Sometimes, when I sit down with a student, I realize that I have no idea what his or her essay says. He or she has read it out loud to me as I’ve looked over it. It’s not that I wasn’t paying attention, it’s that the essay is flopping all over the place like a fish out of water. Usually this issue stems from not having a true “thesis statement.” Having a thesis statement can tie your paper together very nicely–so let’s take some time to talk about thesis statements. NOTE: Yes, the car is a Lancia Thesis. 😀
What is a thesis?
A thesis is, according to Dictionary.com, “a proposition stated or put forward for consideration. A subject for a composition or essay.” Basically your thesis is the main idea of your essay–the thing you’re presenting or arguing–tied up in one nice, neat sentence. That one, neat sentence usually comes at the end of your introductory paragraph.
What is the point of a thesis?
Since the thesis is the main idea of a paper, you should keep coming back to the idea in your thesis. It “grounds” your paper so that instead of flopping all over the place, it has a specific driving force. Here’s how I usually view the utilization of a thesis statement. The paragraphs of your essay are separate pieces of cloth. You have an introduction paragraph patch, body paragraph patches, and a conclusion paragraph patch. Your thesis is the thread that sews these separate pieces of cloth together.
How do I come up with a thesis?
Usually your professor will give you some sort of question which will guide your thesis statement. If that is not the case, then freewriting may help you. If you know you have to write about a particular book, for example, freewrite about that book for 5 minutes. Go back, summarize that freewrite in one sentence or find an interesting sentence from it. Use that sentence as the first sentence in another freewrite. Once you do this a few times, you’ll probably find an interesting thesis to explore. Another option, for a research based paper, is having a loose idea of what you want to write about and letting the research create your thesis. I wanted to write about Jonathan Swift and Gulliver’s Travels for a research paper in a graduate course. Once I started researching, my paper turned into how Protestant power over Ireland prevented it from becoming an Enlightened nation and how eighteenth century Irish scholars and authors dealt with it. Who would have thought? 😛
Types of theses
Since there are different types of papers, I’m sure you can imagine that there are different types of thesis statements as well. Here are just some of them:
An argumentative paper is one that argues a particular topic. It’s a topic that you may not have direct evidence for, but rather compiled evidence that proves a point. It is usually some form of opinion or something that looks out into future possibilities. For example, “Students who obtain a bachelors degree in a liberal arts field should get a Masters before entering the work force.” This argues that the BA students should get MAs before looking for a job. I would then compile supporting evidence, maybe statistics of how many people with BAs get jobs vs. those who have MAs. Maybe how much money a BA candidate makes vs. an MA candidate. I would take this information and use it in a way that illustrates my thesis. This would support why students should get a Masters before entering the work force.
Analytical papers, on the other hand, break down a particular idea or thought. It presents the breakdown and evaluation of the breakdown to the audience. For example, “The economic crisis was created by an accumulation of the housing bubble, subprime lending issues, and an increase in foreclosures.” I break down the idea of the economic crisis into three parts–in my body paragraphs I would then explore those three parts. I would have a part on the housing bubble, a part on subprime lending, and another on foreclosures.
An expository paper explains a topic to an audience. Simple as that. You actually don’t usually write this type of paper because professors want to see your ideas–not that you’ve read a book. 😉 An example of an expository statement could be, “Writing a blog takes a lot of time and effort.” You would then go on to write why writing a blog takes a lot of time and effort.
You would think narrative essays don’t need thesis statements, since they tell a story. However, a thesis statement can clue the reader as to what the story is. For example, if I wanted to write a narrative essay about getting married (aww!), I might have a thesis claiming, “Getting married was one of the best–and most grueling–things I’ve ever done.” The reader would then know I was going to say how great my wedding was, but how difficult it was as well.
What if I wrote my essay and realized I don’t have a thesis?
Even if you don’t have that one sentence at the end of an introductory paragraph, you might have a thesis in mind as your write. If you’ve already written your essay and have realized that you don’t have that sentence, annotate your essay. In the margins, next to each paragraph, write a word or two about what the paragraph is about. Once you can easily see what you’ve written about, you may be able to formulate a thesis from there. If your essay is all over the place, think about what you meant to write about–keep the pertinent material and scrap the excess.
Thesis statements are VERY important to papers. I don’t care if people think otherwise, they are. They prepare your reader for what’s ahead and they give you a focus to keep coming back to in your essay. They also help prepare you for your conclusion. Make sure you take the time to sit down and think about what you want to write before writing so that hopefully you will have a thesis in your essay. Good luck!