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An effective thesis is a writer's best friend, especially if the writer is struggling to corral many pages of fact and opinion and shape them into an informative and interesting research paper. We define a thesis most easily when we think of it as the educated answer to the question that prompted our research in the first place. Since it is our own interpretation of the research material, the answer is not a fact but rather our informed assertion about the subject. Often, we start to form that answer as we conclude our research and writing. That's the reason why, so often, we tend to state our thesis at the end of a paper. That placement suits the writer's process.
But that placement does not suit the reader. The reader hasn't been thinking about your subject and juggling your research for days. The reader may not ever have given the subject even a casual thought. The reader approaches cold the material you've thought about for days and weeks. Think about the implications. Your reader needs to be oriented right away--preferably in your introduction--to your final thought on the subject. Then your reader needs all the help you can supply along the way in the form of signposts and cues. For this purpose, the thesis (or proposition as some call it) is invaluable. It becomes your gift to the needy reader.
An effective thesis performs at least three functions:
- clearly identifies the subject of the paper;
- makes an assertion about that subject, one that allows for a range of discussion;
** (sometimes qualifies and expands the assertion);
- predicts the logical order you will follow in your discussion.
Examples of an effective thesis:
- Despite never playing sports, young John Doe achieved unusual physical fitness on his Montana cattle ranch.
Subject--John Doe and his physical fitness
Assertion--fitness was "unusual"
Order--sports history of the time, your definition of "unusual" fitness, the way in which John Doe achieved fitness
** Qualified and expanded assertion
- Although public recreational facilities and organized sports boomed in the twenties and thirties, John Doe achieved his unusual physical fitness through work and family recreation on his isolated Montana cattle ranch.
Qualification--public recreation was available
Expansion--work and private recreation were John's means
Content provided by Barbara Sylvester
FINDING AND FIXING WEAK THESIS STATEMENTS
To fix weak thesis statements, use the list below to identify a flaw (flaws adapted from Rosenwasser and Stephen, Writing Analytically). Then employ our suggested revision tips to uncover those stunning thesis statements that have been lurking all along.
THESIS FLAWS REVISION STRATEGIES Thesis lacks a claim. (Note the thesis merely poses a topic and an organizational plan for the paper; there is no assertion.)
Weak thesis: "This paper will first suggest qualities essential to a good corporate manager and then discuss how those qualities contribute to overall management style."
Force an assertion by completing one of these sentence frames:
"In this paper, I assert that…." or
"Though some people say ___, and others say ___, I notice that…."
Stronger thesis: "Character qualities that make corporate managers successful often make their management styles ineffective."
Thesis makes an obvious claim. (Note the first sentence poses an observation that few readers would disagree with and the second states a fact, not a claim.)
Weak thesis: "Violence in American schools seems to be on the rise. I will show different views and aspects of this problem."
Pose an inquiry question and answer it. For instance, asking "Why is violence increasing in American schools?" might lead to this hypothesis:
Stronger thesis: Though some experts claim that claim that school violence is increasing because of our changing family structures and others hypothesize that TV violence is responsible, I notice that young people have access to more sophisticated weaponry and to more information on using or creating such weaponry.
Thesis makes an overly general claim. (Note the thesis makes so general a claim as to be unarguable. It also invites a rather list-like approach to the continued discussion.)
Weak thesis: "The capitalistic economic system has advantages and disadvantages."
Replace generic nouns and weak verbs with specific nouns and active verbs.
Stronger thesis: The advantages of American capitalism far outweigh the advantages of Chinese capitalism.
Thesis states unsubstantiated opinion. (Note the thesis elevates the moral judgment of the writer rather than the analysis of the problem.)
Weak thesis: "School violence is on the rise because kids are evil; they just don't know right from wrong anymore."
Explore other points of view honestly and treat your ideas as testable hypotheses.
Stronger thesis: As our society moves away from absolute ideas of right and wrong to more relative ones, young people lack principles for making key ethical decisions, a lack that might contribute to increasing school violence.