Step 4: Thesis
researching, analyzing, and brainstorming, you should have an worthwhile
insight to write about. Now it's time to convert that worthwhile
insight into a polished thesis statement, which will then guide
and shape the rest of the essay.
The thesis acts as the main claim of your paper, and
typically appears near the end of the introduction. Unless you have
a compelling reason to relocate the thesis from the traditional
place, put it at the end of your introductory paragraph. Readers
anticipate and read closely your thesis, and they want to find a
polished statement there. The thesis expresses in one concise sentence
the point and purpose of your essay.
Make it arguable
Your thesis must make an arguable assertion.
To test whether your assertion is arguable, ask yourself whether
it would be possible to argue the opposite.
If not, then it's not a thesis -- it's more of a fact. For example:
- Not Arguable: "Computers
are becoming an efficient mechanism for managing and transmitting
information in large businesses." (Who's
going to dispute this? It's not an arguable assertion -- it's
- Arguable: "Heavy
use of computers may disrupt family cohesion and increase divorce
(This is arguable because many people may not believe it. It would
make a good thesis!)
thesis must also be specific. Avoid broad, vague generalizations.
Your thesis should include detail and specificity, offering the
reader the why behind your reasoning.
- Poor Specificity: "We
should not pass the microchip bill." (Hey,
not specific enough! It's just a value statement and doesn't provide
enough reasoning for the reader.)
- Good Specificity: "Because
the microchip insert causes serious health hazards such as cancer
and brain tumors to those who use it, the microchip should not
be passed." (Now the thesis
is much more specific, and the reader gets a clear idea of what
the essay is going to be about.)
If your thesis consists of a long list of points,
your essay will most likely be superficial. Suppose you had six
reasons why WebCT should be adopted in college courses. Instead
of trying to cover so much ground in your essay, narrow your focus
more to give greater depth to fewer ideas, maybe discussing two
or three points instead.
Long lists result in shallow essays because
you don't have space to fully explore an idea. If you don't
know what else to say about a point, do more brainstorming
and research. However, if you're
arguing a longer paper, and really need to cover this much ground,
still avoid the list in your thesis -- just give the reader a general
idea of your position, without being so specific.
- Example of a list: "The
microchip bill biologically damages the health of children, invades
the privacy of independent teenagers, increases crime, turns children
against their parents, induces a sense of robotry about the individual,
and finally, may result in the possible takeover of the government."
(Wow, what a list! In a 1,000 word
essay, each of these topics will only be explored superficially.)
- Narrower focus: "By
surgically inserting circuitry similar to cell phone devices that
has been known to cause headaches and fatigue, the microchip biologically
endangers the health of children." (I've
narrowed my focus to just one point -- health hazards -- instead
of the six. Now my job will be to explore this assertion in depth.
Academic writing almost always prefers depth over breadth.)
Follow an "although . . . actually"
"although . . . actually" format is one of the most effective
ways of finding something original and controversial to say. In
effect, you are telling someone that what he or she thought to be
previously true really isn't. You're saying, Hey, you thought
X? Well, you're wrong. Really, it's Y! Whenever you look beyond
the obvious and give readers something new to consider, you're going
to get their attention. Nothing works better than this "although
. . . actually" format to set you up in delivering an insight.
Although it appears that computers may help students learn
to write, actually they can become a detriment to the generation
of what what creative writers call "flow."
- Example: Although
many people believe that extraterrestials and crop circles
are a figment of the imagination, actually there is strong
evidence suggested by collective, distinct anecdotes that alien
encounters are real.
- Example: Although
some philosophers profess to lead more pure, thoughtful lives,
actually philosophers are no different than other publication-hungry
(Note: "actually" isn't always necessary.
It is often implied with the clause "although.")