I. WHAT IS A THESIS?
What is a thesis? The thesis is the controlling idea around which you construct the rest of your paper. In a history paper, the thesis generally explains why or how something happened. Every word of your paper should support your thesis. Information you do not directly relate to your thesis will appear irrelevant. This means, of course, that in a paper with a weak or no thesis, much of the paper will appear to be irrelevant and unguided.
How do I present the thesis? The thesis should be contained in a single sentence that is concise and grammatically correct. This is usually the last sentence of the first paragraph. More than one sentence may be necessary to establish the thesis. The remainder of the introductory paragraph should draw the reader's attention to the problem the thesis confronts, and define key terms that appear in the thesis.
II. THE THESIS QUESTION
A good thesis derives from a good question. Since the thesis is your conclusion to a scholarly argument, there must be a clear question at stake. A thesis which does not answer a question, or answers a simple or obvious question, is not a thesis. You need to ask thoughtful questions of your topic and primary source material to develop a good thesis. The best theses are good precisely because the questions they answer are significant, complex, and original.
What does a good thesis question look like? There are many sources for questions which lead to good thesis, but all seem to pose a novel approach to their subject. A good thesis question may result from your curious observations of primary source material, as in "During World War II, why did American soldiers seem to treat Japanese prisoners-of-war more brutally than German prisoners-of-war?" Or, good thesis questions may challenge accepted wisdom, as in "Many people assume that Jackson's Indian policy had nothing to do with his domestic politics; are they right?" Finally, a good thesis question may...
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