis Statment
A thesis statement has two obligatory parts. The first is where you emphasise intention (because it is at or near the beginning of the paper and you haven't proved or shown anything yet). The second is where you state clearly what your answer will be at the end of the paper (after you have proved your argument or at least presented your evidence).
Let's take this one stage at a time:
- A thesis statement is an expression of intention
So use a clause that will put your answer into the future, such as:
- I will ..., I hope to ..., I plan to ..., I intend to ...
- It will be ... (etc - I don't like the passive form, but my students tell me that many professors do).
- It is an expression of something you plan to do
So you will want a verb or clause that connects logically to what you plan to do, such as
- (for extreme confidence or arrogance) prove that, refute that,
- (for confidence) argue that, show that, establish that, demonstrate that, indicate that, dismantle the arguments for, examine the evidence for, determine the causes of,
- (for reasonable caution or courtesy) make a case for, support the case for, make a case against, provide evidence that,
- (for speculation or increased courtesy) suggest that, raise the possibility that
- A thesis statement addresses the assignment fully and specifically. It leaves no part of the assignment out.
So if the assignment asks or implies two questions, there will be two answers in your thesis statement. Let's assume that the assignment asks the following:
In 1994, Komar and Melamid established that most poeple in America prefer landscape over abstract art. How do you account for this?
You will have to think about both art forms in order to answer this question, so your thesis statement will have two answers in it. Here's a thesis statement in response to the assignment, that contains all the necessary parts:
- (Part I) I plan to show that (Part II) many people don't like abstract art because they don't understand it, and that they like landscape art because they mistakenly think they do understand it.
Perhaps we can make it stronger - that is, we can make it do its job better (we don't need to use stronger language to do this.) Is this an improvement?
- (Part I) I plan to present anecdotal evidence to suggest that (Part II) many people ...
The language remains courteous and undogmatic, but the reader now knows what kind of argument to expect.
You probably get the idea now, but you'll need practice. It's a fun challenge - see what you can do!