Writing for History: The Effective Thesis Statement
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  • 1. Writing for History The Effective Thesis Statement
  • 2. The thesis statement declares the main point or controlling idea of your entire essay. A thesis statement usually answers these questions: — “What is the subject of this essay?” — “What is the writer’s opinion on this subject?” — “What is the writer’s purpose in this essay?”
  • 3. A Well-Developed Thesis • Is a single sentence that asserts one controlling idea • Signals the dominant purpose of your essay • Clearly shows your opinion on a subject if purpose is persuasive/argumentative • Says something definite and substantial about your topic • Is limited enough for an essay of the assigned length • …might announce main supporting points
  • 4. Example: • Inadequate: We should not invest in a “star wars” missile defense system. • Better: Given the decreased Soviet military threat and the high cost of high-tech weaponry, we should suspend development of a “star wars” missile defense system
  • 5. Common Mistakes Mistake 1 • Thesis as an announcement of essay subject matter o The subject of this essay is my experience with a pet boa constrictor. o I’m going to discuss boa constrictors as pets. • Possible solutions: o Boa constrictors do not make healthy indoor pets. o My pet boa constrictor, Sir Pent, was a much better bodyguard than my dog, Fang.
  • 6. Common Mistakes Mistake 2 • Cluttering your thesis with such expressions as “in my opinion,” “I believe,” and “in this essay I’ll argue that...” o My opinion is that the federal government should devote more money to solar energy research. o My thesis states that the federal government should devote more money to solar energy research. • Possible solution: o The federal government should devote more money to solar energy research.
  • 7. Common Mistakes Mistake 3 • Making irrational or oversimplified claims and insulting possible audiences. o Radical religious fanatics across the nation are trying to impose their right-wing views by censoring high school library books. • Possible solution o Only local school board members—not religious leaders or parents— should decide which books high school libraries should order.
  • 8. Common Mistakes Mistake 4 • Merely stating a fact or selecting an idea that is self-evident or dead- ended. o Child abuse is a terrible problem. • Possible solution o Child-abuse laws in this state are too lenient for repeat offenders.
  • 9. Common Mistakes Mistake 5 • Expressing a thesis in a form of a question when the answer is not obvious to the audience o Why should every college student be required to take two years of foreign language? • Possible solution o Chemistry majors should be exempt from the foreign- language requirement.
  • 10. Tips for Subject & Thesis • Narrow your subject to a manageable size • In papers that support an opinion, devise a sharp and clear argumentative thesis • Ask yourself, is my thesis too factual? Too emotional? Grandiose? Trite? • Have you made your thesis interesting by answering how? Or why? Or under what circumstances? • Are the terms of your thesis clear? • Avoid phrases such as I think or I feel • For reports or summaries, be sure to have a good organizational thesis.