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Thesis Statements

Thesis Statements

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches the concept and value of a solid thesis statement.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? Today we'll be looking at thesis statements, both evaluating the qualities of a good thesis statement and looking at how thesis questions can help writers clarify their goals for a writing project.

Now, during discussions about essays and the writing process in general, we tend to throw the term "thesis" around. But even though we're all used to hearing it, it's a good idea to make sure we're all on the same page about what a thesis is and isn't. Put most simply, a thesis is the single sentence that best expresses the controlling idea of a piece of writing. And here, when we say controlling idea, we mean the core idea-- the idea that will drive the writing project's goals and structure.

You can most often find a thesis near the beginning of an essay. Traditionally, in short essays, the thesis is placed in the first paragraph. But this isn't necessarily the case. It's just a common practice to put your core idea early in the essay, and then to spend the rest of the text explaining it and providing the subclaims and evidence you use to back it up.

Also, it's very common for a thesis to change over the course of the writing process, most often during the research and drafting steps. This is perfectly normal, and in fact, it's often a sign of complex critical thought on the writer's part. After all, if your thoughts and opinions don't change in any way after doing all that reading and writing, what was the point?

Still, having a solid draft of your thesis is important. It anchors the reading and writing you're doing, making sure everything stays on track, at least for now. We should also make sure to distinguish between a thesis and a topic. Topics are broader than thesis statements, as a single topic could contain multiple specific thesis statements within its boundaries.

Now that we know what exactly a thesis is, how can we tell the difference between a good thesis and one that needs more work? First, a good thesis should present a topic that makes readers want to keep reading. The best way to do this is to make sure your topic interests you, the writer. And believe me, no matter what the topic is, chances are there's something about it, some specific thesis within it, that will interest you and in so doing, interest your future readers.

Second, a thesis needs to be compelling. It needs to make readers want to understand more about the argument you're making, either by investing them in the argument or topic or by stating its claim in such a way as to invite them to become engaged, interested readers of the rest of your essay. To that end, a thesis especially when put at or near the beginning of an essay, should function as a signpost, signaling to readers what's coming up. They shouldn't be surprised, or at least not very surprised, by the lines of reasoning and the evidence you use to support your essay's central claim.

And while I'm on the subject, the last thing that differentiates a strong thesis statement from an inferior one is the claim. It should be singular, as in specific, and clear, as in stated in a straightforward manner. Even complex ideas can be stated as thesis statements if they're stated effectively through a strong grasp of the subject matter and in efficient use of language.

Besides a sentence that expresses the controlling idea of an essay, another way to think of a thesis is as an answer to a question that's worth asking. This question, the thesis question, can be thought of as the driving question for the composition of an argument. Because of this, open-ended questions are usually the most effective, as they're the questions that can help you generate, revise, or narrow your thesis as you go.

These questions worth answering come in many different forms. The first, and one of the most common, is a question of fact, which questions the truth of some currently held belief. Take this thesis statement, for example.

Is the answer to a question a fact, and one that I believe is worth answering? Though I should probably say I don't necessarily agree with this thesis. "It's long been held that the US is the world leader of technical innovation. But in light of recent years, this is no longer true."

Another kind of driving question is questions of preference or value, which ask whether something is preferable to something else. Take this thesis statement as an example. "Science fiction is more intellectually valuable genre of writing than fantasy or adventure novels."

And still another form of question is the question of definition. Take this answer. "A two-by-four no longer measures two inches by four inches. And this is because of a change that occurred decades ago, within the logging and lumber industries." One of the most common types of thesis questions in academic writing is a question of interpretation, which asks how something can be described or analyzed.

For example, this thesis answers one. "Martin Luther King, Jr. argued for a positive peace, which meant the presence of justice, rather than a negative peace, which simply meant the absence of conflict. But I will argue that there's no difference for those living with oppression."

And the last form of driving question is a question of policy that asks what should be done about a social or legal issue. For example, "The only way to decrease the rates of sexual assault on women is not to educate women on how to protect themselves, but to educate men on how and why to control their behavior." Just the act of asking and answering these driving questions can help writers before they begin the drafting process. Because as you've seen here, they help make sure the question or questions those thesis statements are answering are worth answering.

So what did we learn today? We learned about thesis statements-- what they are and ways to recognize the good ones. And we looked at how the different kinds of thesis questions can help writers stay on track. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

Terms to Know

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