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What Are the Three Types of Financial Statements?
Thinking about starting your own small business, but you’re intimidated by the thought of managing all your records and handling your own accounting? The good news is you don’t have to be a genius or a financial wizard to understand and prepare basic financial statements for your company. It’s not difficult to learn the basic elements of business accounting that go into preparing these documents, and knowing how they work will serve you well as you manage your company’s finances and make important business decisions.
The three financial statements that are most important to small businesses are balance sheets, income statements and cash flow statements. Here’s what you need to know about each one of them to ensure your business’ financial records are always accurate and current.
Balance Sheet: A Snapshot of Assets, Liabilities and Shareholders’ Equity
As a fundamental financial statement that contains detailed information about a company’s assets, liabilities and shareholders’ equity, a balance sheet is an essential part of your company’s financial records and should be one of the first documents you create. The information on a balance sheet is separated into sections, with all your company’s assets listed and totaled at the top and all its liabilities and shareholders’ equity listed and totaled at the bottom.
Assets are anything of value that your company owns as well as any cash in bank accounts. The term generally applies to anything that could be sold or used by the company itself to create value. Examples of assets include physical property, such as furniture, vehicles, equipment and inventory. Intangible items that have value and could be sold, such as patents and trademarks, are also included in a company’s assets. This also applies to any stocks, bonds or other financial investments a company makes. Accounts receivable amounts also count as assets, even if the funds haven’t been collected yet.
Your company’s liabilities consist of any debts owed to lenders, other businesses and individuals. This could include a variety of obligations, such as loans to purchase business property or launch a new product, outstanding balances owed to suppliers for materials, unpaid payroll expenses, and taxes owed to the government, just to name a few. Liabilities may also include obligations to provide goods or services to clients in the future.
Shareholders’ equity is the official term used in the liability section on a spreadsheet, but it may help to think of it as owner’s equity for your small business if you don’t have outside shareholders. This equity is the amount of profit that remains after all the company’s liabilities are paid — often referred to as net worth or net assets.
Although shareholders’ equity is a positive amount that indicates profit, it appears in the liabilities portion of the spreadsheet because it doesn’t belong to the company — a non-living entity. It belongs to the investors in the company, either the owners or its shareholders (or both), and it remains on the spreadsheet as a liability until it is paid out to the investors or invested back into the company.
The main rule of a balance sheet is that the two sections — assets and liabilities/shareholders’ equity — must always “balance” by totaling the same amount. It works in much the same way as a mathematical equation. Any amount added to the company’s assets at the top must also be added to the company’s liabilities at the bottom. A balance sheet doesn’t show how cash flows in and out of the company during any particular period, but it does provide an overall snapshot of a company’s general financial strength.
Income Statements: A Finger on the Pulse of Profits or Losses
An income statement outlines how much revenue a company earned during a specific time period. It also shows all the expenses that were associated with earning that revenue. The statement’s literal bottom line shows the company’s net earnings or loss after those expenses are deducted — which explains all those references to a company’s “bottom line” in relation to their financial success or failure.
Income statements also have lines for calculating earnings per share (EPS) for companies that issue stock. That number is the amount shareholders would receive for each share if the company decided to distribute all of its net earnings for the period. In most cases, those earnings are reinvested into the business, sometimes with a small amount per share known as a dividend paid out to the shareholders in cash.
When you create an income statement, you will include lines with the total sales, receipts and other gains at the top of the statement. Under the revenue section, you will detail all the expenses your company incurred during the period, such as rent, utilities, wages and cost of goods sold . Any cost associated with operating the business and earning the revenue goes in this section. The net income section at the bottom subtracts all those expenses from the company’s total income to calculate your profit or loss. You may also hear this process referred to as taking “gross revenues” and subtracting expenses to reach a “net revenue” number.
In general, income statements serve as an excellent way to take the pulse of a company to see where it stands on making a profit or suffering a loss during a specific fiscal accounting period. This provides helpful information about the overall viability of your company.
Cash Flow Statements: A Record of Cash In and Cash Out
While income statements reveal the total profit a company made during a period, this financial statement doesn’t actually provide any information about a company’s ability to pay its expenses and purchase assets with the cash it has on hand. In many cases, income doesn’t immediately translate into cash received, and expenses don’t immediately translate into cash spent, which is why cash flow statements are so important to a company’s operation.
A cash flow statement includes some of the same information found on your balance sheet and income statement, but it organizes the information based on how it impacts the amount of cash you have on hand and determines your net increase or decrease in cash for the period. Tracking your actual cash on hand is critical when you need to immediately pay an expense like wages. To be clear, cash on hand is exactly what it sounds like — the total amount you could walk into the bank and withdraw on the spot.
Cash flow statements are usually divided into three main parts: operating activities, investing activities and financing activities. Cash from operating activities comes from a company’s net income or loss, but instead of simply showing all the income and expenses for a period, it shows the actual income received as cash and the actual expenses paid out in cash by the company. It also adjusts the numbers to account for non-cash items included as income or expenses.
Cash from investing activities outlines the cash flow from all investing activities, such as asset purchases or sales and loan payments received from customers. Cash outflows of this type often involve cash purchases of long-term assets, such as equipment, property and investment securities. On the other hand, the sale of that type of investment would result in a cash inflow for investing activities as soon as the money is received.
Cash for financing activities generally relates to cash received or paid as loans from banks and financial institutions. Stock repurchases and dividends paid to shareholders are also included in cash flow from financing activities.
Putting the Three Financial Statements to Work for Your Business
When you’re starting your own small business, these three financial statements provide the core foundation for organizing and recording critical financial information for your company. Besides helping you personally monitor your company’s progress, they also contain the relevant information banks and financial institutions need to provide you with loans and credit as well as the figures the IRS needs for income tax purposes. Regardless of the type of business you own, learning how to complete these three financial statements will put you on the road to proper business accounting.
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Tips for writing an effective thesis statement.
This handout is available for download in DOCX format and PDF format .
Thesis statements are essentially the driving force and backbone of an academic essay. Without a thesis statement, your essay will lack a cohesive argument and will read more like a list of statistics, quotations or connecting ideas. Before completing your thesis statement, ask yourself:
- Is your essay’s major claim complex? Is it insightful? Is it surprising or unexpected?
- Does your thesis respond to a question, tension or problem?
- Is your thesis stated clearly at the outset and does it evolve and develop throughout the paper?
- Does your thesis statement have a clear motive?
Effective thesis statements directly and boldly articulate a complex, arguable or surprising argument (or arguments) of your own which will need to develop throughout the essay. They should be intelligent, well thought-out responses to a question or problem your essay will address.
Weak Thesis Statements Often:
Make no claim.
- Example: This paper will examine the similarities and differences between two articles.
- Possible Solution: Put the articles in conversation with one another and raise specific issues they agree or disagree about.
Are Obviously True or Statements of Fact
- Example: Tourists are often out of place in other cultures.
- Possible Solution: Make an assertion your reader can argue with.
Restate Conventional Wisdom or Clichés
- Example: We shouldn’t judge others because it’s the inside that counts.
- Possible Solution: Seek to complicate your thesis by anticipating counterarguments; try offering something new to the cliché.
Offer Personal Conviction as the Basis for the Argument
- Example: Clearly, Kincaid is being one-sided.
- Possible Solution: Maintain some distance from your subject. Do not merely assume your idea is an objective or obvious truth.
Make Overly Broad Claims
- Example: Limerick shows her knowledge about the West.
- Possible Solution: Convert broad, generic categories into more specific, complex assertions. Find ways to bring out the complexity of your argument.
More Questions for Constructing Strong Thesis Statements:
A strong thesis statement is often not created all at once but will rather go through stages of revision. A thesis statement in its early form is called a “working thesis.” While honing and tightening your working thesis, ask yourself these questions:
- Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is likely to be “So what?” then you need to clarify it or connect it to some larger issue via a compelling motive.
- Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful?”
- Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to fit together, one of them has to change. It’s perfectly okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary!
- Does my thesis answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question.
- Does my thesis statement teach my reader something they did not already know? Am I bringing a new idea or perspective to the table on the issue or problem raised? Am I happy with what my thesis statement is saying?
Points to Remember:
- The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.
- A thesis is not the answer to a math problem; it is not supposed to be “correct.” Your thesis should be designed to persuade the reader that your point of view is valid and worthy of consideration.
- Make sure your thesis is your own argument and not simply the argument that you think your instructor or one of your sources would approve of.
- A thesis statement will never be perfect, because it is an attempt to encapsulate everything that will happen in your argument. Since it takes a whole paper to do that, your thesis will always lack something. Accept this and make it the best it can be regardless!
Credit: “Thesis Statements,” The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 25 October 2017, http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements ; “Developing Strong Thesis Statements,” Purdue Online Writing Lab. 25 October 2017, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/01/ .
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Writing Effective Thesis Statements
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A good thesis statement can be the difference between making an argument about something, and simply re-stating what someone else has already said. In your thesis statement, you want to make a claim that you will continue to develop throughout the paper. It should represent your own ideas–perhaps in response to something someone else has said–but ultimately, it is your argument. As such, a good thesis statement should have 3 main traits. A good thesis:
- Can be developed with evidence throughout your paper. In other words, you should be able to say it in 1-2 sentences, but that shouldn’t be all that there is to say on the topic.
- Is argumentative, not in a negative sense, but in that it can be supported and may have counter-arguments. Test this by asking “Could I argue the reverse of this?”
- Should explain what, why, and how. What are you arguing? Why are you arguing that? And how will you show it? Think of the “what” as your basic position, the “why” as your reasoning, and the “how” as your evidence (theories, sources, etc.)
In all, the thesis is the backbone of your paper. In the rest of your paper, something in each paragraph should directly relate back to the paper. If you get lost in the writing process, you’ll want to be able to come back to your thesis and say, “this is what I’m arguing.” And remember, thesis statements can evolve with the paper. Once you’ve got your draft written, read through and make sure that what you’re saying in your paper matches up with what your thesis statement says you’re going to be saying.
H ere are a few helpful links to get you started:
The Purdue OWL (Purdue University) is a great source for writing, and this page goes into detail on the different types of thesis statements.
Here’s another great source from the University of North Carolina with some tips and examples of strong thesis statements.
It can be useful to play around with and see examples, but DO NOT use it to create your actual thesis, as this may be considered plagiarism!
Best of luck with your writing endeavors!
–Your friends at the PLU Writing Center
- Effective Thesis Statements
What is a Thesis Statement?
- A thesis statement tells a reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. Such a statement is also called an “argument,” a “main idea,” or a “controlling idea.”
- A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should “telegraph” how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay
- A standard place for your thesis is at the end of the introductory paragraph.
- A thesis is an interpretation of a subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel that others might dispute.
- A strong thesis not only grabs the interest of your reader, who now wants to see you support your unique interpretation, it also provides a focus for your argument, one to which every part of your paper refers in the development of your position.
- A thesis keeps the writer centered on the matter at hand and reduces the risk of intellectual wandering. Likewise, a thesis provides the reader with a “road map,” clearly laying out the intellectual route ahead.
- A thesis statement avoids the first person (“I believe,” “In my opinion”).
A simple equation for what a thesis might look like this:
What you plan to argue + How you plan to argue it = Thesis Specific Topic+ Attitude/Angle/Argument=Thesis
Steps To Write Effective Thesis Statement
- Choose a prompt or, if appropriate, select a topic: television violence and children
- What are the effects of television violence on children?
- Violence on television increases aggressive behavior in children.
- Avoid general phrasing and/or sweeping words such as “all” or “none” or “every”.
- Lead the reader toward the topic sentences (the subtopics needed to prove the thesis).
- While poor parenting and easy access to weapons may act as contributory factors, in fact when children are exposed to television violence they become less sensitive to the pain and suffering of others, are more fearful of the world around them, and are more likely to behave in aggressive or harmful ways toward others.
The Components of an Effective Thesis Statement
- You can’t just pluck a thesis out of thin air. Even if you have a terrific insight concerning a topic, it won’t be worth much unless you can logically and persuasively support it in the body of your essay. A thesis is the evolutionary result of a thinking process, not a miraculous creation. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading an essay assignment .
- Substantial – Your thesis should be a claim for which it is easy to answer every reader’s question: “So what?”
- Supportable – A thesis must be a claim that you can prove with the evidence at hand (e.g., evidence from your texts or from your research). Your claim should not be outlandish, nor should it be mere personal opinion or preference (e.g., “Frederick Douglass is my favorite historical figure.”) It tackles a subject that could be adequately covered in the format of the project assigned.
- Precise – It is focused and specific. A strong thesis proves a point without discussing everything. It clearly asserts your own conclusion based on evidence. Note: Be flexible. It is perfectly okay to change your thesis!
- Arguable – It should be contestable, proposing an arguable point with which people could reasonably disagree.
- Relevant – If you are responding to an assignment, the thesis should answer the question your teacher has posed. In order to stay focused, pay attention to the task words in the assignment: summarize, argue, compare/contrast, etc.
- Aware of Counters – It anticipates and refutes the counter-arguments.
The best thesis statement is a balance of specific details and concise language. Your goal is to articulate an argument in detail without burdening the reader with too much information.
Questions To Review Your Thesis
- “Do I answer the question?” This might seem obvious, but it’s worth asking. No matter how intriguing or dazzling, a thesis that doesn’t answer the question is not a good thesis!
- “Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose?” If not, then you probably do not have a strong argument. Theses that are too vague often have this problem. If your thesis contains vague words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what makes something “successful”?
- Would anyone possible care about this thesis? So What? Does your thesis present a position or an interpretation worth pursuing? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue.
- “Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering?” Just as a thesis that doesn’t answer the question ultimately fails, so does a thesis that isn’t properly supported with evidence and reasoning.
- Does my thesis statement adequately address the direction words of the prompt: summarize, argue, compare/contrast, analyze, discuss, etc.?
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.
Progressively Complex Thesis Statements
- Effective Thesis Statements. Provided by : Writing Guide Wikispaces. Located at : https://writingguide.wikispaces.com/Effective+Thesis+Statements . License : CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
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How to write a thesis statement, what is a thesis statement.
Almost all of us—even if we don’t do it consciously—look early in an essay for a one- or two-sentence condensation of the argument or analysis that is to follow. We refer to that condensation as a thesis statement.
Why Should Your Essay Contain a Thesis Statement?
- to test your ideas by distilling them into a sentence or two
- to better organize and develop your argument
- to provide your reader with a “guide” to your argument
In general, your thesis statement will accomplish these goals if you think of the thesis as the answer to the question your paper explores.
How Can You Write a Good Thesis Statement?
Here are some helpful hints to get you started. You can either scroll down or select a link to a specific topic.
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is Assigned
Almost all assignments, no matter how complicated, can be reduced to a single question. Your first step, then, is to distill the assignment into a specific question. For example, if your assignment is, “Write a report to the local school board explaining the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class,” turn the request into a question like, “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” After you’ve chosen the question your essay will answer, compose one or two complete sentences answering that question.
Q: “What are the potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class?” A: “The potential benefits of using computers in a fourth-grade class are . . .”
A: “Using computers in a fourth-grade class promises to improve . . .”
The answer to the question is the thesis statement for the essay.
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How to Generate a Thesis Statement if the Topic is not Assigned
Even if your assignment doesn’t ask a specific question, your thesis statement still needs to answer a question about the issue you’d like to explore. In this situation, your job is to figure out what question you’d like to write about.
A good thesis statement will usually include the following four attributes:
- take on a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree
- deal with a subject that can be adequately treated given the nature of the assignment
- express one main idea
- assert your conclusions about a subject
Let’s see how to generate a thesis statement for a social policy paper.
Brainstorm the topic . Let’s say that your class focuses upon the problems posed by changes in the dietary habits of Americans. You find that you are interested in the amount of sugar Americans consume.
You start out with a thesis statement like this:
This fragment isn’t a thesis statement. Instead, it simply indicates a general subject. Furthermore, your reader doesn’t know what you want to say about sugar consumption.
Narrow the topic . Your readings about the topic, however, have led you to the conclusion that elementary school children are consuming far more sugar than is healthy.
You change your thesis to look like this:
Reducing sugar consumption by elementary school children.
This fragment not only announces your subject, but it focuses on one segment of the population: elementary school children. Furthermore, it raises a subject upon which reasonable people could disagree, because while most people might agree that children consume more sugar than they used to, not everyone would agree on what should be done or who should do it. You should note that this fragment is not a thesis statement because your reader doesn’t know your conclusions on the topic.
Take a position on the topic. After reflecting on the topic a little while longer, you decide that what you really want to say about this topic is that something should be done to reduce the amount of sugar these children consume.
You revise your thesis statement to look like this:
More attention should be paid to the food and beverage choices available to elementary school children.
This statement asserts your position, but the terms more attention and food and beverage choices are vague.
Use specific language . You decide to explain what you mean about food and beverage choices , so you write:
Experts estimate that half of elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar.
This statement is specific, but it isn’t a thesis. It merely reports a statistic instead of making an assertion.
Make an assertion based on clearly stated support. You finally revise your thesis statement one more time to look like this:
Because half of all American elementary school children consume nine times the recommended daily allowance of sugar, schools should be required to replace the beverages in soda machines with healthy alternatives.
Notice how the thesis answers the question, “What should be done to reduce sugar consumption by children, and who should do it?” When you started thinking about the paper, you may not have had a specific question in mind, but as you became more involved in the topic, your ideas became more specific. Your thesis changed to reflect your new insights.
How to Tell a Strong Thesis Statement from a Weak One
1. a strong thesis statement takes some sort of stand..
Remember that your thesis needs to show your conclusions about a subject. For example, if you are writing a paper for a class on fitness, you might be asked to choose a popular weight-loss product to evaluate. Here are two thesis statements:
There are some negative and positive aspects to the Banana Herb Tea Supplement.
This is a weak thesis statement. First, it fails to take a stand. Second, the phrase negative and positive aspects is vague.
Because Banana Herb Tea Supplement promotes rapid weight loss that results in the loss of muscle and lean body mass, it poses a potential danger to customers.
This is a strong thesis because it takes a stand, and because it's specific.
2. A strong thesis statement justifies discussion.
Your thesis should indicate the point of the discussion. If your assignment is to write a paper on kinship systems, using your own family as an example, you might come up with either of these two thesis statements:
My family is an extended family.
This is a weak thesis because it merely states an observation. Your reader won’t be able to tell the point of the statement, and will probably stop reading.
While most American families would view consanguineal marriage as a threat to the nuclear family structure, many Iranian families, like my own, believe that these marriages help reinforce kinship ties in an extended family.
This is a strong thesis because it shows how your experience contradicts a widely-accepted view. A good strategy for creating a strong thesis is to show that the topic is controversial. Readers will be interested in reading the rest of the essay to see how you support your point.
3. A strong thesis statement expresses one main idea.
Readers need to be able to see that your paper has one main point. If your thesis statement expresses more than one idea, then you might confuse your readers about the subject of your paper. For example:
Companies need to exploit the marketing potential of the Internet, and Web pages can provide both advertising and customer support.
This is a weak thesis statement because the reader can’t decide whether the paper is about marketing on the Internet or Web pages. To revise the thesis, the relationship between the two ideas needs to become more clear. One way to revise the thesis would be to write:
Because the Internet is filled with tremendous marketing potential, companies should exploit this potential by using Web pages that offer both advertising and customer support.
This is a strong thesis because it shows that the two ideas are related. Hint: a great many clear and engaging thesis statements contain words like because , since , so , although , unless , and however .
4. A strong thesis statement is specific.
A thesis statement should show exactly what your paper will be about, and will help you keep your paper to a manageable topic. For example, if you're writing a seven-to-ten page paper on hunger, you might say:
World hunger has many causes and effects.
This is a weak thesis statement for two major reasons. First, world hunger can’t be discussed thoroughly in seven to ten pages. Second, many causes and effects is vague. You should be able to identify specific causes and effects. A revised thesis might look like this:
Hunger persists in Glandelinia because jobs are scarce and farming in the infertile soil is rarely profitable.
This is a strong thesis statement because it narrows the subject to a more specific and manageable topic, and it also identifies the specific causes for the existence of hunger.
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Module 4: Putting Your Source Material to Work
Developing a strong, clear thesis statement, learning objectives.
- Develop a strong, clear thesis statement with the proper elements.
- Revise your thesis statement.
Have you ever known a person who was not very good at telling stories? You probably had trouble following his train of thought as he jumped around from point to point, either being too brief in places that needed further explanation or providing too many details on a meaningless element. Maybe he told the end of the story first, then moved to the beginning and later added details to the middle. His ideas were probably scattered, and the story did not flow very well. When the story was over, you probably had many questions.
Just as a personal anecdote can be a disorganized mess, an essay can fall into the same trap of being out of order and confusing. That is why writers need a thesis statement to provide a specific focus for their essay and to organize what they are about to discuss in the body.
Just like a topic sentence summarizes a single paragraph, the thesis statement summarizes an entire essay. It tells the reader the point you want to make in your essay, while the essay itself supports that point. It is like a signpost that signals the essay’s destination. You should form your thesis before you begin to organize an essay, but you may find that it needs revision as the essay develops.
Elements of a Thesis Statement
For every essay you write, you must focus on a central idea. This idea stems from a topic you have chosen or been assigned or from a question your teacher has asked. It is not enough merely to discuss a general topic or simply answer a question with a yes or no. You have to form a specific opinion, and then articulate that into a controlling idea —the main idea upon which you build your thesis.
Remember that a thesis is not the topic itself, but rather your interpretation of the question or subject. For whatever topic your professor gives you, you must ask yourself, “What do I want to say about it?” Asking and then answering this question is vital to forming a thesis that is precise, forceful and confident.
A thesis is one sentence long and appears toward the end of your introduction. It is specific and focuses on one to three points of a single idea—points that are able to be demonstrated in the body. It forecasts the content of the essay and suggests how you will organize your information. Remember that a thesis statement does not summarize an issue but rather dissects it.
A Strong Thesis Statement
A strong thesis statement contains the following qualities.
Specificity. A thesis statement must concentrate on a specific area of a general topic. As you may recall, the creation of a thesis statement begins when you choose a broad subject and then narrow down its parts until you pinpoint a specific aspect of that topic. For example, health care is a broad topic, but a proper thesis statement would focus on a specific area of that topic, such as options for individuals without health care coverage.
Precision. A strong thesis statement must be precise enough to allow for a coherent argument and to remain focused on the topic. If the specific topic is options for individuals without health care coverage, then your precise thesis statement must make an exact claim about it, such as that limited options exist for those who are uninsured by their employers. You must further pinpoint what you are going to discuss regarding these limited effects, such as whom they affect and what the cause is.
Ability to be argued. A thesis statement must present a relevant and specific argument. A factual statement often is not considered arguable. Be sure your thesis statement contains a point of view that can be supported with evidence.
Ability to be demonstrated. For any claim you make in your thesis, you must be able to provide reasons and examples for your opinion. You can rely on personal observations in order to do this, or you can consult outside sources to demonstrate that what you assert is valid. A worthy argument is backed by examples and details.
Forcefulness. A thesis statement that is forceful shows readers that you are, in fact, making an argument. The tone is assertive and takes a stance that others might oppose.
Confidence. In addition to using force in your thesis statement, you must also use confidence in your claim. Phrases such as I feel or I believe actually weaken the readers’ sense of your confidence because these phrases imply that you are the only person who feels the way you do. In other words, your stance has insufficient backing. Taking an authoritative stance on the matter persuades your readers to have faith in your argument and open their minds to what you have to say.
Even in a personal essay that allows the use of first person, your thesis should not contain phrases such as in my opinion or I believe . These statements reduce your credibility and weaken your argument. Your opinion is more convincing when you use a firm attitude.
On a separate sheet of paper, write a thesis statement for each of the following topics. Remember to make each statement specific, precise, demonstrable, forceful and confident.
- Texting while driving
- The legal drinking age in the United States
- Steroid use among professional athletes
Examples of Appropriate Thesis Statements
Each of the following thesis statements meets several of the following requirements:
- Ability to be argued
- Ability to be demonstrated
- The societal and personal struggles of Troy Maxon in the play Fences symbolize the challenge of black males who lived through segregation and integration in the United States.
- Closing all American borders for a period of five years is one solution that will tackle illegal immigration.
- Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet spoils the outcome for the audience and weakens the plot.
- J. D. Salinger’s character in Catcher in the Rye , Holden Caulfield, is a confused rebel who voices his disgust with phonies, yet in an effort to protect himself, he acts like a phony on many occasions.
- Compared to an absolute divorce, no-fault divorce is less expensive, promotes fairer settlements, and reflects a more realistic view of the causes for marital breakdown.
- Exposing children from an early age to the dangers of drug abuse is a sure method of preventing future drug addicts.
- In today’s crumbling job market, a high school diploma is not significant enough education to land a stable, lucrative job.
You can find thesis statements in many places, such as in the news; in the opinions of friends, coworkers or teachers; and even in songs you hear on the radio. Become aware of thesis statements in everyday life by paying attention to people’s opinions and their reasons for those opinions. Pay attention to your own everyday thesis statements as well, as these can become material for future essays.
Now that you have read about the contents of a good thesis statement and have seen examples, take a look at the pitfalls to avoid when composing your own thesis:
- A thesis is weak when it is simply a declaration of your subject or a description of what you will discuss in your essay. Weak thesis statement: My paper will explain why imagination is more important than knowledge.
- A thesis is weak when it makes an unreasonable or outrageous claim or insults the opposing side. Weak thesis statement: Religious radicals across America are trying to legislate their Puritanical beliefs by banning required high school books.
- A thesis is weak when it contains an obvious fact or something that no one can disagree with or provides a dead end. Weak thesis statement: Advertising companies use sex to sell their products.
- A thesis is weak when the statement is too broad. Weak thesis statement: The life of Abraham Lincoln was long and challenging.
Read the following thesis statements. On a separate piece of paper, identify each as weak or strong. For those that are weak, list the reasons why. Then revise the weak statements so that they conform to the requirements of a strong thesis.
- The subject of this paper is my experience with ferrets as pets.
- The government must expand its funding for research on renewable energy resources in order to prepare for the impending end of oil.
- Edgar Allan Poe was a poet who lived in Baltimore during the nineteenth century.
- In this essay, I will give you lots of reasons why slot machines should not be legalized in Baltimore.
- Despite his promises during his campaign, President Kennedy took few executive measures to support civil rights legislation.
- Because many children’s toys have potential safety hazards that could lead to injury, it is clear that not all children’s toys are safe.
- My experience with young children has taught me that I want to be a disciplinary parent because I believe that a child without discipline can be a parent’s worst nightmare.
Writing at Work
Often in your career, you will need to ask your boss for something through an e-mail. Just as a thesis statement organizes an essay, it can also organize your e-mail request. While your e-mail will be shorter than an essay, using a thesis statement in your first paragraph quickly lets your boss know what you are asking for, why it is necessary, and what the benefits are. In short body paragraphs, you can provide the essential information needed to expand upon your request.
Thesis Statement Revision
Your thesis will probably change as you write, so you will need to modify it to reflect exactly what you have discussed in your essay. Remember from Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” that your thesis statement begins as a working thesis statement , an indefinite statement that you make about your topic early in the writing process for the purpose of planning and guiding your writing.
Working thesis statements often become stronger as you gather information and form new opinions and reasons for those opinions. Revision helps you strengthen your thesis so that it matches what you have expressed in the body of the paper.
The best way to revise your thesis statement is to ask questions about it and then examine the answers to those questions. By challenging your own ideas and forming definite reasons for those ideas, you grow closer to a more precise point of view, which you can then incorporate into your thesis statement.
Ways to Revise Your Thesis
You can cut down on irrelevant aspects and revise your thesis by taking the following steps:
The linking verb in this working thesis statement is the word are . Linking verbs often make thesis statements weak because they do not express action. Rather, they connect words and phrases to the second half of the sentence. Readers might wonder, “Why are they not paid enough?” But this statement does not compel them to ask many more questions. The writer should ask himself or herself questions in order to replace the linking verb with an action verb, thus forming a stronger thesis statement, one that takes a more definitive stance on the issue:
- Who is not paying the teachers enough?
- What is considered “enough”?
- What is the problem?
- What are the results
It is true that some young women in today’s society are more sexualized than in the past, but that is not true for all girls. Many girls have strict parents, dress appropriately, and do not engage in sexual activity while in middle school and high school. The writer of this thesis should ask the following questions:
- Which teenage girls?
- What constitutes “too” sexualized?
- Why are they behaving that way?
- Where does this behavior show up?
- What are the repercussions?
In the first section of Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”, you determined your purpose for writing and your audience. You then completed a freewriting exercise about an event you recently experienced and chose a general topic to write about. Using that general topic, you then narrowed it down by answering the 5WH questions. After you answered these questions, you chose one of the three methods of prewriting and gathered possible supporting points for your working thesis statement.
Now, on a separate sheet of paper, write down your working thesis statement. Identify any weaknesses in this sentence and revise the statement to reflect the elements of a strong thesis statement. Make sure it is specific, precise, arguable, demonstrable, forceful, and confident.
Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
In your career you may have to write a project proposal that focuses on a particular problem in your company, such as reinforcing the tardiness policy. The proposal would aim to fix the problem; using a thesis statement would clearly state the boundaries of the problem and tell the goals of the project. After writing the proposal, you may find that the thesis needs revision to reflect exactly what is expressed in the body. Using the techniques from this chapter would apply to revising that thesis.
- Proper essays require a thesis statement to provide a specific focus and suggest how the essay will be organized.
- A thesis statement is your interpretation of the subject, not the topic itself.
- A strong thesis is specific, precise, forceful, confident, and is able to be demonstrated.
- A strong thesis challenges readers with a point of view that can be debated and can be supported with evidence.
- A weak thesis is simply a declaration of your topic or contains an obvious fact that cannot be argued.
- Depending on your topic, it may or may not be appropriate to use first person point of view.
- Revise your thesis by ensuring all words are specific, all ideas are exact, and all verbs express action.
- Successful Writing Section 9.1: Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement. Authored by : Anonymous. Located at : http://2012books.lardbucket.org/books/successful-writing/s13-01-developing-a-strong-clear-thes.html . License : CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike
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- Developing A Thesis
Think of yourself as a member of a jury, listening to a lawyer who is presenting an opening argument. You'll want to know very soon whether the lawyer believes the accused to be guilty or not guilty, and how the lawyer plans to convince you. Readers of academic essays are like jury members: before they have read too far, they want to know what the essay argues as well as how the writer plans to make the argument. After reading your thesis statement, the reader should think, "This essay is going to try to convince me of something. I'm not convinced yet, but I'm interested to see how I might be."
An effective thesis cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." A thesis is not a topic; nor is it a fact; nor is it an opinion. "Reasons for the fall of communism" is a topic. "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" is a fact known by educated people. "The fall of communism is the best thing that ever happened in Europe" is an opinion. (Superlatives like "the best" almost always lead to trouble. It's impossible to weigh every "thing" that ever happened in Europe. And what about the fall of Hitler? Couldn't that be "the best thing"?)
A good thesis has two parts. It should tell what you plan to argue, and it should "telegraph" how you plan to argue—that is, what particular support for your claim is going where in your essay.
Steps in Constructing a Thesis
First, analyze your primary sources. Look for tension, interest, ambiguity, controversy, and/or complication. Does the author contradict himself or herself? Is a point made and later reversed? What are the deeper implications of the author's argument? Figuring out the why to one or more of these questions, or to related questions, will put you on the path to developing a working thesis. (Without the why, you probably have only come up with an observation—that there are, for instance, many different metaphors in such-and-such a poem—which is not a thesis.)
Once you have a working thesis, write it down. There is nothing as frustrating as hitting on a great idea for a thesis, then forgetting it when you lose concentration. And by writing down your thesis you will be forced to think of it clearly, logically, and concisely. You probably will not be able to write out a final-draft version of your thesis the first time you try, but you'll get yourself on the right track by writing down what you have.
Keep your thesis prominent in your introduction. A good, standard place for your thesis statement is at the end of an introductory paragraph, especially in shorter (5-15 page) essays. Readers are used to finding theses there, so they automatically pay more attention when they read the last sentence of your introduction. Although this is not required in all academic essays, it is a good rule of thumb.
Anticipate the counterarguments. Once you have a working thesis, you should think about what might be said against it. This will help you to refine your thesis, and it will also make you think of the arguments that you'll need to refute later on in your essay. (Every argument has a counterargument. If yours doesn't, then it's not an argument—it may be a fact, or an opinion, but it is not an argument.)
This statement is on its way to being a thesis. However, it is too easy to imagine possible counterarguments. For example, a political observer might believe that Dukakis lost because he suffered from a "soft-on-crime" image. If you complicate your thesis by anticipating the counterargument, you'll strengthen your argument, as shown in the sentence below.
Some Caveats and Some Examples
A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question ("Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?") is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.
A thesis is never a list. "For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe" does a good job of "telegraphing" the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesn't advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.
A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational. An ineffective thesis would be, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil." This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.
An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. "While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline" is an effective thesis sentence that "telegraphs," so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, "Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim."
A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, "Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elite's inability to address the economic concerns of the people" is more powerful than "Communism collapsed due to societal discontent."
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What is a thesis statement.
A thesis statement is a sentence (sometimes more than one sentence) in the introduction that tells the reader the following information:
- What the topic of the paper is
- How the writer intends to discuss that topic
- It gives a blueprint for how the essay will be structured
- How the writer intends to prove or demonstrate his or her main points.
Think of your paper as a human body, and your thesis statement as the spinal cord. Without it, there is no structure.
For you as the WRITER , the thesis statement:
Develops through the interrelationship of thinking, reading, and writing;
Limits your research by providing you with one controlling main idea that intrigues you;
Narrows your writing to one specific claim that you can develop or prove;
Organizes your ideas so you know the important points you want to make in your paper; and
Clarifies your writing by keeping you on target to fulfill your proposed purpose.
For your READERS , the thesis statement:
Identifies the main point and sub-points of your essay clearly and quickly;
Functions as a road map so your readers can easily follow your ideas; and
Gives satisfaction at the conclusion of the paper when your readers discover you have fulfilled your promise by proving or developing your main point.
Characteristics of Effective Thesis Statements
An effective thesis statement must be factual and narrow .
An effective thesis statement prepares readers for facts and details, but it cannot itself be a fact. It must always be an inference that demands proof or further development. These proofs come from the literature.
Too Factual: The UNT Dallas campus has two buildings.
Not Factual Enough: The UNT Dallas campus is the perfect size.
Just Right: While some might see small universities as a disadvantage, the small campus of UNT Dallas holds many advantages for students, including a close-knit campus community, smaller class sizes, and better support from professors.
2. Narrow Topic
A good thesis should be narrow, and not too broad or too vague. If the topic is too broad, you won’t be able to cover the entire topic in your paper. If it’s too narrow, you might not be able to find research, and your paper probably won’t be long enough.
Too Broad: College students have a lot of responsibilities.
Too Narrow: Student workers in the Learning Commons at UNT Dallas have many responsibilities in their course work and tutoring.
Just Right: College students who are financially independent have many responsibilities as they must maintain good grades, pay living expenses, and balance work and school.
Remember, a thesis statement IS NOT:
- Instead , you should argue, based on facts and literature, why or why not NASA should receive more funding.
- Ask yourself--can I find anything in literature to prove this point, or is this MY opinion?
- Instead, you should argue why or why not people like chocolate OR why or why not chocolate is healthy for you based on facts and literature findings.
- Similar to the subjective opinion, ask yourself is this statement is based on facts and literature findings or if this is YOUR opinion. Although it is ok to have your own opinion, professors usually do not like to read articles about beliefs (students have been writing about these for years and years).
- Instead, you could discuss theories about politics or religions and use literature to prove or disprove those theories.
- This is too factual (the Himalayas WERE formed from a collision of tectonic plates), and there is nothing to discuss because this IS a fact in itself.
- Instead, you could compare and contrast the tectonic plate formation of different mountains.
Examples of Thesis Statements
A thesis statement f or a 5 paragraph essay conta ins three parts:.
1. A Topic : the main idea of the essay
2. The Controlling Idea : what you want to say about the topic
3. The subtopics : usually 3 examples/reasons you will discuss in your paper
Here is an example of a thesis statement.
*Note that the TOPIC is in red and the CONTROLLING IDEA is in yellow , and the SUBTOPICS are in purple .
- Ex: Regularly visiting the Writing Center at UNT Dallas will help you become the best writer on the planet because it offers superhero tutors , current technology , and fantastic handouts .
The main topic explores the idea that regularly vsiting the writing center will help you become the best writer on the planet, and the subtopics further expand this opinion with three distinct examples: 1) tutors, 2) technology, and 3) the handouts.
The paper should be organized around the subtopics. For example, for the thesis written above, the writer would write one body paragraph about the tutors, one about technology, and one about the handouts.
Here is a sample essay outline based on this thesis:
- Introduce the topic of tutoring
- Thesis (last sentence of intro): Regularly visiting the Writing Center at UNT Dallas will help you become the best writer on the planet because it offers superhero tutors, current technology, and fantastic handouts.
- topic sentence
- Restate thesis
- Concluding remarks
For further assistance with the structure, see our handouts on Introductions and Conclusions and Topic Sentences.
A thesis statement for a LONG ESSAY contains two parts:
- A Topic : the main idea of the essay
- The Controlling Idea : what you want to say about the topic
Throughout the paper, your thesis promises your readers that you will prove specific facts or develop certain ideas ; therefore, every paragraph, sentence, and word in your paper must relate to this controlling idea.
Here are some examples of thesis statements.
*Note that the TOPIC is in red and the CONTROLLING IDEA is in green .
- Baseball , once a national pastime and even an addiction, has lost its popularity because of the new interest in more violent sports.
- Since the space program has yet to provide the American people with any substantial, practical returns, it is a waste of money and should be dissolved .
- To stop the alarming rise in the number of violent crimes committed every year, our courts must hand out tougher sentences .
- Detective stories appeal to the basic human desire for thrills .
- Hemingway's war stories helped to create a new prose style .
- Bronte utilizes light and fire to s ymbolize the emotional expressions of the characters .
Here is a suggested outline for a long essay and how that would look in terms of your thesis statement, topic, and controlling ideas:
- Introduce the novel Jane Eyre and the topic of symbolism
- Thesis (last sentence of intro): Bronte utilizes light and fire to symbolize the emotional expressions of the characters .
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How To Write a Thesis Statement: Effective & Expert Tips
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If you’ve ever summed up your feelings about your favorite croissant or reflected on the moral of a story about your grandfather, you’re already familiar with the basics of a thesis! There are some nuances, but you already have the foundations of thesis statements in mind. With a little refining, you’ll have no problems coming up with a thesis for your next essay.
What Is a Thesis Statement?
A thesis statement is a single sentence that identifies the main idea or argument of the paper, including an overview of what you’ll specifically talk about in your essay.
Every essay has a thesis of some sort that usually appears as the last sentence of the intro paragraph . The thesis is really about the main idea of the essay.
Some essays, like argumentative essays and critical analysis essays , do present a thesis that is an opinion or argument because the main idea of the essay is an argument or opinion. For example:
Although peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are one of the most commonly eaten sandwiches, they are inferior to tuna sandwiches in flavor, nutrition, and general satisfaction.
Other thesis statements are just that: statements. They make a claim, but they aren’t truly arguments. For example:
Tuna sandwiches present a long history within the American working class that has affected the broader regional cultures of the United States.
Tips on How To Write a Thesis Statement
You know what goes into a good thesis statement, but it can take a little time and practice to really figure out a good thesis. Often, the best way to get better at theses is to write more essays and maybe look at some examples of thesis statements , but looking at a few tips doesn’t hurt.
Narrow Down Your Topic, and Be As Specific as Possible
You’ll have two scenarios with your thesis: You’ll either be given a broad topic to focus on, or you’ll be allowed to choose your own topic. In both cases, you’ll have to narrow down your topic.
Don’t try to come up with some all-encompassing thesis statement that covers every single facet of the topic. That would be quite literally impossible, and frankly, trying to cover too much at once in your thesis can be boring. The more specific and direct your thesis statement, the more interesting it’ll be.
- Start with just one main idea related to the topic, and ask yourself questions about that one idea to focus in on it.
- Take a stance on the topic, even if that stance is how effective (or ineffective) something might be. Then consider why it’s effective or ineffective.
- Avoid any overly generalized words, like people , things , or society . What people or population are you talking about? What parts or facets of society do you want to focus on?
Use Your Thesis To Build a Discussion
As mentioned, most students are taught that thesis statements are meant to act as arguments. The main reason for that is the aspect of discussion. An argument naturally builds discussion. (You’re stating an opinion, making points to support that opinion, and possibly considering other points of view.)
But an argument isn’t the only way to create a thesis statement that builds discussion. That can come from a wide range of different things, like:
- Discussing your own experiences
- Suggesting a point of view that might vary from more popular views
- Considering a more critical reading of a text
Use “Although” Statements
Related to the above, one of the tricks of the trade for a good thesis that builds discussion is to work with the word although . An although statement naturally creates a point of comparison. It considers an opposing view before you get into your own claim. For example:
Although the pizza is a humble and everyday treat for many today, its history and evolution parallels many of the modern economic issues affecting Europe.
Although is by no means the only way to build this sort of thesis. Other starting words that can help you engage with the topic include:
Come Up With More Than One Thesis
This might seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re having trouble writing just one thesis, but in the early stages of an essay, it’s okay to have a few messy theses to choose from.
As you settle into your research, you can eventually narrow it down to one, but having some options can free you up. You can play around with wording, refine your ideas, or even create completely opposite thesis statements.
Change Your Thesis As You Go
Related to the above, even as you get into the writing process, don’t be afraid to change your thesis. It’s not really meant to be some rigid object. Your thesis can grow and change and evolve with your writing.
Maybe in the middle of your body paragraphs you decide to change the main argument in your thesis. Maybe you forgot to mention an important point. Maybe your conclusion brings in a whole new point of insight. Allowing for a mutable thesis gives you room to make these adjustments.
Ready To Write a Winning Essay
Now that you’ve mastered the art of writing an effective thesis statement, you’re perfectly prepared to write some great essays from now on. Knowing how to write a thesis can help you in all your writing endeavors, even creative writing , but don’t worry if you’re having some trouble. Thesis statements are meant to take thought and time, so give your thesis the time it needs.
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Tips and Examples for Writing Thesis Statements
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This resource provides tips for creating a thesis statement and examples of different types of thesis statements.
Tips for Writing Your Thesis Statement
1. Determine what kind of paper you are writing:
- An analytical paper breaks down an issue or an idea into its component parts, evaluates the issue or idea, and presents this breakdown and evaluation to the audience.
- An expository (explanatory) paper explains something to the audience.
- An argumentative paper makes a claim about a topic and justifies this claim with specific evidence. The claim could be an opinion, a policy proposal, an evaluation, a cause-and-effect statement, or an interpretation. The goal of the argumentative paper is to convince the audience that the claim is true based on the evidence provided.
If you are writing a text that does not fall under these three categories (e.g., a narrative), a thesis statement somewhere in the first paragraph could still be helpful to your reader.
2. Your thesis statement should be specific—it should cover only what you will discuss in your paper and should be supported with specific evidence.
3. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper.
4. Your topic may change as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.
Thesis Statement Examples
Example of an analytical thesis statement:
The paper that follows should:
- Explain the analysis of the college admission process
- Explain the challenge facing admissions counselors
Example of an expository (explanatory) thesis statement:
- Explain how students spend their time studying, attending class, and socializing with peers
Example of an argumentative thesis statement:
- Present an argument and give evidence to support the claim that students should pursue community projects before entering college
Writing an Effective Thesis Statement
Writing an Effective Thesis Statement Podcast
Writing an effective thesis statement transcript.
Greetings everyone. This is Kurtis Clements with another effective writing podcast. In this episode, I am going to discuss how to write an effective thesis statement. One issue to keep in mind when you write is that your words need to stand on their own. It is your responsibility to express your thoughts in a way that others can understand. Think of it this way: You will not be around to explain to readers what you meant by a certain remark or to offer another example to illustrate a fuzzy point. Indeed, the words in your composition will have to communicate meaning without your presence. What you do not want to have happen is for your audience to reach the end of a piece of your written communication and say, “So what? What’s the point?”
The “so what” of a piece of writing is the specific point the piece makes, what the writing says about its subject. The “so what” is what the writing adds up to. It is the meaning found in the writing. The “so what” of an informative essay may be Boston has a lot to offer young children. The “so what” of a business memo may be profits have exceeded expectations.
No matter the type of composition, the piece of writing must communicate meaning, not to the writer, but, rather, to an audience. The meaning found in a piece of writing, the “so what,” is the most important aspect of any piece of writing, for what good would a piece of writing be if it did not add up to something, if it did not say something to an audience? When you are working on a composition, you will need to think about what you are trying to say so that you are in a position to make sure that what you are trying to communicate is, in fact, communicated.
I know what you’re thinking: What’s all this have to do with a thesis statement? The answer: everything! Let me explain.
Every composition needs to make a clear point about its topic—otherwise, what purpose would the writing serve? One way to ensure that readers will follow along in the development of an essay is by including a written out thesis statement (more on this in just a moment). The word thesis comes from a Greek word that means “proposition” or “position.” In an essay, the thesis establishes the writer’s position, the main idea of the paper, what the writer claims to be true or important about the topic. A thesis helps readers understand the direction the essay is heading and it connects body paragraphs to a controlling idea so that the essay comes together as a unified whole.
Most thesis statements are expressed in a single declarative sentence, but depending on a number of factors such as the scope and complexity of the topic or the writer’s approach in discussing it, the thesis may require more than one sentence, but this is the exception rather than the rule. In most academic writing, the thesis will appear near or at the end of the introduction and announce to readers exactly what the body paragraphs that follow will discuss. In some writing, especially personal writing, a written-out thesis may not be necessary, but regardless the focus of the paper still needs to be clear. So, whether the thesis is written out verbatim or not, the thesis of the paper—what it will discuss—still needs to be clear.
Constructing a thesis statement will take time; in fact, like writing itself, developing a thesis is a process, so you will need to be patient and be willing to revise as necessary. A good thesis comes about the more you explore your topic whether that exploration is the result of exploratory writing like freewriting or research or long walks in which you think and think and think.
As you explore your thinking, your ideas will get clearer and clearer. Again, a thesis statement evolves over time. Begin with a working thesis—your tentative ideas about a topic—and be willing to modify the statement depending on what you discover about your topic and how your thinking changes over time. Indeed, many writers find themselves in jams because they are unwilling to deviate from their original thesis and are bent on trying to support ideas that are unrealistic, perhaps even impossible.
Still worse, some writers try to force the content to fit the idea expressed in the thesis. This won’t work. In fact, some writers approach their work so that the thesis emerges out of the writing. That’s right! Some writers don’t start with a thesis—working or otherwise—and, instead, explore their thinking in writing as a way to discover what it is they have to say about a topic. The fabulous Donald Murray, a journalist and famous writer about the process of writing, worked this way. And other writers work this way, too. And of course, many writers do not work this way and the truth is the actual process you use to develop a thesis does not matter so long as the end result is successful.
As you approach drafting a thesis, make sure you keep your purpose for writing in mind. Will you be informing? Persuading? Entertaining? Complaining? Whatever the case, you will want that purpose to be apparent from the construction of the thesis.
One good way to come up with ideas that you can use to construct a working thesis is to explore your thoughts. What do you already know about the topic? Use freewriting (or some other exploratory writing method such as brainstorming) to capture what you already know and think about the topic. Roll up your sleeves and spend 10, 15, or more minutes just writing. Write about what interests you about the topic and what you might like to know. Explore freely what is bouncing around inside your head and do not be afraid to follow your thinking wherever it takes you. Writing is an act of discovery, and you might stumble upon an interesting angle to pursue if you give yourself permission to explore. After you’ve written for a period of time, look over your writing and see if any dominant idea emerges or if some of the writing suggests a direction worth thinking about more. In a perfect world, the freewriting will produce enough of your ideas that you can almost see the beginning of a thesis.
Another good approach to producing a thesis is to conduct some research. Some assignments may not benefit from this tip, but many—even those that don’t specifically require research—will. To this end, peruse the library whether you do so physically or virtually. Poke and read around about your topic, following the discussion here and there depending on what interests you. Take some notes as you see fit.
You could also ask questions about what you wonder or would like to know about your topic. Do big-box stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart have an impact on local economies? What are the benefits of a vegan lifestyle? How costly are green energy sources? What steps should individuals take to safeguard against identity fraud? Avoid yes/no type questions and research accordingly. A good research question can lend itself to the development of a working thesis in that the “answer” can serve as a starting point.
So what are the characteristics of an effective thesis statement?
An effective thesis statement establishes one major idea. If a thesis introduces more than one idea, the paper will not have a tight focus. Most papers you will write will be relatively short and do not have room to discuss more than one major idea. Pay particular attention to your thesis statement if it includes the word “and” as this connecting word often joins new ideas. Note how the following thesis has more than one main idea: Healthcare reform must be addressed because so many Americans are uninsured or without adequate coverage, and politicians must work together to ensure new legislation is passed. In this example, the word “and” establishes an additional main idea and so the thesis lacks a clearly defined focus. To improve upon the thesis, the thesis would need to be streamlined and focus on one main idea. For example, a better thesis might be Politicians must work together to reform healthcare because too many Americans are without sufficient coverage.
An effective thesis statement is limited in scope. The thesis should limit the extent of the discussion to something manageable given the assignment—neither too broad nor too narrow. The thesis should establish a focus that is realistic and suitable for a substantive discussion of the main idea. Taking a stand on capital punishment, for example, is not realistic for a short research paper let alone an entire book—the topic is too broad. However, limiting the focus by narrowing the scope may work. You could argue that capital punishment does not reduce the crime rate or that lethal injection is the most humane form of capital punishment. In this way, the focus is something that realistically could be addressed in the paper.
An effective thesis statement clearly states the writer’s position. The thesis should state precisely and specifically what the paper will discuss. After reading the thesis, readers should know exactly what to expect. Avoid language that is too general, abstract, or otherwise confusing. If your thesis does not clearly establish your main idea, readers may have a difficult time following the development of the body paragraphs that follow. Here is an example of a thesis statement that is vague: Television violence is an issue that many face. Based on this thesis, do you understand what the writer is going to explore in the paper? Sure, television violence, but beyond that general subject, do you have any clear sense of what the writer will be exploring? Not at all! This thesis lacks the specificity it needs to orient readers appropriately so that they know what to expect in the discussion.
An effective thesis statement requires supporting evidence. The thesis expresses an idea that moves beyond a statement of fact and requires supporting content to “prove” the main idea. For example, a thesis that proclaims Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected president of the United States would not be very good as it states a widely known fact. A better thesis might proclaim this: Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States marked a seminal moment in American politics. The revised thesis moves beyond simply stating a fact and, instead, presents a main idea that would require evidence to support.
There are two basic approaches to composing a thesis—forecasting the main points by embedding them in the thesis (an approach commonly referred to as the three-point thesis) or not including the main points in the thesis. Your approach will depend on the topic you are addressing as well as any particular requirements of the assignment.
A three-point thesis states the main idea of the essay and includes three key points as support. Take a look at the following thesis: Banning cigarette smoking in public places is an effective intervention to improve the public’s health by helping to reduce the dangers of second-hand smoke on non-smokers, encouraging current smokers to quit, and reducing healthcare costs. In this example, the main idea—the position the writer takes relative to the topic—is Banning cigarette smoking in public places is an effective intervention to improve the public’s health. This part of the thesis states what the writer claims to be true about the topic. How will the writer support this view? In this case, the thesis includes three telegraphed key points—by helping to reduce the dangers of second-hand smoke on non-smokers, encouraging current smokers to quit, and reducing healthcare costs.
The three-point thesis is the blueprint of the essay in that it not only establishes the main idea, but it also fleshes out the key points to that readers can anticipate a basic structure of the essay. Readers would expect each forecasted point to be discussed in the order presented—that is, the first section will discuss the first key point, the next section the second, and so on.
Another approach to composing a thesis is to state the main idea minus the key points. Using the example above, the thesis would read: Banning cigarette smoking in public places is an effective intervention to improve the public’s health. With this approach, the key points are not included in the thesis, yet the focus and direction are clear. Readers may not know the exact key points, but they understand the writer’s position on the topic and can anticipate the likely discussion that will follow. In this case, since the main idea states the view that banning smoking in public is an effective intervention to improve public health, it is logical to expect key points that address how this is so.
Please keep in mind that writing a good thesis is a process and a process requires time. While some folks might be able to come up with a humdinger of a thesis from the get-go that is not the norm. To this end, give yourself time to explore your topic and don’t be impatient. Draft a working thesis and revise as necessary. I hope you find this podcast helpful.
Thanks, everyone. Happy writing!
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