Fooled you, didn't we!
Unless you plan to keep your research a secret, you'll have to tell
someone. That means you'll have to make a report - either verbal or
Maybe you just relate some information, drawing no conclusions of
your own. (Our sales were down 20% over the past quarter.)
Maybe you are trying to persuade someone to DO something - YOUR something.
(This plan will reverse our downward sales spiral.)
Either way, you need a thesis.
A thesis can range from the sublime - It was the best of times;
it was the worst of times.
To the less than sublime - This paper is about ....
Both tell the reader what "this paper is about."
But don't take my word for it
Material prepared September 1995 by Dr. Margaret Procter,
Coordinator, Writing Support for distribution at the University of Toronto
Reprinted with permission of the author.
When you are asked to write an essay that creates an argument,
your reader will probably expect a clear statement of your position.
Typically, this summary statement comes in the first paragraph of the
essay, though there is no rigid rule about position. Here are some characteristics
of good thesis statements, with samples of good and poor ones. Note
that the better examples substitute specific argumentative points for
sweeping general statements; they indicate a theoretical basis and promise
substantial support. (See Some Myths About Thesis Statements,
below, for a discussion of times not to use a thesis statement. See
also the handout General
Advice on Essay Writing.)
- It makes a definite and limited assertion that needs to be explained
and supported by further discussion:
trite, irrelevant - Shakespeare was the world's greatest
intriguing - The success of the last scene in
Midsummer Night's Dream comes from
subtle linguistic and theatrical references
to Elizabeth's position as queen.
- It shows the emphasis and indicates the methodology of your
emotional, vague - This essay will show that the North American
Free Trade agreement was a disaster for the
Canadian furniture industry.
worth attention - Neither neo-protectionism nor post-industrial
theory explains the steep reversal of fortune
for the Canadian furniture industry in the
period 1988-1994. Data on productivity,
profits, and employment, however, can be
closely correlated with provisions of the
North American Free Trade Agreement that
took effect in the same period.
- It shows awareness of difficulties and disagreements:
sweeping, vague - Having an official policy on euthanasia
just causes problems, as the Dutch example
suitably complex - Dutch laws on euthanasia have been rightly
praised for their attention to the
principles of self-determination. Recent
cases, however, show that they have not
been able to deal adequately with issues
involving technological intervention of
unconscious patients. Hamarckian strategies
can solve at least the question of
assignation of rights.
SOME MYTHS ABOUT THESIS STATEMENTS
- Every paper requires one. Assignments that ask you to write
personal responses or to explore a subject don't want you to seem
to pre-judge the issues. Essays of literary interpretation often want
you to be aware of many effects rather than seeming to box yourself
into one view of the text.
- A thesis statement must come at the end of the first paragraph.
This is a natural position for a statement of focus, but it's not
the only one. Some theses can be stated in the opening sentences of
an essay; others need a paragraph or two of introduction; others can't
be fully formulated until the end.
- A thesis statement must be one sentence in length, no matter
how many clauses it contains. Clear writing is more important
than rules like these. Use two or three sentences if you need them.
A complex argument may require a whole tightly-knit paragraph to make
its initial statement of position.
- You can't start writing an essay until you have a perfect thesis
statement. It may be advisable to draft a hypothesis or tentative
thesis statement near the start of a big project, but changing and
refining a thesis is a main task of thinking your way through your
ideas as you write a paper. And some essay projects need to explore
the question in depth without being locked in before they can provide
even a tentative answer.
- A thesis statement must give three points of support.
It should indicate that the essay will explain and give evidence for
its assertion, but points don't need to come in any specific number.