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Introduction to Thesis Support

Introduction to Thesis Support

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson provides an overview to the parts of an essay, including thesis, main ideas, claims, evidence, and support.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today will be all about the thesis. We'll look at what it is, how it's developed, and explore the ways main ideas and claims work together before discussing evidence in support for theses. And finally, we'll look at some examples and practice identifying these essay components.

First, let's look at what a thesis is. It's the single sentence that best expresses the controlling idea of a piece of writing. The thesis is the main idea, the core of the essay. It drives the writing's goals and structure. And remember, there's a controlling idea for each essay and for each paragraph in an essay. But for the writing project as a whole? Think of the thesis as the anchor for both the writer putting his or her ideas, arguments, and support down on paper, as well as for the reader picking them up.

It's also important to remember that there's a pretty big difference between an essay's thesis and its topic. The topic is the broader subject, which could potentially include multiple thesis statements, while the thesis is a tight, focused point or argument about something within that topic.

If, for example, we were given the topic of militarization of police, we wouldn't be able to just write an essay with that. First, we'd need to find out what about police militarization we want to talk about or to persuade our readers of. We could, for example, make an argument that police need advanced weapons and tactics to compete with modern criminals and terrorists.

Or we could make an essay about how, in the wake of 9/11 and the Homeland Security Act, militarization of police has been a priority of the government and has nothing to do with actually policing the citizens. Or we could write an essay arguing about the militarization of police as a huge step backwards for America and an example of our fear of the wrong parts of our society.

Notice how each of these three thesis statements are only related through their shared topic. Some might even be directly opposed to each other. So as you can see, within one topic, multiple thesis statements.

And once you've got a topic and a thesis, the key to supporting it is through effective development of your ideas. This is the process of articulating your ideas and supporting them with evidence and reasoning over the course of an essay. This includes generating claims or main ideas, as well as finding and building support for them.

And when we refer to development, we're not just talking about developing the essay as a whole since this same process occurs at the level of the paragraph too. After all, paragraphs function like mini-essays with their own main ideas, topic sentences, and support.

In order to effectively put forth and support a thesis, essays usually have to also promote other related points, points that, when put together, prove or support the thesis. In composition, we call these main ideas and claims. A main idea is a primary point or concept the drives the organization of an essay. Each main idea in an essay should contribute to or support the thesis statement in some way.

And a claim, meanwhile, is a type of main idea in which the author makes a statement that needs to be defended. Put most simply, a claim is an assertion made by the writer. These are very common in argumentative essays, as often the thesis will itself entail multiple points or claims all of which need to be presented and defended.

The thesis statement itself is the primary claim of the essay, the purpose for all the support, ideas, and evidence. And the main idea, when coupled with a claim, is generally the controlling idea of that paragraph. When we're working on the level of the paragraph, the main idea and the controlling idea are generally synonymous. And if you don't remember, a controlling idea is the core idea that drives the writing's goals and structure.

It's also important to note that often multiple paragraphs in a row will focus on one controlling idea rather than just one paragraph. This is often a sign of a complex and fully-realized main idea. So don't worry if you find your own writing doing this.

Writing would be much easier if this wasn't the case, but claims and thesis statements can't just be stated. They have to be supported, usually with evidence. Evidence is proof of the validity of an essay's claims, and this is one of the most common forms of support. It can include facts and data, personal research, citation from the research of others, and personal experiences.

Even though some compositionists will use the terms "evidence" and "support" interchangeably, support is really a broader term used to refer to any evidence, logic, or other technique, like clarification or expansion of ideas, that backs up an essay's claims. The purpose of support isn't just to prove a thesis true but also to fully explain or substantiate the essay's main ideas.

And since essays are made up of paragraphs that use claims, evidence, and other support to back up the thesis, it's important for us to talk about paragraphs in order to talk about the essay as a whole. As we learned earlier, paragraphs function like miniature essays after all. Paragraphs are made up of a topic sentence, which we'll define as the sentence that expresses the paragraph's thesis, as well as support usually including evidence for that topic sentence.

And now that we've covered all the pieces that go into supporting a thesis statement, let's look at some examples. We're going to look at three paragraphs from the same essay so we can see how the overall thesis is introduced, developed, and supported. Here's the first paragraph. Follow along while I read and see if you can identify the topic sentence and whatever different kinds of support it uses.

"The global struggles today show that a new definition for patriotism is needed, a global definition. Patriotism needs to encompass compassion for our fellow humans, regardless of where they live. In the words of James Bryce, the British jurist, historian, and statesman, 'Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance. It is also owed to justice and humanity.'

Patriotism is not the supreme ideal that many politicians have said it is, and it isn't merely a source of evil in the world. The true definition needs to encompass both of these ideas. Patriotism should not be simply love of one's country, and it should not necessitate a lack of love for foreigners. A truly modern definition needs to include compassion and ethics. The world needs patriotism to mean love for all people, regardless of what nationality they are."

There are quite a few ideas being thrown around here, but I'd say that the thesis comes in the second sentence. "Patriotism needs to encompass a compassion for our fellow humans, regardless of where they live." But don't worry if you were thinking it was something else, as this introductory paragraph doesn't just introduce the essay's thesis. It also brings up some of the other main ideas.

For example, the sentence including the quote bringing up allegiance to other ideals besides that of country, this will come up again, as will a discussion of compassion and ethics. Each of these expansions will work in one way or another to support the thesis.

Now look at this paragraph, taken from a little ways into the same essay. "To see evidence that in many ways, love does indeed stop at the borders of our country, all you have to do is listen to the closing words of most presidential speeches. During George W. Bush's speech accepting the Republican nomination to run for president, he ended with the traditional 'God bless America.'

These three words show how acceptable it is to ask that God favor our home over those of our neighbors. Why don't we hear 'God bless the world,' 'God bless everyone,' or 'God bless us all' more often? By neglecting to pray for others, we are in essence saying that we do not care about them, whether we consciously mean it or not."

The phrasing of the first sentence makes it pretty clear what this paragraph's main idea is, doesn't it? They don't always point it out so clearly, but the topic sentence is often the first sentence in a paragraph. And the support? That's pretty much everything else, right? Using the speech of a man who would later run for and win the presidency as evidence of the assumptions we make as a country and to bring up the argument about what that means was a form of support for the claim about love stopping at the borders.

And in this paragraph, a different kind of evidence is being brought up. Just one more time, see if you can recognize the topic sentence and its support. "Though our situation today is not so drastic, it's important to remember that such patriotic injustices are not merely a thing of the past and a thing of other failed governments. While the Holocaust was in progress, over 80,000 Japanese Americans were legally captured and imprisoned in internment camps here in America, only being guilty of sharing a race with a country that we were at war with.

Today, the Patriot Act gives federal investigators a similar ability to disregard civil rights in order to pursue terrorists by monitoring telephone and electronic communications of people that do not need to be suspected of a crime. Merely having the right keywords in the text of your emails allows investigators to violate your right to privacy and read, record, and archive your personal correspondence."

Here, again, the first sentence is the topic sentence, making the claim that patriotic injustice is not just a thing of the past or of other countries. And the first example, bringing up the US government's imprisonment of Americans of Japanese ancestry and all while fighting a war against, among other things, Hitler's racist Nazi party, this paragraph first makes it clear that America has performed terrible acts in the name of patriotism.

And then it brings up a more modern example, making the possible slippery slope fallacy, depending on your opinion, of course, about the Patriot Act and the powers it gives to government officials to spy on US citizens. So whether you think it's a stretch or not, you can see how this paragraph is working to support its topic sentence, as well as the essay's thesis as a whole.

What have we learned today? We learned a lot, all about thesis statements and how they're supported. We learned what they are, and how they go from initial development to being expanded through main ideas and claims, and the different kinds of support these need. Then we looked at three example paragraphs to see all of this in action. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

A type of main idea where the author is making a statement that needs to be defended.

Main Idea

A primary point or concept that drives the organization of an essay.


A single sentence that expresses the controlling idea of a piece of writing.

Topic Sentence

A sentence expressing the thesis of a paragraph.