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Your Thesis: Too Broad, Too Narrow, or Just Right?

Your Thesis: Too Broad, Too Narrow, or Just Right?

Author: Sophia Tutorial

Understand what makes a thesis statement too narrow, too broad, or appropriate for a short essay.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm MacKenzie. And today we're learning about narrowing your thesis. Have you ever heard the expression, get to the point? In this tutorial, we'll learn why narrowing a thesis matters. And we'll discuss tactics for narrowing a thesis.

We'll begin by discussing why it's important to narrow a thesis statement in a piece of writing. A solid piece of writing will have a specific, detailed, and narrow thesis statement or controlling idea. And the reason this is important is because it not only guides the discussion for the rest of the writing, but it also helps the writer to focus on the details that he or she specifically wants to include in the writing. Oftentimes, authors include a thesis statement that is too broad or general. And that makes it difficult to decide exactly what to say in the paper, because there are far too many ideas that could be used if you don't narrow down and use specific ideas in the thesis.

Authors sometimes have the opposite problem. They have a thesis statement that is far too specific. And that makes it difficult because there may be other ideas that you want to include in your paper but you can't because they're not included in the thesis. It's important that we have a balance between the two, that we include enough detail that we have things to say in our paper but it's not too broad that we're not sure what to say in the paper. Here are some examples.

For this example, we are going to imagine that the assignment is a three to five page long persuasive essay. That helps us to figure out how much information to include in the thesis. It should be enough information that we can discuss all of it within three to five pages. The first thesis is an example of a thesis that is too broad. This example reads, "consumers should avoid drinking unhealthy beverages."

And the reason this is too broad is because there are a lot of ideas that could potentially be discussed here. We could discuss what unhealthy beverages include, what makes them unhealthy, and why consumers should avoid drinking them. But we don't know exactly which beverages are being discussed or in what ways they are unhealthy. There are far too many question marks for us to address here.

The opposite of that would be the next example, which is too specific of a thesis statement. This example reads consumers should avoid drinking diet Pepsi to limit the kidney cell damage caused by sodium benzoate. This example is too specific because it's specifying a certain type of soda, a certain type of health concern, and a certain type of chemical. There's not much else that the author can choose to discuss other than those three topics. That could really limit what the author can say in the paper and the author might not have enough information to actually reach the three to five page limit for the assignment.

An appropriately narrowed thesis for this assignment might say consumers should avoid drinking diet soda because the ingredients in diet soda cause problematic and oftentimes dangerous health concerns. This thesis is specific enough that we have a variety of ideas we can discuss in the writing, but it's not so general that we're not sure what we're actually going to be focusing on. We know that the focus will be avoiding drinking diet soda. And the reason is because the ingredients can cause health concerns.

Now that we know the reasons why it's important to narrow a thesis for a piece of writing, let's discuss some different tactics that can help us to do so. The first tactic is to use the five W's, which are who, what, when, where, and why. When we ask ourselves these questions and we answer these questions, it helps us to figure out ideas related to our topic. And it helps us determine what we really want to say in our writing.

Here's an example. When I asked myself the five W's about my topic, which is manners, I decided that I'm talking about mean people in society who have a lack of manners. They do this anytime, especially when children are around. It's mostly in public but can also be non-public settings, such as work. And it's because it causes a less civilized society and hurts people's feelings. These are the ideas I came up with. Now I try to put them together into a thesis.

The overall general idea I have here is that lack of manners is bad, but that's not specific enough to actually be my thesis. I have to explain why lack of manners is bad. So now maybe I say the decrease in manners is bad for society. I've got a little more detail now, but it's still not narrow enough. I have to explain what the decrease in manners is and why it's bad for society. I finally arrive at an appropriately narrowed thesis, which reads, "the decrease in manners in the United States poses societal concerns and focus should be placed on improving manners." By asking myself the five W's, I came up with some ideas to help me to figure out exactly what I want to talk about in my writing.

Another tactic for narrowing a thesis in a piece of writing is to think about the question we're answering with the thesis. Is it a question of fact, preference, definition, interpretation or even policy? Typically, a thesis will follow one of those formats. It's important for us to keep in mind that questions of fact or preference tend to be rather simple, which means they could be somewhat boring. If we turn them into questions of definition, interpretation, or a policy, that makes them more interesting, more complex. We may have more to say about the topic. It really depends on what we want to say in our paper and how we want to say it.

Here's an example. For this example, I'm using a question of preference. I'm asking is it best for students to start college right after high school. My original idea, seen in thesis one, is it is not always best for students to start college right after high school. This thesis isn't specific enough because it's not telling us why it's not always best for students to start college. We need to have more information.

So then I move on to thesis number two, which says some students benefit more from postponing their college education until they are more prepared for college. This thesis gives us a little additional information such as the idea that some students will benefit more. But now I have the problem that this may be too simple of an argument. My question of preference may be too simple. It may not give me enough to discuss in my paper. I want to add just a little bit more to make it more interesting.

For thesis three, I will say despite the common cultural perception that students should begin college immediately after finishing high school, it is preferable for students to begin college when they are ready for the challenges of collegiate study, which may not be directly after high school graduation. So now I have a few more ideas that I can choose to include in my paper.

The final tactic for narrowing a thesis we'll discuss in this tutorial is about using the occasion for writing and the rhetorical situation to think critically about our writing topic and to turn it into a thesis. We first think about the occasion for writing. Why are we writing this particular paper, essay, argument, or other piece of writing? What is our purpose?

And we think about the rhetorical situation. How does our context and our own background, biases, assumptions, impact what we think about the topic and what we might say about the topic in our paper? Here's our example. For this example, we will imagine that the occasion for writing is that we are writing a persuasive essay. Perhaps this was of our own choosing or perhaps this was an assignment given to us. Perhaps we decided to use a question of policy to guide our persuasive essay.

I decided to use the topic of elderly drivers. Now I can think about the rhetorical situation and the ways in which that influences how I might address this topic. I might think about my personal experiences with the topic. Maybe I was involved in a car accident and the other driver was an elderly driver. Perhaps my grandmother injured herself while she was driving. I think about my personal experience. And then I think about my bias. Am I biased against elderly drivers? I need to address those concerns.

Now I can begin to narrow my thesis. I started out with the idea that elderly drivers are unsafe drivers. But that's not exactly a question of policy. I need to now say that something should be done about it. Thesis two states that elderly drivers should not be allowed to drive because they are unsafe. Now I am working toward using a question of policy to craft a persuasive essay but I still need a few more specific ideas to include in my paper. Thesis three reads, because they have proven to be more dangerous than other demographics of drivers, senior citizens should be required to take driving tests to keep their driver's licenses.

Now I have a clearly stated question of policy. And I have given myself some specific details that I can focus on to persuade my readers. These tactics help us to narrow our thesis so that we know exactly what we're going to say in our writing.

In this tutorial, we learned why narrowing a thesis matters and we discussed tactics for narrowing a thesis. A narrow thesis helps you to get to the point. I'm MacKenzie. Thanks for listening.

Video Chapters

(00:00 - 00:25) Introduction

(00:26 - 01:34) Narrowing a Thesis

(01:35 - 03:34) Example of Narrowing a Thesis

(03:35 - 09:33) Tactics for Narrowing a Thesis

(09:34 - 09:54) Summary