Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Theses on a Thesis: Good Thesis Statements

by CWK

A thesis statement is: the heart and soul of your work; the main and central idea(s) you want to communicate; a short summary of the contents of your work. It tells the reader what you plan to do, and how you plan to do it. Think about it like this: your thesis is the seed; your paper is the fully developed fruit. All the qualities of the fruit are contained within the seed (only in a much smaller form).

I have a, er, friend who used to get rides to work with me. I dreaded that moment when I would see him every morning. I knew, without doubt, that as soon as he got in the car he would start talking. He didn't ask any questions. He didn't engage me. He went from point to point in an unrelated way. He had no thesis. It was hard to follow him. Sometimes I wanted to ask, "So, what is your point? What are you getting at?" All this to say, when thinking about your thesis -- what's your point? What are you getting at?

I. How To Formulate A Thesis

1) Decide on a direction for your paper/work.

You may already have a general direction assigned to you; if so, carefully read the assignment and make sure you know what your professor expects. In any case, the first step in the writing phase (just like in driving) is to formulate a general direction. You don't have to know exactly where you are going, but you do need to figure out the basic direction.

2) Ask these questions:

- What is the main idea of my paper?
- What do I want to communicate?
- What is this essay/paper/work about?
- What am I trying to prove? demonstrate? convince my reader of?
- What is the most important thing I want to leave my reader with?

*When you have answered these questions you will have basic form of what grammars call a "working" thesis.

II. The Parts of a Thesis Statement 

A thesis is made up of two basic parts:

1) Information: tell us WHAT subject you plan to deal with.
2) Direction: tell us HOW you plan to deal with it.

III. The Characteristics of a Good Thesis

1) Brief as possible (without omitting important details).
2) States what you will do: argue, prove, disprove, demonstrate, apply,
contrast, illumine, etc.
A thesis should be ABOUT ACTION. So, avoid weak and tame verbs; avoid sounding unsure, "I hope...I might... I really want...," etc.
3) Provides a preview of your work. Your thesis provides an overview of your whole paper; it should be a preview of things to come.

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