Thesis statements

1. Plan & Research, Sentences

Although there are several places on the blog that mention thesis statements in context, this post singles them out for a more detailed discussion.

“Thesis” isn’t a word often used in conversation, so first a definition, just to be clear. A thesis is an assertion that the author plans to prove. Two components then: assertion and evidence. A thesis statement is expected to be arguable. After all, an assertion springs from a personal claim regarding the topic. However, the assertion will need to be compatible with at least some accepted facts. (No matter how sharply intuitive you consider yourself, hunches alone will not substitute for evidence when proving your assertion.)

Do I need a thesis statement?

If your essay makes a comparison, or explains the why of something, or argues for a belief, then the essay is a form of persuasion and it needs a thesis statement. More forms of essays than argument incorporate persuasion. For example, compare and contrast essays aren’t always neutral. Descriptions are written to elicit a reaction. Definitions, despite the assumption of neutrality, might be persuasions crafted with a carefully controlled bias. Whatever reason prompts you to persuade, you’ll need a thesis statement.

Persuasions can get big, fast. In an attempt to convince as many readers as possible, writers ought to address all the possible variations of disagreement, correct? Seemingly yes, but realistically no. Answering every concern readers might have about a topic is the scope of books, not essays. For essays, the writer needs to shift the focus away from addressing all possible opposing opinions and over to making his or her own particular view readily understood. Thus the need for a thesis statement:  it indicates the narrowed focus.

A thesis statement usually resides at the end of the introduction. Some writers can make it the opening sentence, but it’s a gamble for readers’ attention. If readers disagree with the bias too soon, the entire persuasion may fail. Think of the introduction as doing double duty: it opens a door into the essay and it prepares a reader to think about your point of view. Would it help your persuasion to mention the historical context of the topic? or provide an under-appreciated fact? or tell a story that either personalizes the topic or sharpens the focus? Whatever you choose, write the introduction to best suit your persuasive purpose.

What is a thesis statement?

Topic sentences are driving directions; thesis statements are travel articles. A thesis statement has more to accomplish than to merely point out the direction an essay is going. While there is still a sense of distances to be covered and landmarks to watch for, there is also information on how some view the area, whether the author agrees with that view, and photographs chosen specifically to elicit an emotional response. That’s quite a bit of ground to cover.

How do I construct a thesis statement?

Method 1

At its most basic, a thesis is an arguable assertion and a forecast of evidence.

Although often derived from plant materials, homeopathic concoctions are not natural medicines.

The assertion, “homeopathic concoctions are not natural medicines,” includes a biased word choice (“concoctions”).  In order to support the assertion, the essay needs to explain what makes one a concoction and the other a medicine.

Method 2

If you want a show of strength for your viewpoint, try this version:

the opposition point first 1 a good point as rebuttal 2then the best point as rebuttal 3

Suspicious that 1 laboratory designed drugs are inferior to plant-derived medicines, an increasing number of people are turning to homeopathic remedies; however, 2 not all plant derivatives are medicinal, and 3 there is a worrying confusion of homeopathy being synonymous with natural medicine.

Notice that the thesis statement also creates a rough outline:

    • public fear over synthesized medicines,
    • the increased use of homeopathic concoctions,
    •  the assumption that natural plant materials are automatically better healing compounds, and
    • the mistake of thinking natural medicine practitioners are all the same.

Two things:  first, since you are only yielding the floor to the opposition for one point, be fair and let it be the strongest point they have in their favor. Second, the assertion can be subtle. In the example above, the bias is glimpsed when “confusion” (already a word with an emotional connotation) is described as “worrying.”

Method 3

If you want to save your strongest point for the end of your essay and your second best point is still darn persuasive on its own, then the thesis sentence will look like this:

The opposition point first 1 and a good (but not best) point as rebuttal 2

Suspicious that 1 chemical-based drugs are inferior to plant-derived medicines, an increasing number of people are turning to homeopathic remedies; however, 2 plant-derived compounds may be just as detrimental.

Notice that the  merely good point (that plant-derived compounds may be detrimental) can also vaguely encompass the strongest point you are holding back for now (people grow sicker using homeopathic remedies if they have substituted them for more effective treatments). It’s fair to save your strongest point for last if it does not change the subject of the essay thus far.

Method 4

If your essay is simply one point versus another, then the thesis statement will be simpler:

The opposition point first 1 / then your best point 2

Suspicious that 1 laboratory designed drugs are inferior to plant-derived medicines, an increasing number of people are turning to homeopathic remedies; however, 2 there is a worrying confusion of homeopathy being synonymous with natural medicine.

Why have I repeatedly recommended you put the opposition point first? Primarily because it gets the objection to your viewpoint over and done. Putting the dissenting opinion first in the thesis puts it first in the essay. That leaves the remainder of the essay dedicated to your viewpoint. Also, allowing the objection to be the first point discussed looks generous of you, which can preemptively soften readers’ attitudes to your viewpoint. Finally, I do it because people tend to remember the last thing they read better than any of the earlier points made, which is a good thing in a persuasion!

Method 5

Finally, as mentioned in Introductions, Erik Simpson, an English professor at Grinnell College, created a template for thesis statements in an analysis essays:

“By looking at _____, we can see that _____, which most readers don’t see; this is important because _____.”

If all you do is plug in the appropriate information for your topic, you’d have a good thesis statement. However, the language of the template doesn’t suit every writer or every topic, so the best use of the template is to think of it a practice run for your own words. His template boils down to idea / your unique way of looking at it / why readers should care. Eventually, you will be comfortable enough that you no longer need the specific wording as a crutch.

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To sum up:

  • If your essay will be at all persuasive, regardless of essay format, you ought to use a thesis statement.
  • Be sure to include both the assertion and forecast at least one of your proofs.
  • Structure your essay to follow the order of points found in the thesis statement.
  • If you include the opposing point of view, be fair in your choice.

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