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FORMULATING A THESIS STATEMENT

After pursuing your objective via your procedure, certain findings will emerge.  These findings will address your original question.  They may provide an absolute answer (“yes” or “no”; “should” or “should not”) but more likely they will suggest a leaning towards one side (“probably will”, “probably will not”, “is likely to”, “is unlikely to”, “is the most significant”; “should be legalised under certain conditions”.) Beware of over-simplifying the issue.  It is unlikely that you could reach and absolute conclusion based on limited resources and time.

 Now, you are ready to formulate a thesis statement.  The thesis statement should make a single, specific assertion about your topic.  It should contain your opinion about the issue based on your research.  It should be unified, not appearing in two halves.

 Checklist for Thesis Statement

 ·  does it make an assertion about your topic?

·  does it convey your opinion?

·  is it limited to a single idea?

·  is it specific?

·  is the statement unified so that be parts relate to each other?

 

REVISING THE THESIS STATEMENT

Faulty Original

Revised

  This study is about the role of women in World War II.

 ·  not specific : which women?

                        what role?

 ·  no assertion/opinion : 

               a major or minor role?

               significant or insignificant?

 

British women played a significant       role in World War II, both at the front with medical support and back at home in the industrial sector.

 The Greenhouse Effect should be reversed and it is destroying our planet.

 ·  not specific : what aspect of Greenhouse effect?

  what damage?

 ·  not unified : “and” does not show cause & effect. 

 

 The Greenhouse Effect should be reversed because climate change will have disastrous effects on the earth’s flora and fauna.

 Cloning will be possible in humans and it will provide overwhelming advantages for humankind in the future.

 ·  not specific : which humans? (already done on embryos)

what advantage?

 ·  not a single idea :

               1.  biological investigation

                    - is it possible?

              2. ethical investigation

                   - is it acceptable?

 

 Cloning will be possible in adult human just as it has been carried out on sheep.

 OR

Despite the fear with which many regard the possibility of adult human cloning, it would provide overwhelming advantages for humankind in the future in social and medical terms.

BEGIN WITH A POINT OR THESIS 

Your first step in writing is to decide what point you want to make and to write out that point in a single sentence.  Formulating your point or thesis right at the start will help in two ways.  First, you will find out at once whether you have a clear and workable thesis.  Second, you will be able to use the thesis as a guide while writing your essay.  You know what material to include by frequently asking yourself, “Does this support my thesis? “With the thesis as a guide, your chances of drifting away from the point of the essay are greatly reduced.

 WRITING A GOOD THESIS 

To write a good thesis, you must begin with a subject that is neither too broad nor too narrow.  Suppose a teacher asks you to write a paper on some aspect of marriage.  Such a topic is obviously too broad to cover in hundred-word essay.  You would have to write a book to support adequately and point you might make about the general subject of marriage.  What you need to do, then, is to limit your subject.  Narrow this down until you have a thesis that you can deal with specifically in four hundred to five hundred words.  In the box that follows are examples of narrowed subjects.

  

General Subject

Limited Subject

Thesis

Marriage

Honeymoon

A honeymoon is perhaps the worst way to begin a marriage.

 

Family

Older sister

My older sister helped me overcome my shyness.

 

Television

TV advertisements

TV advertisements use sales techniques to promote their messages.

 

Children

Disciplining of children

My husband and I have several effective ways of disciplining our children

 

Science

Cloning

Legalizing human cloning could destroy man’s individuality and identity.

 

Sports

Player’s salaries

High players’ salaries are bad for the game, for the fans, and for the values our children are developing. 

  Activity 

Sometimes a subject must go through several stages of limiting before it is narrow enough to write about.  Below are four lists reflecting several stages that writers went through in moving from a general subject to a narrow thesis statement.  Number the stages in each list from 1 to 5, with 1 making the broadest stage and 5 marking the thesis. 

List 1

 

List 2

 

 

_________

 

_________

 

_________

 

_________

 

 

_________

 

Teachers

 

Education

 

Math teacher

 

My high school math teacher was excellent

 

High school math teacher

 

 

__________

 

__________

 

__________

 

__________

 

__________

 

Bicycles

 

Dangers of bike riding

 

Recreation

 

Recreation vehicles

 

Bike riding in the city is a dangerous activity

 

 

 

List 3

 

List 4

 

 

_________

 

_________

 

_________

 

_________

 

_________

 

Financial institutions

 

Bank

 

Dealing with customers

 

Working in a bank

 

I’ve learned how to handle unpleasant bank customers.

 

 

__________

 

__________

 

__________

 

__________

 

 

__________

 

Camping

 

First camping trip

 

Summer vacation

 

My first camping trip was a disastrous experience

 

Vacations

Later in this handout, you will get more practice in narrowing general subjects to thesis statements.

 COMMON ERRORS IN WRITING A THESIS 

When writing thesis statements, people often make one of several mistakes that undermine their chances of producing an effective essay.  One mistake is to substitute an announcement of the subject for a true thesis idea.  Other mistakes include writing theses that are too broad or too narrow, or theses that have more than one idea.  Following are examples of all four errors. 

1.                   Announcements

The subject of this paper will be my parents. 

I want to talk about the crime wave in our country. 

The “baby boom” generation is the concern of this essay. 

2.                   Statements That Are Too Broad

My parents have been the most influential people in my life.

Crime is a major concern of everyone in our country.

The “baby boom” generation has changed history. 

3.                   Statements That Are Too Narrow

My parents had only one child.

In the last year there have been over twenty robberies in our neighborhood.

  The member of the post-World War II “baby boom” make up the largest   single age group in America.

 

4.                Statements That Contain More Than One Idea

My parents helped me grow in important ways, although in other respects I was limited.

The problem of America’s overcrowded prisons must be solved, and judges must start handing out tougher sentences.

The “baby boom” generation has had many advantages, but it also faces many problems. 

In the first group above, the sentences are not thesis statements but simple announcements of a topic idea.  For instance, “The subject of this paper will be my parents” does not make a point but merely tells, in a rather weak and unimaginative way, the writer’s general subject.  A thesis statement must advance a point about a limited subject.

In the second group above, all the statements are too broad to be supported adequately.  For example, “My parents have been the most influential people in my life” could not be supported with specific details in five hundred words or less.  There are many autobiographies in which authors have devoted entire chapters to detailing the influence of their mothers or fathers on their lives. 

In the third group above, there is no room in any of the three statements for support to be given.  For instance, “My parents had only one child” is too narrow to be expanded into a paper.  It is a simple fact that does not lend itself too much discussion.  Such a statement is sometimes called a dead-end statement; there is no place to go with it.  On the other hand, “My parents helped me grow in three important ways” is a point that you could go on to write about in an essay. 

In the last group, each of the statements contains more than one idea.  For instance, “My parents helped me grow in important ways, although in other respects I was limited” appears to have two separate ideas (“parents helped me grow” and “in other respects I was limited”).  Thus the reader does not know what the real focus will be.   

Activity

 Part A: Write TN in the space next to each statement that is too narrow to be developed in an essay.  Write TB beside each statement that is too broad to be covered in an essay. 

__________

1.  The way our society treats its elderly people is unbelievable.

 

__________

2.  The first car that I owned was a Ford.

 

__________

3.  Computers have changed our society.

 

__________

 

4.  People who eat a lot of red meat are almost three times more likely to get colon cancer than people who eat mostly fist and chicken

 

__________

  1.  Action must be taken against drugs.

 

                 Part B: Write A beside each sentence that is an announcement rather than a thesis statement.  Write 2 beside each statement that contains more than one idea. 

__________

6.  My last car was dependable, but many American cars are poorly made.

 

__________

7.        The subject of this essay is daily prayer in our public schools.

 

__________

8.        Soap operas show many stereotyped characters, although they also portray real problems in American life.

 

__________

9.  I am going to write on my ideas concerning “F” grades.

 

__________

10.  The hardest teacher I ever had taught me a lesson I will never forget.

 

 

COMPLETING THESIS STATEMENTS

 Activity 

Complete the following thesis statements by adding a third supporting point that will parallel the two already provided.

 

1.                    Because I never took college preparatory courses in high school, I entered college deficient in mathematics, study skills, and___________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________

 2.                 A good salesperson needs to like people, to be aggressive, and ______________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________________          

3.                    Rather than blame myself for failing the course, I blamed the professor, my adviser, and even______________ ____________________________________________________________________________________ 

4.                    Anyone who buys an old house planning to fix it up should be prepared to put in a lot of time, hard work, and __________________________________________________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________

5.                    Our old car eats gas, makes funny noises, and_______________________________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________

6.                    My mother, my best friend, and my________________________________________________________ _______________________________________ are three people who are very important in my life right now.

 7.                Getting married too young was a mistake because we hadn’t finished our education, we weren’t ready for children, and __________________________________________________________________________________ 

8.         Some restaurant patrons seem to leave their honesty, their cleanliness, and their__________________________ ___________________________________________________________________ at home.

 9.             During my first semester at college, I had to learn how to manage my time, how to manage my diet, and_______ _____________________________________________________________________________________ 

 10.     Three experiences I wish I could forget are the time I fell off a ladder, the time I tried to fix my parents’ lawn mower,  and  ________________________________________________________________________________________ 

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