Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember from Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” that your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement, an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.
Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.
Ways to Revise Your Thesis
You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:
1. Pinpoint and replace all nonspecific words, such as people, everything, society, or life, with more precise words in order to reduce any vagueness.
Working thesis: Young people have to work hard to succeed in life.
Revised thesis: Recent college graduates must have discipline and persistence in order to find and maintain a stable job in which they can use and be appreciated for their talents.
The revised thesis makes a more specific statement about success and what it means to work hard. The original includes too broad a range of people and does not define exactly what success entails. By replacing those general words like people and work hard, the writer can better focus his or her research and gain more direction in his or her writing.
2. Clarify ideas that need explanation by asking yourself questions that narrow your thesis.
Working thesis: The welfare system is a joke.
Revised thesis: The welfare system keeps a socioeconomic class from gaining employment by alluring members of that class with unearned income, instead of programs to improve their education and skill sets.
A joke means many things to many people. Readers bring all sorts of backgrounds and perspectives to the reading process and would need clarification for a word so vague. This expression may also be too informal for the selected audience. By asking questions, the writer can devise a more precise and appropriate explanation for joke. The writer should ask himself or herself questions similar to the 5WH questions. (See Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” for more information on the 5WH questions.) By incorporating the answers to these questions into a thesis statement, the writer more accurately defines his or her stance, which will better guide the writing of the essay.
3. Replace any linking verbs with action verbs. Linking verbs are forms of the verb to be, a verb that simply states that a situation exists.
Working thesis: Kansas City schoolteachers are not paid enough.
Revised thesis: The Kansas City legislature cannot afford to pay its educators, resulting in job cuts and resignations in a district that sorely needs highly qualified and dedicated teachers.
The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are. Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:
- Who is not paying the teachers enough?
- What is considered “enough”?
- What is the problem?
- What are the results
4. Omit any general claims that are hard to support.
Working thesis: Today’s teenage girls are too sexualized.
Revised thesis: Teenage girls who are captivated by the sexual images on MTV are conditioned to believe that a woman’s worth depends on her sensuality, a feeling that harms their self-esteem and behavior.
It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:
- Which teenage girls?
- What constitutes “too” sexualized?
- Why are they behaving that way?
- Where does this behavior show up?
- What are the repercussions?
In the first section of Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”, you determined your purpose for writing and your audience. You then completed a freewriting exercise about an event you recently experienced and chose a general topic to write about. Using that general topic, you then narrowed it down by answering the 5WH questions. After you answered these questions, you chose one of the three methods of prewriting and gathered possible supporting points for your working thesis statement.
Now, on a separate sheet of paper, write down your working thesis statement. Identify any weaknesses in this sentence and revise the statement to reflect the elements of a strong thesis statement. Make sure it is specific, precise, arguable, demonstrable, forceful, and confident.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Writing at Work
In your career you may have to write a project proposal that focuses on a particular problem in your company, such as reinforcing the tardiness policy. The proposal would aim to fix the problem; using a thesis statement would clearly state the boundaries of the problem and tell the goals of the project. After writing the proposal, you may find that the thesis needs revision to reflect exactly what is expressed in the body. Using the techniques from this chapter would apply to revising that thesis.
- Proper essays require a thesis statement to provide a specific focus and suggest how the essay will be organized.
- A thesis statement is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself.
- A strong thesis is specific, precise, forceful, confident, and is able to be demonstrated.
- A strong thesis challenges readers with a point of view that can be debated and can be supported with evidence.
- A weak thesis is simply a declaration of your topic or contains an obvious fact that cannot be argued.
- Depending on your topic, it may or may not be appropriate to use first person point of view.
- Revise your thesis by ensuring all words are specific, all ideas are exact, and all verbs express action.
Developmental writing lesson One: Thesis Statements
If there’s one thing your English 101 teacher will focus on, it will be thesis statements. Being able to write a good thesis statement is the foundation of a good paper. Without a good thesis, your paper will lack focus.
Quite often, a weak thesis will cause your entire paper to unravel. Your lack of focus will make organization difficult and transitions nearly impossible. The paper will go in circles, repeating the same points over and over again. Many of these common writing issues are usually symptoms of a bad thesis statement.
Have you heard these critiques from teachers before? Seen the corrections glowing on the page in bright red ink? Chances are your paper was suffering from one small issue that was causing all of these other complications. That small issue was a weak thesis statement.
Crafting a Good Thesis Solves Most Writing Issues
But here’s the good news. By simply learning how to fix these weak thesis statements, you can dramatically improve your writing. It’s amazing how much easier writing is when you actually know what point you’re trying to make. A light bulb will go off in your head and you’ll begin to recognize an organizational pattern to your writing that actually makes sense. You’ll start to see why transitions work and how to use them effectively.
It all comes down to this one simple step of learning how to craft good thesis statements.
In Developmental Writing, we focus intensively on honing your ability to write a good thesis. That’s why we begin right in Lesson One and continue discussing theses every week until you pass the course. If you can write a good thesis, you’ll be miles ahead of most English 101 students when you get to college.
What Makes a Good Thesis Statement?
Okay. If thesis statements are so important, what exactly makes a thesis statement good? That’s the question. If you can master the process by which we create good theses, you will be well on your way to becoming a better writer.
But, here’s the catch. There’s no specific method that will always result in a perfect thesis every time. Learning to craft a good thesis statement takes practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. There are, however, a couple strategies you can keep in mind that will make your life easier. Think of these guidelines as “rules of thumb” that will make your thesis statements more likely to succeed.
If your thesis meets the following criteria, there’s a good chance you’ve got a winner.
A good thesis statement must be interesting. Quite often, students get so caught up in the mechanics of a thesis that they forget the most important part of writing a good paper: it needs to be worth reading! If no reasonable reader would care about the topic, then it doesn’t matter how good or insightful your argument is. Always consider the reader. No paper can succeed if it reaches no reader. Ask yourself: Do I care about this topic? Would I read this paper?
A good thesis statement must be specific. Developing writers commonly think that choosing a broad topic will make writing the paper easier. After all, the more you have to choose from, the easier it will be, right? Actually, the exact opposite is true. Very broad thesis statements lead to information paralysis. So much can be said about the topic that the writer ends up barely saying anything at all. A thesis that’s too broad almost always results in a paper that repeats the same general statements over and over again. Usually, the writer never actually explores the topic in any kind of meaningful way.
A good thesis statement must be manageable. Similar to the specificity guideline, a good thesis statement must also be manageable. You don’t want to set up an epic game plan for a three-page paper. Manageability will vary according to the length of the paper you are writing. For example, you wouldn’t want to examine all of William Faulkner’s novels in five pages, but you might for a 300-page PhD dissertation. The five-pager would be more manageable if you focused only on one of his novels, like The Sound and the Fury.
Examples of Good and Bad Thesis Statements
Bad Thesis 1: The Affordable Care Act has many pros and cons.
Let’s see how this thesis statement works according to our guidelines.
- Is it interesting? Yes, some readers would find this topic interesting.
- Is it specific? No, not really. We don’t know what direction the writer will go, or how many pros and/or cons will be explored. We don’t know what group will be the focus of this paper–students, retirees, families?
- Is it manageable? Maybe, but because the thesis lacks specificity, we don’t know for sure whether the topic is appropriate for the assignment.
Fixed: Although many special interest groups have fought the Affordable Care Act, the bill has at least three major provisions that benefit recent college graduates which is crucial to stimulating the American economy.
Do you see why this thesis is better? It focuses specifically on one group (recent college graduates) and it limits the discussion to “three major provisions,” thereby making the argument manageable.
Bad Thesis 2: Since the American Revolution, protest has been an important part of American culture.
Ask the big three questions.
- Is it interesting? Sure, many people would like to read a paper on this topic.
- Is it specific? This is a close call, but it’s probably safe to say this thesis is specific. It focuses on the single theme of protest in American culture.
- Is it manageable? Aha, here’s the problem. This topic is not manageable. Think about how many protests have occurred over the past 250 years of American history. You would have to write a whole book to cover this vast topic.
Fixed: The protests that sparked the American Revolution have much in common with contemporary political movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.
This new thesis zeros in on two very focused periods in American history and compares them. This paper would leave out everything that happened in between these two historical events and, as a result, the paper’s thesis will be much more manageable.
Final Thoughts About Thesis Statements
When crafting your thesis statement, keep in mind that this important sentence is flexible. It can change. We might even go as far as to say that it should change over the course of the paper. This is why we often refer to your first few attempts as a working thesis statement.
Sometimes it takes a while to figure out exactly what point you want to make. Sometimes you won’t even realize your main point until the end of the paper. I call this “writing towards your thesis.” It happens quite often, in fact. Different people write different ways. Just make sure you go back and revise your introduction when you finally realize your main point.
Whether you craft a strong working thesis in the beginning or whether you write towards your thesis, just remember those three important questions: Is it interesting, specific, and manageable? If your thesis meets these three standards, your paper is off to a good start!
When you feel good about thesis statements, continue on to Lesson Two: Topic Sentences.
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For more on writing good thesis statements and also on the craft of teaching Developmental writers to create good thesis statements, check out our resource page.