Writing a Good Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is the main point you want your readers to accept.  It expresses an arguable point and supplies good reasons why readers should accept it. After learning about making an arguable point and supplying good reasons, go to planning the thesis-driven essay.

 

The Arguable Point

Making a thesis arguable requires a statement that promotes degrees of adherence.  In other words, a good thesis takes a stand on an issue in which a range of responses are possible, and no matter what your point is, it will likely produce a range of responses, from strong agreement to strong disagreement.  For instance, if you were to argue that the government should fund solar energy development, you have a contention that some will agree with whole-heartedly.  Others will disagree just as vigorously.  Still others--indeed most--will not have a strong response and might even consider themselves “neutral,” or leaning one way or the other.  How well you persuade readers to accept your point depends on the good reasons you have for your position. 

 

Good Reasons

In a nutshell, why should readers accept your point?  These reasons are often the “main points” that support your thesis and provide structure to each section of your paper, whether those sections are single paragraphs or groups of paragraphs.  Some of the reasons you have for a contention occur to you spontaneously.  For instance, you may think that the government should fund solar energy development because solar energy promises to be clean (less pollution) and renewable (the sun should last another five billion years, right?).  That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. 

While we may spontaneously generate reasons for our central contention, thinking of “the other side” can often help you create an even better thesis.  We call this habit of thinking otherwise “dialogical thinking,” because you imagine yourself in dialogue with others.  Going back to our example, the contention that the government should fund this enterprise is likely to make some disagree, or at least ask why the government should fund it:  shouldn’t companies risk their own money to make this happen?  Isn’t that what free-enterprise is all about?  Answering those questions can provide more good reasons and lead to a fuller thesis statement: 

Because solar technology might be too costly and risky for private industry to develop, the government should fund solar energy development to secure a clean, renewable energy source for our future. 

Taken together, the good reasons surrounding this contention can supply the building blocks for the paper:  1) Solar is clean; 2) Solar is renewable; 3) Solar needs vast support to become a reality.  You may note that some of your reasons may be easier to prove than others.  Most readers will likely agree solar energy is clean and renewable, if proper evidence is presented. The stickier issues may be the ways our society achieves these desirable ends.

 

Challenging, Grounded, Focused:  Recognizing a Good Thesis When You Write One

So a good thesis statement requires an arguable point and good reasons.  But how do you know if your thesis will work for the assignment?  If it’s challenging, grounded, and properly narrow, it will have promise.

 

Challenging

We make assertions all the time, but many would not do for a paper in college.  These kinds of assertions are either established facts or opinions held on entirely personal grounds.  Neither form creates a significant challenge for you nor serves the reader hungry for meaning.  Another way that writers avoid challenge is to ask a question instead of asserting a position on a meaningful issue. 

Statements that Lack Challenge

The Solution

A Better Thesis

The average college graduate from 2017 carries $28,650 in student loan debt. 

Matters of established fact do not make good thesis statements.  There’s no issue: any dispute is resolved by looking it up in a credible source. Discover an issue related to your topic and take a side you can support. 

While choosing a college beyond a family’s financial capacity is partly to blame for high levels of student debt, the more significant factors are rising college costs and the practices of the student loan industry.

 

Statements that Lack Challenge

The Solution

A Better Thesis

Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist. 

Opinions based on entirely personal grounds cannot be argued about.  Can we really tell you that Springsteen is NOT your favorite artist if you say he is?  Ask why your readers should share your opinion and supply good reasons for their doing so.

 

Although some of Springsteen’s hits would lead one to dismiss him as a pop music star, an analysis of his lyrics places him in the American songwriting traditions of Woodie Guthrie, Nina Simone, and Bob Dylan. 

 

Statements that Lack Challenge

The Solution

A Better Thesis

What do stock market indexes tell us about the state of the economy?

Though an important step in your inquiry, a question is never a thesis.  Replace the question with an answer that you can substantiate with good reasons.      

The stock market’s record gains during a period of historic job loss says more about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy than about the state of the U.S. economy. 

 

Grounded

A paper often runs into trouble when its thesis is too vague.  The terms it uses are too vacuous to set up a specific, disciplined argument. 

Too Vague

The Solution

A Better Thesis

Shakespeare is the greatest poet because of his style.

How can one measure “greatest”?  How is “style” to be defined—as a strict matter of sentence construction, or a general approach to subject matter?  Ground your thesis in specific details and clearer terms. 

The duplicity and evil of Shakespeare’s Iago is expressed in a style of negation; Shakespeare has Iago state clearly what he is not, but rarely what he is.  

 

Focused

An overly broad thesis statement might take a hundred pages to support decently, while an overly narrow one can be supported in a paragraph or two. 

Too Broad

The Solution

A Better Thesis

Establishing a recycling program in Trashville brings up several issues. 

Underneath a phrase like “several issues” hides an unspecified number of good topics, any one of which could make a successful paper.  So choose one of these topics and make it the focus of the paper. 

 

Because Trashville cannot find a market for discarded single-use plastics, the city should enact policies discouraging their use and focus instead on recycling paper and glass products.  

Too Narrow

The Solution

A Better Thesis

Recycling may or may not be something that a person cares about. 

A narrow thesis often avoids an issue that promotes a variety of positions.  Make your inquiry broader and more challenging by asking a question and staking your position on good reasons.

We could motivate Trashville’s residents to recycle if we provided each household with recycling bins and established a collection program that follows our trash collection schedule.