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Introductions and Thesis Statements

Introductions and Thesis Statements

Author: Martina Shabram

In this lesson, students will learn the role of the introduction and thesis statement in an essay, as well as how to craft this portion of the essay effectively.

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Hello students. My name is Dr. Martina Shabram, and I will be your instructor for today's lesson. I'm genuinely excited to teach you these concepts. So let's get started.

What are we doing today? Well we're going to practice thesis statements and introductions. We'll get some specifics on how they each work and how they're connected, learn more about the purpose and components of a thesis statement, look at some kinds of introductions, and practice generating effective and appropriate examples of both. Let's start by thinking more about essay development, because this section is going to cover several elements of an essay's introduction and thesis statement, both of which are crucial openers for an essay.

So what is essay development? It's just developing or composing the ideas that are going to govern your essay. So this requires us to build support such as facts and examples for the main idea. And that means that as you write you should be referring back to the outline of your essay to make sure that those supporting details match the plan you made for the progression of the essay.

So it might feel a little daunting to think that you have to generate a whole essay. But the secret is, if you can write a successful paragraph you can write a whole paper. This is because the structure of a paper mirrors the structure of a paragraph. Just as in a paragraph the topic sentence focuses and announces the main point of the paragraph, so too does the thesis statement focus, announce, and structure the whole paper.

Likewise, in a paragraph we support the main point with supporting sentences that provide details, evidence, and examples to prove the main point of the paragraph is believable. And the supporting paragraphs of an essay parallel this role, providing supporting details for the whole thesis statement. The same skills you've been mastering all along are thus still at work in these tasks.

So let's get into thesis statements then in more detail. First of all, remember that a thesis statement is not a topic. The topic can be broad and over arching, like an umbrella, whereas the thesis statement is specific and focused. It's an articulation of just your main point. A topic might have multiple thesis statements that come out of it, and that demonstrates how broad it is in contrast to your narrow, focused thesis.

So then what is a thesis statement? Well, it's a single sentence that expresses the controlling idea for a piece of writing. It usually comes in the first paragraph or so. And to get to that single focused statement you might go through multiple drafts. You might even find that your thesis statement changes as you write the essay. That means that it's totally OK to have a working thesis statement, which is a thesis statement that a writer uses in the service of creating a first draft. It may be rewritten as the essay evolves.

So you always want to start writing with a strong draft thesis to make sure that your writing stays focused around the purpose of the essay. But as you write, the working thesis might require some revision and rethinking, especially if you find that you need to think through ideas that you hadn't originally considered as part of plan. You do research and discover that the facts don't match your original assumption and need to change your thesis to match the data, or you write your way into a new opinion or position on the issues.

All of those are great reasons to revise your working thesis. You can reassess and revise at any stage in the writing process, because writing is, say it with me again, a process, not a product. It's recursive. So you'll go back over and through your thinking many times as you write.

This is really similar to a scientist's journey through the scientific method. When scientists are working through a problem they start with a hypothesis, which is basically a working thesis. And as they experiment, if their findings contradict or alter their original hypothesis, they let those findings alter their thesis. Treat yourself like a scientist of writing and do the same with your thesis statements.

So then let's experiment, writing scientists. How can we build really successful, effective thesis statements? Now this is important because the thesis statement sets up the reader's expectations about the purpose and content of the essay, signaling what the main points are going to be.

So we want strong signals and effective thesis statements. Therefore, we need to express our main idea in a clear and interesting manner. Use the thesis as a signal post, letting the reader know what direction the writer is going to take in a text. Be precise, concise, and specific. Use the thesis to mirror the purpose, such as an argumentative thesis that takes a side in a debate for an argumentative essay. And above all, we need to make just one single clear assertion about our take on the topic.

So here's an example of a very short essay. Take a moment to read it by pausing here and press play when you're ready. So where and what is our thesis statement? Right. See how it comes at the end is the introduction? That's a useful spot for it. And how does it relate to the content? Well, it specifically mentions traditions, connection, family, and heritage. Do we see those concepts taken up again in more detail in the body paragraphs? We do.

And finally, I don't know about you, but I'm interested in seeing where this goes. I have my own traditions that matter to me, so I'm engaged and connected to the specific discussion here. So overall, this is a strong thesis because it expresses the main point of this short essay in a compelling, concise manner.

OK, well what if we changed the thesis statement like this. Is this effective? Well, it's based on the same topic, but does it indicate to you, the reader, what the main point is going to be in any kind of detail? And do you much care about this statement? I don't. This is pretty vague and doesn't really set up specific direct exploration of one interesting aspect of this topic.

So what about this thesis? Again, this is the same topic, but is this really the specific subject of the essay? Does this point to where the essay actually goes? No. We don't discuss traditionalists versus evolutionists anywhere in this essay. So this thesis statement perhaps needed some revision to match the direction the essay took.

All right, let's end by thinking about where the thesis statement fits, the introduction. Since this is the piece of writing that your readers will experience first, you want it to make a good impression by being clear, articulate, fully thought out, and building connection with the reader. Every introduction should give both a brief explanation of the topic and a clear statement of the thesis. But a really good introduction will draw the readers in and capture their attention. We call this the hook, because it keeps the reader on the line, wanting to learn more.

We can hook our readers in a lot of ways. Here are a few options. We can offer a narrative of an interesting situation or experience. We can provide a quotation that grabs the reader's attention. Now note that if you choose to do this, try to avoid quotations that we hear all the time as they won't be interesting or new. Instead, go for a surprising or compelling piece of information, a statistic, or someone's idea.

We can compare two dissimilar things using a compelling analogy to form new connections in the minds of our readers. Or we could give a definition of a term that's central to our essay. If you choose to do this, again avoid dry dictionary definitions. These can be pretty boring and don't always help build new connections or ideas for your reader. Instead, use definitions to make more connections, explaining an interesting facet of the definition, or previewing some debate over the terms or concepts of your essay.

For example, in our previous sample, what if I'd started the introduction with this. "Traditions are often thought of as just mindless conventions. However, others have pointed out that the word tradition means the transmission of culture between generations. Thus, tradition it's about building connection, not mindlessly repeating the past." See how here we have a debate about the significance of tradition that uses the definition to point towards the thesis? This is an example of effectively chosen definitions.

Let's look at some other examples. Here we have an introduction that uses the narrative hook. "Every New Year's Eve I serve my grandmother's special champagne punch. The recipe comes for her grandmother, and generations of women in my family have served it. Drinking it, I always feel like I'm back in her kitchen, watching her mix together the shining drink in her big punch bowl."

And here is one that uses an analogy. "Traditions are a little like photographs. They capture a moment in time and transport you there whenever you perform them. In this way, traditions are reminders of our history and connections to our past." As you see, each one pulls the reader in and encourages us to read further by making a connection between the reader and the author.

So what did we learn today? Well, this lesson broke down essay structure to examine introduction paragraphs and thesis statements more thoroughly. We practiced generating effective thesis statements and then developing introductions that hook our readers.

Well students, I hope you had as much fun as I did. Thank you.

Terms to Know

The beginning of an essay or other writing project; the first paragraph or two of an essay.

Thesis Statement

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

Working Thesis Statement

A thesis statement that a writer uses in the service of creating a first draft. It may be rewritten as the essay evolves.