Purdue OWL: Thesis Statements

Thesis statements: a vidcast mini lesson brought to you by Rachel Atherton and Haley Larson in cooperation with the Purdue Online Writing Lab. What is a thesis statement? A thesis statement is a sentence or a few sentences, usually near the beginning of a piece of writing, in which a writer clearly and specifically explains their argument and tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the piece. You can find a thesis statement in almost any composition. Teachers have their own individual expectations regarding thesis statements, but it’s true that many teachers expect that a thesis will be one sentence at the end of the introduction. What, though, is the best way to write a thesis statement if you don’t have a teacher’s specific instructions? What are the key features of a thesis? Your thesis, no matter what the genre, should be 3 things: #1: Specific. #2: Early, and #3: Adaptable. Your thesis should cover only what you cover in your paper. Don’t be too broad. Readers should understand your main point at the beginning of your paper, and they should be able to follow that point throughout. Your thesis should guide both your ideas and your audience’s understanding of those ideas. As you write and revise, your ideas will likely change, so you need to be willing to adapt your thesis. The way your thesis statement should look will be dictated by the situation you’re writing in. Who is your audience? What’s your purpose for writing? Which genre are you writing in? If you want to explain how to run for student government to a group of college students, for instance, you probably want to signal that the genre and purpose of the piece is a how-to guide, and give a few key points that you will focus on. If you intend to analyze the contributions of student government to the college as a whole, you’ll need to use your thesis statement to signal your focus and preview your conclusions. But if you want to argue and prove that running for student government increases a student’s GPA, you’ll have to signal your claim and key points in your thesis statement. Now let’s take a look at a thesis statement as we go through the writing process. Our assignment is an argumentative paper, and our goal is to persuade educators and legislators that high schoolers should have to take a year off for community service before college. Our first draft of a thesis statement says “High school graduates should take a year off before going to college.” This draft makes a strong, clear claim that this thesis promises to argue for. But why should anyone believe us? We haven’t given any details or reasons for our claim. We need our thesis to be specific. As we research, plan and write our paper, we decide we want to focus on two possible results of gap years: maturity and global awareness. We go back to our thesis and add that in. Now our thesis reads “High school graduates should take a year off before going to college, so they can be mature and globally aware.” Now our thesis is more specific, and it’s still clear. It promises to argue for a gap year for the two reasons we mentioned. Great! We put it in the introduction so the reader knows our stance right away Then before we revise our paper, We look back at the assignment. Our teacher says we should think about logical relationships. We should add something to our thesis to explain exactly how we think gap years can lead to maturity and awareness. Our next draft says “High school graduates should take a year off for community service projects Before going to college, so they can be mature and globally aware.” Now our thesis promises not only to argue for gap years, but also to show how community service is connected to maturity and global awareness. That’s a specific, clear claim that we can argue for and our thesis sets up expectations that we can fulfill throughout the paper. We haven’t given all our evidence at this point, but our thesis shows the reader what they can expect to learn more about as they read on. There are a number of items we need to check off on our list, in order to write an effective thesis statement. The first item is for our readers. We need to make sure that we set up expectations for the reader in the thesis, and then fulfill those in the paper. The second item is for our teachers. We need to make sure we follow their guidelines for appropriate thesis statements. The third item is for our key features. We need to make sure our thesis is specific, early and adaptable. So next time you sit down to write a paper, consider all the factors at play when you’re writing your thesis statement. Happy writing!

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