Tips on Thesis Statement
An effective thesis statement fulfills the following criteria. It should be:
Substantial - Your thesis should be a claim for which it is easy to answer every reader's question: "So what?"
Supportable - A thesis must be a claim that you can prove with the evidence at hand (e.g., evidence from your texts or from your research). Your claim should not be outlandish, nor should it be mere personal opinion or preference (e.g., "Frederick Douglass is my favorite historical figure.")
Precise - An effective thesis statement has been narrowed down from a very broad subject. Your claim should not be something on which whole books could be written.
Arguable - A thesis statement should not be a statement of fact or an assertion with which every reader is likely to immediately agree. (Otherwise, why try to convince your readers with an argument?)
Relevant - If you are responding to an assignment, the thesis should answer the question your teacher has posed. In order to stay focused, pay attention to the task words in the assignment: summarize, argue, compare/contrast, etc.
1. A thesis is never a question.
Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question (“Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?”) is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water. 2. A thesis is never a list.
“For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe” does a good job of “telegraphing” the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons
3. A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An ineffective thesis would be, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil.” This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean
4. An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim.
“While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline” is an effective thesis sentence that “telegraphs,” so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim:
5. A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, “Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite’s inability to address the economic concerns of the people” is more powerful than “Communism collapsed due to societal discontent.”
What's Wrong With These Thesis Statements?
1. Frederick Douglass made a speech in which he wondered why slaves should celebrate the Fourth of July.
This sentence is a statement of fact. There is nothing to be argued here.
2. Of all examples of persuasive speaking in American history, Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July" is far and away the most effective.
This sentence offers only the writer's opinion. The writer does not offer arguable criteria for why this speech is effective.
3. Douglass' speech is completely ineffective, since he admits early in his speech that the anti-slavery position is self-evidently just and does not require argument. To be persuasive, speakers must always take positions which they and their speakers consider arguable.
This thesis makes a claim that the writer can probably not support with the assigned text.
4. Throughout American history, brave leaders have stood up against oppression of all kinds.
This sentence is much too broad. A more effective thesis would narrow the topic down to a particular leader.
5. I want to write about the subject of what skills a college student learns in college, and I want to focus on the skill of...
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